My name is Paul. I am 68 years old and I come from Holland. About a year ago I visited a big holiday fair at Utrecht. There I came across Travel to Teach. This organisation informs and assists people who want to do volunteer work throughout the world. At an information-day in September 2009 I met other enthusiastic and young volunteers and got a lot of good information there. Up to that moment I had only travelled with a package tour, in a herd and had walked obediently behind the man with the flag. But because there was an opportunity to teach English, because I always had good feelings about culture and Buddhism in Asia, because I still intend to become 120 years of age (and therefore always want to change borders in life if its possible), I thought to myself...... lets start a new adventure!
So on the 6th of November, late in the evening, I arrived at the volunteer house of the local organisation, 'Travel-to-Teach' in Nong Khai; a small town in the North-East of Thailand along the Mae Kong river, that runs between Laos and Thailand. The next morning I met Jim and Glyn, the local coordinators. I also met about ten other volunteers there: wonderful, warm and friendly people from different parts of the world. During the period I stayed there, they all became a kind of temporary family to me, and, very importantly, we had a lot of fun together!
After an informative trip in Nong Khai on the backseat of Jims motorbike, an explanation of how to survive in the Volunteer House as well as in Thai society and after a lesson in Thai language, the first week unfolded itself to me in full glory. A Thai foot massage, a beer on a terrace along the Mae Kong river, dinner with my new family every day, conversation lessons to monks in the evening, a visit to a famous Sculpture park near Nong Khai with two monks as guides, a stay for two days in the parental house of one of the monks somewhere in the country, participation as a special guest - in festivities in his village - what more can you wish in your first week in Thailand!
In the second and third week we got into some hard work: Every day from 9.00 12.00 together with Christy from Australia, I went to the CBAT-College near Udon Thani: an education in business, administration and tourism. At our first performance we were kind of like aliens to the pupils. They behaved shy but friendly. Soon however, we had good contact with them and of course a lot of fun together. They were curious and wanted to know everything about us. Though they were motivated, English remains a very difficult language to them.
No special events then? Of course! As volunteers we were invited to participate in the International Rice Festival there are not enough people available in the countryside to help harvesting the rice, so they invited us to assist. I can assure you that standing in the middle of a rice field, busy harvesting and threshing the rice gives you a very special feeling! Moreover, when you are doing that together with hundreds of cheerful, young Thai people, it feels like being at a hell of a party!
At the CBAT-college, Christy and I were also asked to be members of a committee for The English Competition: A local, regional and finally national competition to stimulate learning English. A hall full of people, the school director starts the meeting by praying at the Buddha statue, eight members of the Committee, each of them introducing him/herself to the audience first and then a few nervous pupils on the platform who tell a story in their best English. We had to judge them on their English, their eye contact with the audience, their outfit, their presentation etc, it was very special.
Each week just got better and on by fourth week Jim and Glyn had arranged a stay in Wat Nuen Pananao, a 'Forest temple' on the outskirts of Nong Khai. I had always wanted to experience living in an Asian monastery and this was really a wonderful opportunity. I went there with Vincent, a young and enthusiastic volunteer also from Holland. Before we left, we had to buy white clothes (the usual dress-code meditators). This was a very special week for me, living in a small cabin with a stone-hard bed, wake up at 4.00 a.m. and walk in the dark with the monks to the village to collect food, (one meal till noon and after that just water or juice) and spend the day in meditation, always walking slowly, speaking softly and only when it is necessary. When you live like this for a week, you experience what you came for you meet yourself.
During my final few days I was back at the volunteer house. I had to say good-bye to my temporary family in the evening after a special farewell-dinner. It was the end of a four weeks period under the umbrella of Travel-to-Teach. My stay in Thailand was an extraordinary experience. It did not feel like being on holiday. It felt as if I had been part of the Thai society. I had special experiences there and I met many special people, including the coordinators and the other volunteers. Thailand is a really beautiful country with very friendly people. They always want to help you and they are grateful for what you do for them. So, if you have any doubts about going to Thailand for volunteer work dont!