Volunteering is working for free without getting paid! Sounds terrible, right? But there is so much more to that concept. Once you start, you will most likely not want to stop. Up until now I prefer to work/ volunteer when I’m traveling and I am not the most hard-working person on earth. I actually took a nap after writing those 3 sentences.
But the life experience you gain whilst working in another country has such an impact on your personality – no hotel pool can ever do that for you!
I grew up traveling to fancy hotels with my parents. I loved it! All of them had a pool, all of them were close to the beach and the food -Oh My God- yeah the food was amazing! But all of them were the same. I remember one holiday when we went to Egypt and everything went wrong: our return flight had a 16 hours delay, the plane tickets we got suddenly had faked names on, we got ripped off at the pyramids while we were on horses and had no idea where to go, our cab nearly had an accident with a donkey on the streets… everything went wrong and it was the best holiday I’ve ever had, because we had such an adventure!
And this is volunteering! You are thrown into a world you do not know and experience things you couldn’t have imagined. And even an unknown routine can be adventurous. Before it gets boring, you leave to travel to new places. Well, this is how I’ve always done it. Started with volunteer work and then explored the country.
Thailand. I stood in front of the volunteer house. It had two floors, a balcony and a garden. It was located outside Chiang Mai, near Doi Saket, and looked like the home of someone. It was going to be my home for the next few weeks. With a welcome drink in my hands I walked around and got to know the other volunteers. They had brought beers and put a blanket on the grass outside. The weather was awesome and good music was playing in the background. I already liked it.
“Eeeeew this headache,” I thought whilst waking up. “Where am I? Oh right- in Thailand. Aaaaw I feel terrible!”
It was Sunday and the previous night had been more eventful than the whole day. Noone could move and we were all lying around, occupied with breathing in warm air and breathing out alcohol. A little bit later I found myself in front of those stairs:
To be precise: 300 stairs. Three hundred stairs of pain. But they were worth it! We had decided to take a spontaneous bike trip to the Way Phra temple in Doi Saket to receive a blessing from a monk.
Having mastered the snake stairs of hell we arrived on top of the mountain and entered Monkwonderland.
There were temples and small houses- just like in a regular village. I felt so unholy with my hangover, but monks don’t care. They don’t give a shit. They walk around with their inner peace and smile. Or meditate. Or smile and meditate. I like them.
We removed our shoes and went inside a temple. There were people waiting in front of us, ready to receive their blessings. I was not. I tried to focus on what they were doing, so I wouldn’t do anything wrong. By then I did not understand one single word in Thai, but really wanted a blessing, too.
It was my turn. I walked towards the monk on my knees. He had a white string in his hands. It seemed to be endless and I am pretty sure it was. Just imagine this string coming down straight from heaven … well not in Buddhism exactly… anyways, the string was long and the white core symbolised health. I heard him mumble prayers in Thai while he wrapped the core around my wrist. I placed my hands together in front of my head, my fingers pointing upward, and bowed my head slightly forward without maintaining eye contact. I felt blessed.
The evening ended with a nice dinner at a restaurant, we got invited to by the company Travel-to-Teach, because I had won this trip. Luckily my hangover was gone by then as the press photos were taken. The food was amazing! Even now I would consider Thai Food the best food in the world! Though I can’t recommend the roasted grasshoppers you can buy on the streets. They tend to taste like old peanuts!
Despite our plans to get to bed early, all of us ended up in a nice beergardenish bar with 5 bottles of Whiskey. In Thailand you can buy your own stuff (BYO- “Bring Your Own”), pay a small fee to have your “bottles opened” and then drink it directly in the bar. We somehow got home in a TukTuk, which kind of looked like that:
Next morning at work we probably still had the same looks on our faces, but managed to stand up straight this time. Having to ride to work with a bike made you feel refreshed within a minute, no later than the moment you realise, your way to school means crossing a highway at some point and you REALLY have to be fast!
The class I was teaching English was really small. There were only 8 students in it, all between six and seven years old. The focus on the lessons was to create an English-speaking environment. We had several word fields, that were included in games and activities. Sometimes I drew them some pictures they had to name or color or just played games with them in English. Though singing did not work out this day, haha!
Teaching Monks was a bit different. They were older and the lessons had to be structured better. Some topics included: Hollywood, Popstars, Cities … etc. … Can you believe that they were actually studying those topics? Haha, yeah. They seemed to ADORE Brad Pitt, I can tell you! Apart from that they learned how to pronounce letters: AIII BEE SEEEEE DEEEE … this was kind of fun as they were laughing a lot! Just picture seventeen year olds, dressed in orange, sitting at their desks with shaved heads. They’re still seventeen! They were no different to teenagers that age back in Europe. The only thing that was different was a serious looking old monk who sat in the corner, tipping his stick on the floor when it got too loud.
If you want to know why I caused one of them to take a 3 hour cleaning ceremony, click here.
Besides the experiences you gain while volunteering abroad, you also have a lot of free-time to see the country. Weekends are normally free and you can start exploring! We went on a trip to Pai on a scooter. I had wanted an adventure and I was about to get one, but more on that later …
By the way I just found out about this website, that offers online courses for both teachers and students. If you want to learn English via Skype or teach some languages to other people and earn some extra money for your upcoming travels, this seems to be a nice way to do so.