Making a difference while traveling the world

Archive for March, 2011

53 days and counting…My Thailand school and homestay

Just 53 days left till I leave for my trip! Crazy!!! Time is flying by and there’s so much to do!

I’m really excited because I just received my placement information for Thailand today through the organization, Volunthai. I’ll be teaching at a school, called Prangku School in the Chaiyaphum province in central-northeastern Thailand. According to my coordinator, it’s a big school with more than 2,000 students in a small village that isn’t t00 far from town, relatively speaking (who knows how far that actually is), where the “teachers and students are very nice and people in the village are lovely.” I’ll be staying with a teacher from the school in the 2-story school guest house with 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, a living room and a kitchen. Doesn’t sound too shabby, although I don’t mind roughin’ it for a few weeks.  🙂

Before I get there, I need to come up with different exercises and methods to teach English to these kids. Any suggestions?



60 Minutes story that moved me to tears

Did you see this last Sunday’s 60 Minutes story about the disaster in Japan? It’s the most in-depth and gripping story I’ve seen about the tragedy so far. Besides the nuclear threat, it tells about an American guy who’s been teaching English in Matsushima, a town ravaged by the earthquake and tsunami, who was trapped in the school gym when the tsunami rushed in and nearly took his life while saving some of the kids. That description was so vivid, I couldn’t hold back the tears.

Helping tsunami victims

Wow…all these images of the tsunami and the survivors the past few days is so overwhelming and heartbreaking. I know we all want to help in some way – and many of you probably already have by donating to the Red Cross – but many of us may want to go to Japan and volunteer in person. I’ve read a lot of posts on Yahoo! Answers from people who want so badly to go there now to help with the recovery efforts and I’ve also read about a few small groups of trained and experienced disaster response volunteers from different organizations heading there to help, but it seems the best way we can help now is to donate money or to volunteer locally. One doctor in Knoxville, Tennessee is asking every patient and visitor who come to his free medical clinic to donate $1. There are so many uncertainties and risks there now – the threats of radiation exposure and aftershocks – that the volunteers who are there already are likely not able to help directly yet.

Here’s what you can do:

All Hands Volunteers has already sent volunteers to Japan to assess the situation. Those volunteers are currently in Tokyo, since they’re not able to get much closer to the affected area yet. The organization isn’t sure if or when they will send more people, but you can give them your name and email to add to a list of prospective volunteers.

You can go to the Network for Good website where you can choose which organization you want to give to (so much more than just the Red Cross).

Charity Navigator is also a good resource to find charities to give to, but also tips about what you can do – and what not to do:

– Avoid newly-formed charities

– Designate your investment

– Do not send supplies

– Be careful of email solicitations

– Seek out the charity’s authorized website

– Think before you text

– Consider the nature of the charity’s work

– Be inspired by social media, but still do your homework

– Avoid telemarketers

– Do not expect immediate results, but DO keep tabs on what your donation accomplishes



Traveling alone, as a woman

My parents are understandably concerned about me traveling to the other side of the world by myself. I, too, am concerned, but I’m not going to let that stop me. The majority of my trip, the volunteer organizations I’ve signed up with set me up with a family in the northeastern part of Thailand and in a dorm-like setting in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, but there are other parts of the region I’d like to see and I may have to do it on my own.

I’m debating whether to arrive in Bangkok a couple of days early to check it out before I can officially start teaching, since I’d like to arrive towards the end of May and their school year starts June 1st. I may have a friend of a friend to show me around there or friends joining me on certain parts of my trip, but I have to be prepared to do it on my own. I’ve never done it before, but I hear that it allows you to meet so many interesting people and see the country in a different way. What are your thoughts and suggestions? I found this article helpful to me:

A Single Woman’s Guide to Bangkok, Thailand

by Alison Tennant

October 15, 2008

I’m a worrier. I don’t think I’d have got around the world a few years ago without being a worrier.

So this article will concentrate on the single “lady” being careful in Bangkok – or anywhere for that matter – rather than on the places she might want to visit.

First of all, I’d prefer “female” or “girl” or even “chick”. “Lady” sounds like a 1920s Englishwoman off on safari!

OK, so pack an extra pair of panties! That’s what you’d expect me to say, right? But that’s for a separate article.

When a girl is travelling alone, there are different rules and regulations than there are for a boy travelling alone. Often BECAUSE of boys travelling alone.

