What to Do: Volunteer (CCS Thailand)

“You can travel as much as you want and go wherever you want, but you may not find a more likeable people anywhere.  In their culture there is no hour for the dour and they go the extra mile with a smile.”

– Pacific Perspectives with Tom Plate, Asia Media Online

[singlepic=933,200,,,right]I have not come across a better statement when describing Thailand and its people.  I have had the opportunity to travel to Thailand on three separate occasions, and each time I have found this thought to be true.  The Thais are so proud of their culture and so honored to share it with visitors that you can not help but fall in love with their hospitality and their warmth.

For a year I had the opportunity to prepare volunteers for their Thailand experience through Cross-Cultural Solutions.  After many years of traveling, it was only in 2006 that I decided to combine my travels with volunteering, and did so in Peru.  Upon returning, I wanted to help others discover the wonders of combining traveling and volunteering, and found that opportunity with CCS.

[singlepic=938,200,,,left]Why is international volunteering so important?  For me, it’s a great opportunity to give back to a community that I’m visiting and an incredible way to be guided through a culture that you would not get to experience if you were there just as a tourist.  It is also an opportunity to learn more about yourself and your place in the world.  Alexandra, a Bangkok volunteer, wrote: “I often stop and just think about how privileged I am and how much I take that for granted.  Thailand taught me how life can be so simple, yet so enjoyable.  I think we often forget that in our materialistic, electronic-run country.”

Sarah, a Trang volunteer, shared that “the warmth of the Thai people really stood out for me.  People there just really take in each moment and don’t hurry about their lives in a busy, frantic state of mind.  They really take time to enjoy life, food, other people, nature, and religion.”

Becoming an international volunteer is also a wonderful way to serve as ambassadors – for most of the world, what they know about us and our culture is what they see in the news and in movies and television shows.  And of course what is portrayed through those mediums are not always representative of who we are.  And as most of the world can not travel to us, by going to them, we can share our culture with them and show that there are people that care.

[singlepic=908,200,,,right]Alex spent four weeks in the Bangkok program and experienced the Thais appreciation in many ways: “The thing that stood out for me was the overwhelming appreciation of not only the children at the work site, but also all of the staff, and even people we met (at tourist attractions, for example). Before we even began work, I felt that our very presence and motives were enough to make a serious difference. Every Thai person who I told about my volunteering told me ‘Thank you so much for helping my country,’ and the way they said it, it was as if I’d helped them personally. I felt as though my small impact had somehow spread throughout the country, regardless of how much quantitative work I did.  The fact that I was only there 4 weeks had no effect on the quality of my work in anyone’s eyes.”

When I traveled to Thailand the first time, I definitely hit the tourist spots – Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Koh Samui.  Returning with CCS, I was able to see a side of the culture that most visitors don’t get to experience.  Trang lies in the southern region of Thailand, and though it is close to popular tourist destinations like Krabi and Koh Phi Phi, it has remained off the tourist path.  And because of the large number of Chinese and Malay immigrants in the area, Trang has a unique culture even within Thailand itself. And it won’t be long before tourists recognize this and start to make their way there in order to visit the many mangroves, waterfalls, and of course, secluded islands that dot the coast line.  CCS volunteers in our Trang program have a great opportunity to prepare the community for the future of tourism by teaching English and giving them the confidence to practice the English they know.

[singlepic=926,200,,,left]Personally, by exploring the world as a volunteer, I feel as if I am so much more apart of a global community.  Instead of just taking on my travels, I am now sharing – both at home and abroad.  And learning can go so much further than just your immediate surroundings.  Brittany, a volunteer in Trang, wrote: “Not only did I learn a lot about the Thai culture, I learned a lot about other cultures that some of the other volunteers came from as well.  I am starting to consider myself a global citizen instead of a U.S. citizen.  I’ve realized how we are all connected despite our differences.”

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