I decided to do volunteering for two reasons: firstly it was for self-preservation but I also wanted to help others (I’m not THAT terrible!). My selfish reason was that I was running out of money and I knew that volunteering would give me free food and accommodation. The other reason was that I didn’t just want a standard backpacking trip like everyone else; I was already following the well-travelled path of South East Asia. I wanted to make some kind of difference, and leave a lasting mark somewhere.
I used the Worldpackers website, which is a great website for those who want to travel to a country but don’t really have a lot of money to do so. You enter in your destination and the dates you will be there, and the site will bring up a number of hosts with different volunteering opportunities: teaching, building, gardening, community projects, hostel work etc.
I actually applied for a few different positions, and the one that accepted me was Thong Tos Foundation in Bangkok for English teaching in schools.
I won’t lie, I was really nervous; I’ve never taught English before, I didn’t have one of those TEFL qualifications that a lot of people have… I was just turning up with zero experience.
Thankfully when I turned up to my accommodation there were some other travellers there: two from Brazil, two from Portugal, one from India and another from Mexico…a real mix! The Indian guy, the Mexican girl and the two Portuguese girls were soon replaced by a girl from Cape Verde, a guy from Portugal and a girl from Italy (at the end of my 2 weeks).
Our accommodation was a type of shared apartment: two bathrooms, a living/dining room and two bedrooms with lots of bunk beds. Basic but exactly what we needed, and the best part was that it was free! It was also in a residential area so we got to live like locals in an area where there weren’t really any tourists.
We taught at two schools: a Muslim school and a Buddhist school; four would go to the Muslim school and two would go to the Buddhist school (sometimes one of us would be on our own). The teachers were welcoming, and they always gave us lunch if we wanted it. When I first turned up I actually half expected to see what you usually see if people go to schools to teach English: an old shed looking building, with no materials, and just a few children. The schools were actually proper schools with desks, some materials, and loads of kids all dressed in uniform. They could have done with a refurb and an update but they were definitely better than I thought they would be.
Teaching was interesting, fun and challenging; the kids (depending on the age) didn’t always understand what you were saying to them, but some had really good English. The frustrating part was that it wasn’t very organised as we weren’t told the kids’ levels of English or what they already knew, so we’d just go in and teach whatever we wanted. The good thing was that the majority of kids were eager to learn (some were very distracted though, especially with Pokemon) and they were ALL super cute!
Games were the best way to interest the kids, but I always made sure to teach something first and get them to write it down: whether it registered or not, I have no idea!
I personally preferred teaching in the Buddhist school because the children seemed more focused, respectful and easier to teach. I also think because of their meditation throughout the day they were calmer. The kids in the Muslim school seemed to have better English but it was hard to keep them focused and under control. My inner teacher/someone I didn’t want to be definitely came out on a few occasions!
I’ll definitely be using worldpackers again as it’s the best way to explore a country and gain an unforgettable experience while doing it! I might even teach English again (if my patience could last!).