I Can’t Believe I’m Volunteering in Thailand
I can’t believe I can say this! But I spent a year of my life volunteering in Thailand, helping others. And I have to say that I am quietly proud.
I was never planning on volunteering in Thailand, either. But since I have flipped my life inside out and moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand, also known as The Rose of the North, my life has taken the most surprising twists and turns. This is far removed from my regimented, predictable previous life as an ordinary civilian with a large mortgage and busy career. Now, I am happy for some things in life to ‘just simply happen’.
When my friend asked me if I could help out, because they were short of a teacher, I jumped at the opportunity. I feel like it is a privilege to have time, and that using some of it to help others is a perfect use of my time.
What About the Visa for Volunteering in Thailand
Visas can be difficult to get. And an internet search on this type of visa is difficult as there is a lot of contradictory information out there.
The answers to your visa questions really depend on several things. My advice is to watch out for scams, where so-called “charities” say they will help you with a visa when you get there, and then they don’t.
So, either do a ton of research on the charities in your field OR come over, research with your feet on the ground where you can talk to other expats who can guide you, or check with us here at TCI. We have staff and community members in many countries – people who have been there and done it.
- Do people come here and volunteer here illegally? Yes.
- Do people get caught volunteering here illegally? Yes, but not everyone. Mostly, they are asked to leave the country and may have difficulty getting back in.
- Do I recommend volunteering without a visa? No. Always obey the laws of the land.
But I do recommend you do the research for volunteering in Thailand in-country, where the information you get is much more reliable than what random people may say online. In reality, a charity organization needs you to be on a Volunteer Visa (you will also need a work permit). It is illegal to volunteer in Thailand on any other visa.
Luckily, the school that invited me to help is a registered charity school, and they helped me organize my visa.
And Then, My Adventure Really Began: Volunteering in Thailand
There were challenges for me, for sure. I was to teach Burmese refugees and migrant workers the Reading and Language Arts program for the GED. This was big! This is not an easy exam, and I quickly realized that their future depended on this.
There were no programs left by previous teachers, so I had to plan every lesson. I juggled learning outcomes with vocabulary lists, designed writing scaffolds… I worked beyond the suggested hours of the school. (Their prediction is that it is about 20 hours of work per week)
Due to COVID-19, all lessons were on zoom. And when I saw all those faces, I was hooked. This group of young people was so respectful and so grateful for my help. They really let me know they appreciated me.
The Rewards of Volunteering In Thailand
At first, they were so shy. It was difficult to get a conversation going (which is naturally necessary for an English language class.) It honestly took me about 10 weeks for the ‘wall’ to be broken down.
Once those relationships grew, it became more exciting.
Eventually, almost all the students would get involved. They were really stimulated by learning about logic and reasoning, and using their higher-order thinking skills to problem solve. How awesome to see them grow!
One thing I learned was that even though these students had often poor education, they quickly rose to the challenges. I was absolutely delighted by the collective intelligence of the group. Really amazing people. The insights that I gained were invaluable and made me a more understanding person.
I know that I have made friends for life. On a recent catch-up with students, they gave me a big bag of fruit fresh from the market. I know these ex-students have nothing. It was humbling that they still want to give.
The Lessons Learned from Volunteering In Thailand
Volunteering is about giving. And that is completely rewarding. But I learned a few other things along the way, too.
- A volunteer cannot be a ‘diva’. If the organization needs you, help according to their ‘timetable’. It makes it easier for them. Don’t demand, but accept and be supportive.
- Don’t rush in and be judgemental. Too often in the ‘volunteer world’ situations can be interpreted through ‘white’ or ‘middle class’ eyes. Culture makes a difference in how organizations operate. Go with the flow. Don’t give advice, as the organization has successfully operated within the context of the country and its laws.
- Communicate with the other volunteers. Some of them have already worked out the lay of the land.
- Focus on what you are giving rather than being a critical observer.
- Accept that you will be provided with limited resources. I found I had to use my skill set to create a program that is useful.
There is no doubt that volunteering can be life-changing in so many ways. Have you thought about volunteering? In the best-case scenario, what would you like to do as a volunteer overseas? Please let us know!
by: Rachel Devlin