My 4 Weeks Teaching Abroad
Volunteering with Cross-Cultural Solutions in Bangkok, Thailand far exceeded my expectations. By the end of my four weeks, I had developed serious connections with the students and staff members at the school for children with disabilities where I was teaching. The initial, and occasionally overwhelming feeling of being the new kid in a busy school had long since faded, and almost without my realizing it, I had become a trusted member of the school community. A lot can happen in four weeks.
Even though I fumbled with the language, I was able to just look at certain students and know exactly what they needed—sometimes just a hug or a goofy face—and they did the same for me. And I feel very strongly that these connections wouldn’t have run so deep had I not had an entire month to spend as a CCS volunteer in Thailand.
One moment that really stands out to me happened on my very last day teaching abroad in Thailand. The teacher that I had been volunteering with told me that over the course of my time there, I had completely changed the attitude of one young girl who was having trouble at home. The consistent one-on-one attention I was able to give her as a longer-term volunteer, whether it was working with her on the alphabet or her impressive free-throw (she loved basketball), I learned that I had motivated her, helped her to find her smile again, and inspired her to do well in school. I was able to make a real impact.
Not only was I able to become close with the students, I quickly found friends in the staff. After a few weeks, they started to invite me to after-school happenings where I was the only non-Thai person in the room. I often found myself seated as a special guest at functions like their family birthday parties and other celebrations. And I had a chance to channel my inner Anthony Bourdain and try everything that was put on my plate. I had a chance to explore all of the local hot spots that any regular traveler would never know about.
During one weekend of free time, I traveled to Chang Mai with a few fellow volunteers, and we spent some time with travelers that we met along the way. Listening to their stories of the typical backpacker woes (not knowing the language, weird hostels, etc.) I took secret pleasure in knowing that we were not simply skimming the surface of this awesome country. Instead, I felt like it was home.
If I could have stayed forever I would have. I never thought I would find myself navigating my neighborhood in Bangkok like I grew up there, attending family parties, and constantly searching for a great excuse to head back over to Thailand. That’s why my biggest piece of advice is to stay as long as you can. Learn the basics of a new language, explore every corner of a different country, and volunteer to make a difference. Do it all, and you’ll see what I mean—suddenly, you’ve got a brand new home away from home.