Teaching English in Bangkok, Thailand

1. For my service learning trip, I traveled to Bangkok, Thailand and taught English to kindergarten students at a local school through Cross Cultural Solutions’ volunteer program. Along with volunteering, I was also able to sight see around the city and travel throughout Thailand. I visited multiple Buddhist temples, learned how to give a Thai massage, and stayed overnight at an elephant sanctuary, among many other amazing experiences I had during the two weeks I spent in Thailand.

2. Before coming to Thailand, I thought the evident language barrier would greatly hinder my experience. I figured that because English is the language that is expected for everyone to speak in America, surely Thai people would not have any patience for a young American girl who spoke no Thai. I assumed I would not be able to explore Bangkok without a tour guide, and everywhere I would go I would stick out like a tourist. While I did obviously stick out as an American, Thai people were so kind and willing to help the group I traveled with. Thailand has been refereed to as “the land of smiles” because of this. The people here are very proud of their culture, but they are also eager to share it with others. I soon came to realize that this openness and kindness Thai people show to strangers would completely alter my experience for the better.

Along with this kindness that Thai people are filled with, they also have a very reverent and respectful way of life. For the first time in my life, I experienced a nationwide, upheld respect for religion and politics that is ingrained in the culture. Most people in Thailand practice Buddhism or at least have an appreciation for it, and the royal family, especially their recently deceased king, is adored. This attitude also attributes to Thai people’s peaceful and respectful ways. Their culture has lead me to reflect on American approaches to life. Especially with social media, it seems that we live in a world full of harsh critics that will judge and disagree with everything that is said and done. Being surrounded by a culture that is hardly divided on issues in politics and religion was refreshing and inspiring.

3. So many Thai people showed an eagerness towards English and American culture. My first experience with this excitement and acceptance was at the school I volunteered at. Every day my kindergarten class could not be more excited to sing “head, shoulders, knees, and toes,” and the alphabet. I also helped the teachers perfect their English and learn new words. The enthusiasm from both teachers and students to learn English was endless and heart warming. Outside of the classroom, complete strangers showed my friends and me so much kindness and willingness to help us, despite that we were obviously lost tourists. On the first day I was in Bangkok, I left the home base to go to a market with two other volunteers. We stood at a street curb for a few minutes, unsure what direction to walk in and how far away the market would be. A man shortly approached us and helped us hail a taxi and made sure the driver knew where to go—even though he himself spoke very little English. This small act astonished me and was only the beginning of my exposure to the acceptance and kindness of Thai people.

While Thai people are very kind, they are also very humble and reverent, particularly towards their recently deceased king. He passed last October and all Thai people have been in mourning since. As soon as I landed in the country, I saw huge paintings and shrines honoring their king. These were not just outside government buildings and around the airport; there were shrines outside of schools, shops, and even car dealerships. Many people wore black in public to show that they were mourning. Nearly everyone I saw in attendance at the Grand Palace was dressed head to toe in black. This nationwide respect for him was moving, and I immediately noticed the vast difference seen in American politics. Thai people also have a huge respect for Buddhist monks. There are strict rules that one must follow when interacting with a monk. Many Thai people will also do all they can to help them in little ways, such as giving a ride to a monk walking down the street or giving them food at a market. This is done to build good karma. I learned about these practices while talking to a monk at Wat Arun, a famous temple in Bangkok, but I also saw them in action all around the city. I was in awe of experiencing in culture that had such a widespread, understood respect for their political and religious leaders.

4. These transformations have greatly affected me. I have experienced a culture completely different from my own and have learned so much from it. I have seen how mutual respect and kindness can go a long way, especially with strangers. This has taught me how important it is to go out of my comfort zone and work with people that are different from myself. I have gained effective communication skills and have seen that I have so much to learn from the world and people around me. This can easily be applied to my future career in the health care field. Every day I will encounter people who may be very similar or very different from myself. I have learned how to think out of the box when language and cultural barriers are in place. With this experience and the tools that I have gained from it, I can continue to develop into my professional role in the health care field.