Five life lessons I learned while Volunteering Abroad in Thailand
Coming here and volunteering in Thailand, I’ve had a lot of expectations. I’ll admit most of my expectations were jaded by beautiful India, and the people of India but the truth is whether you’ve never been anywhere in the world or you’ve seen your share of countries, I can guarantee you this: Thailand is like no place you’ve ever been or you’ll ever be, and I am not talking about the Thailand tourists know, I am not talking beautiful beaches and exotic islands, and definitely not industrialized Bangkok. I am talking Thailand the provinces, Thailand the People, Thailand the culture that you can’t truly understand unless and until you’ve lived in it and experienced everything it has to offer. If anything really I think I’ve learned from Thailand more than I’ve learned from anything in my life. Having two weeks left here, I realize that it doesn’t matter if the experience was good or not, I mean I genuinely can’t give you an answer to this question, but what I can genuinely give you is that it was a STRONG experience and that, that’s all that matters, because the lessons I learned here they’ll live with me till the rest of time.
During my time here I realized that..
1. I will not always form a connection with the country I travel to
I wouldn’t really claim that I am a traveler, but I’ve visited my share of countries and I can honestly tell you that I always developed a connection towards the country and felt drawn to come back, especially the countries I spent more than two weeks in. It was always this simple to me, I’d go to a country and I’d fall in love with everything it had to offer whether it’s the beautiful smiles of dark people in Cape Town, South Africa, the way they listen to music like it’s the most beautiful thing in the world, like it’s the only thing keeping them alive or it’s the beautiful souls of Indians who would literally help you even if it would cost them their lives, who would dance whenever they get a chance. It was always that easy for me. Travel, fall in love with the people, fall in love with the food, with the culture; however, Thailand taught me for the first time that it’s really not a given. That I will most definitely not fall in love with every country I go to. I am absolutely not in love with Thailand right now, but not in a bad way. Thailand taught me a lot and I’ll forever cherish it. Would I come back again? Probably not. Would I long for the people here? I wouldn’t say so, and for the first time I realize that it’s ok. It’s ok to not develop a connection, what is important is developing oneself
2. SOLO traveling isn’t as amazing as everyone makes it out to be
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always rooted for solo traveling and getting out there and leaving your comfort zone, but sitting here on my fourth week. I realize the only reason I’ve enjoyed it before was because I’ve always managed to make friends in the new country so I was not really SOLO after all, actually far from that, but living here alone in Thailand with Thai people who barely speak English, I can assure you that traveling alone. Taking yourself to places and enjoying the scenery alone, well of course it’s pleasant, but it will never be as pleasant as sharing it with someone else
3. I am perfectly capable of making it on my own
I’ve always been a social person. I love going out and having conversations with people about both the stupidest and deepest issues in the world. I admit coming here and not being able to communicate or speak with anyone in this small province called Nakhom Pathom had its toll on me. It was probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, but now that I am halfway through the project I realize that for the first time in my whole life, I really made it on my own. I took every disappointment on my own, I solved every problem on my own. I found ways to entertain myself. I really came at ease with my own company and for, especially, that I will always be grateful to Thailand
4. I understood for the first time how it is to wish for what you don’t have
In the orientation camp, I remember they told us one thing, they said don’t show off your things because the people in the provinces most probably don’t have it and it would make them feel bad. I don’t think I understood the guy’s stance at the time. I remember thinking well it’s silly, I’m not going for example to take out my money from my wallet and show it to the locals! What does he mean show off? Is he stupid? But living here for all this period without a decent shower or toilet, I think I finally understand how it is for the less privileged to wish for what they don’t have, because I can most definitely tell you that even I did it! I am not proud of it, but I did it, and now I truly understand that it is very possible, and that it is not a crime for after all I lived in this house..
My house in Nakhon Pathom
I had lizards, Mosquitos and spiders all over my toilet and bed. I had no bedroom and no privacy. I was practically living in the street and I can honestly tell you that every day on the way to the school and back, I would look at every house and I would honestly ask myself over and over again "why did I not live there?" "Why did I have to be stuck in my own house,In these conditions, even though there is better?" I mean I could've at least been living at the house across the street..
The house across the street
It was not far! It could’ve been me! And for the first time I truly understood what It is to want what you do not have, and I believe that this is the biggest lesson that Thailand gave me, the realization that I am blessed, that I have it really good, and that other people who wish to have what I have, they are not bad people. They are human, and life is harsh. It didn’t give them the best conditions and they really deserve more. We all deserve more.
5. Being a foreigner doesn’t give you a nice treatment ticket
You know when you go to a country and you fall in love with the people? You become amazed by how the locals are willing to help? Well add this to the list of things that are different about Thailand. I’ve literally had many incidents where I was verbally abused, and sometimes kicked out of a van just because they wanted me to pay for a bag that I have always taken on all my van rides in Thailand. This, I believe, is the most shocking thing about Thailand’s culture. How some people could come off so rude with tourists! How they abused their power of how you are a foreigner and don’t know anything really about the country or the language! I’ve never experienced that in my previous travels. I’ve always had a helping hand, a welcoming smile, but coming to Thailand, I was shocked at how rare that was. In fact everyone took advantage of us and tried to take as much money from us as possible. Sometimes I’d ask a simple direction question and They’d just wave at me to go! I admit that in the provinces and the rural areas everyone was kind and smiley, but in the touristic areas, Thai people were rude and opportunistic, and that is one thing that I will never forget about Thailand!
Finally, I think what happened to me here is what keeps me traveling. The fact that traveling teaches you more than you would have learned in your boring ordinary life, and I think that it is only that when we are really back home after having even the most tiresome trip in the world that we realize how much we have grown, after saying our hellos and telling our stories, we really acknowledge how different we are, even to our old home. We change and home stops being a familiar place, but that is the beauty of traveling.