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I’ve finally gotten round to writing this story over a month after I returned from Nongkhai. Since then I’ve started university and it does seem a long time ago that I was cycling along Meechai road to Didi’s restaurant (£1.60 for the best chicken with cashews in Thailand...). At the same time I’ve got so many memories and my photos from the three weeks I spent in Nongkhai now line the walls of my student room.

So in February 2010 I knew that I wanted to do some kind of volunteering in my summer break. Having decided not to take a gap year I was limited in terms of time – exams until the end of June and results day part of the way through August, which I had to be in England for. This left me with about a month to play around with. After trawling through the worldwide volunteering database I eventually came across Travel to Teach. It ticked all the boxes – affordable (if you disagree, check out gapyear.com or similar and have your mind blown as companies try to charge you nigh on $2000 dollars for a limited volunteering placement, transport not included), flexible times and what looked like a quality volunteering experience.

Then disaster struck – I was limited to set dates and the weekend I wanted to arrive on was not in the list suggested on their website. Already looking elsewhere for alternatives, I sent off an email to see if it would be possible to arrive on a different day. Within a couple of hours Charlotte from Travel to Teach got back to me to say that would be fine. Before long I was signed up to 3 weeks in Nongkhai.

I decided to get the train from Bangkok, giving me a night on the notorious Khaosan Road. I stayed in a hostel right next to the airport express bus stop so it was all very easy then the next morning took a Tuk Tuk to the station (don’t recommend this – metered taxis are better!). The train ride was comfortable and before I knew it I was being met at Nongkhai station by Jim.

I stayed in the Meechai dormitory along with 3 other volunteers (4 after the first week). This was one of the best things about my placement – meeting people from round the world and doing stuff together – be that teaching, eating (amazing cheap food!) or travelling. The dormitory was very comfortable (new beds!) and a great place to come back to. The lack of cooking facilities really isn’t an issue with food being so cheap. I seem to keep talking about food...we got to know the people running the street stalls: "curry lady, banana pancake lady, shake lady...", all so friendly with fantastic food on offer. My first night in Nongkhai we all went out to Bar-Nana, the local night club which was an amazing experience!

Right, I should probably mention the teaching! I taught in CBAT (College of Business and Tourism) with another volunteer who’d been in Nongkhai for 4 months. As far as I know all first time volunteers teach in pairs. I’d had absolutely no English teaching experience and, being from the UK, didn’t even know how to learn English. But do not let this put you off! Whilst challenging at times the teaching isn’t scary at all. The students weren’t exactly perfectly behaved but always very friendly and about a million times more obedient than here in the UK.

We had a basic lesson plan which we could fall back on (we saw a different class every lesson so we could reuse the same lesson, did mean I had more time to relax compared to those at other schools but every class was different so it didn’t get dull) which consisted of writing up a conversation, going through the pronunciation then providing some vocabulary on whatever topic we were doing. Depending on the level of the class we could then get them to make up their own conversations...

Anyway by the end of my time there I felt confident enough to teach by myself if necessary – seriously do not be concerned about the teaching, so long as you’re enthusiastic and considerate you’ll be absolutely fine. We did do some acting and games but less so than if we’d be in the primary school.

In the evening we all went to the temple to teach monks for an hour. I spent most of the time with the beginners group which, whilst dispelling my preconceptions about monks (8 year old monks are just like 8 year old children, except in orange robes), was great. Since this was a younger group we’d often get 20mins into the lesson before they’d start demanding a game which would then take up the rest of the lesson! It was a lot of fun and a good contrast to teaching in the college. It worked very well - the monk teaching is an opportunity to teach a different age group to the school teaching.

I took two days off school at one point to visit Laos with two other volunteers. We went to Luang Prahbang (via VIP bus...not the most luxurious travelling experience ever but fun and reasonable...air conditioned which is the main thing!) which is a beautiful town in the middle of Laos. It was a great few days – kayaking on the Mekong, visiting temples and shopping in the night market. Also an opportunity to try some different food – due to the French influence and being a general tourist hotspot (Nongkhai less so, one of its charms) there was a huge range of food, pricey compared to Nongkhai but fantastic all the same). I believe Travel to Teach runs a placement in Laos which I’d recommend.

Overall, volunteering in Nongkhai was just the perfect thing to do in my summer holiday. It was great meeting all the other volunteers and the teaching was rewarding. I would have liked to have stayed longer but the setup meant I could still do lots of things in my short period of time. Highly recommended!

Any questions please feel free to email me 13phil13@gmail.com