In Bangkok, unless you’re a well-seasoned traveller, DON’T just turn up at a backpackers’ hostel and ask for a bed. Even if you don’t get offered one in the corner of a room full of men smoking goodness-knows-what (and it does happen!), you’ll at best be squeezed into a women’s dorm in which are girls who return, drunk, at 2 a.m. and spend the rest of the night between bed and bathroom.

Ah, the bathroom! Bangkok’s aren’t the worst in the world (those are in Hong Kong in my experience) and they usually DO provide paper, but the female traveller ALWAYS needs to be wary of them! Travellers from the U.S. please remember – Eastern facilities are rarely “restrooms”.

If you sit, hold your bag on your lap; if you squat, strap it around our neck before you even drop your jeans. WHEREVER you travel, carry some tissues with you and always have some spare ones in your bags back at the hotel. There are few day-to-day things worse in life than there being no tp!

Back to bed. If you DO have to bunk in shared accommodation, keep your valuables in the bed with you – either in pockets of whatever you wear (and do wear something!) or under the sheet you’re lying on.

If you have a quick check of your belongings everytime you move, you’ll never forget them. The easiest way to do this is by choosing a phrase or sentence to represent your important things. (E.G. carrying a purse, tickets, money, keys, tampons and passport? The initials are P, T, M, K, T, P, so make up a silly phrase you’ll always remember. Something rude is often best (!), but here we’ll settle for “Please Take My Kettle To Paris“. Say that 10 times a day and you’ll soon know if anything’s missing!).

Where to hide things when on the move? Well, you’re a woman. An obvious hiding place for money is in your bra. If someone tries to pinch it from there, believe me, you’ll know about it!

But DON’T put any in there that you’re likely to need in a hurry – removing it could be embarrassing!

When you’re travelling among the Bangkok crowds, keep straps around as many parts of your boidy as you can. Wear a shoulder bag around your neck, carry a purse around your wrist, strap a money belt around your body or even a smaller one around the top of your leg (under jeans or tights of course).

Bangkok’s public transport is known for harbouring ‘slit-bag’ thieves (i.e. however well locked your rucksack is, a sharp knife could give someone its contents in seconds).

So, a couple of tips: firstly, in a crowd, strap your bag where you can see it (i.e. to your front if possible) or at worst wrap your arms around it; secondly, fit locks to the LESS important pockets (a thief has only a few seconds to rob you, and he’ll go quickly for the things which LOOK important – that way, with a bit of luck, he’ll get hold of your soiled underwear rather than your mobile phone!).

Of course, so many of these precautions should be taken if your’e a single girl travelling ANYWHERE, and the golden rule should ALWAYS be: don’t keep your valuables all together. If you put your credit cards, money, travellers cheques, passport, and plane tickets all in a wallet in your handbag, you’re asking for trouble, whether your’e in Bangkok or Birmingham.

Welcome to my blog!

Those of you who know me know I’ve had a dream for the past few years that I haven’t had the guts to do till now – live abroad and volunteer. There’s never a great time to take a break from work and stop earning an income or move thousands of miles away from my family and my boyfriend, but I have to do it. I’m 31-years-old and would like to “settle down” at some point…so now’s the time.

I’ve decided to spend 2 months to live in Thailand this summer – and maybe Vietnam, too – to teach English to children. I’ve researched dozens of volunteer organizations that can place you on different projects around the world. Thanks to Lonely Planet’s book, Volunteer – A Traveller’s Guide to Making a Difference Around the World, I had a quick reference right at my fingertips. I found 2 organizations that fit me (and my budget) best – Volunthai and International Volunteer Headquarters (you can find their links on the Volunteer Opportunities page).

I’m not sure why I chose countries in Asia, since I’ve been to the continent plenty of times before, but I’ve never been to Thailand or Vietnam and have heard how beautiful they are, and it’s where I feel the need is greatest – aside from Africa.  I chose to work with children because I love kids and feel I can learn so much about compassion and selflessness from them. In the end, that’s what this adventure is all about – giving each other new perspectives. While I’m traveling halfway around the world to help improve the lives of these underprivileged and “needy” children, I know I’ll be gaining so much more from them –  fulfilling my need to see the world from their eyes – reminding me how much more there is to life than money, possessions and image.

I hope you enjoy following me along my journey and find a volunteer venture that fits you, too!