For my STEP Signature Project, I participated in a program hosted by GVI. This program allowed me to work on GVI’s healthcare project in Ban Nam Khem, Thailand for two weeks in May. Our main activities included aiding a center for children with disabilities, performing health checks in the village, and teaching children at a local kindergarten.
During my time in Thailand, I was not only able to learn a lot about other parts of the world, but also about myself. This program taught me how different lifestyles and cultures vary from one side of the world to another. Since I had always lived in the United States and hadn’t really traveled very far, I had never really thought about the differences between the country I live in and the many others around the world. I learned about the differences in our governments, societies, and lifestyles in general, and realized that no one culture was better than the other- they were just different from each other. This program made me want to explore more areas of the world so I could develop my understanding of other countries as well. By traveling to Thailand, I feel that I am much more understanding and knowledgeable of the different ways that people may conduct their lives. I also realized that no matter what I do in my life, I want to help those who are less fortunate than I. It was amazing to make an impact in the healthcare system within a small village, and helped me to see that even two short weeks of work can make a huge impact in the grand scheme of things. As long as I have the resources to make an impact in the future, I always want to strive to improve other peoples’ lives.
My view of the world changed for many reasons. By being able to see and experience Thailand, I was able to consider differences in cultures and why those differences may occur. While I was away, I traveled to a few different areas of Thailand, including Bangkok, Phuket, Ban Nam Khem, and some others. In each area, I was able to see how the citizens conducted their lives, and how they expected foreigners (me) to behave as well. While walking around the village, I noticed these small intricate houses built in many of the yards, and was able to learn that they were used to keep bad spirits away. It was small differences like the one just described that intrigued me. On our base, we had a program leader who was from the Thai village that we were making an impact on. By interacting with her, I was able to learn so much about Thai culture and the importance of knowing about the area you were in. Although I was only in the small village of Ban Nam Khem for two weeks, the interactions I had allowed me to learn so much and even feel accepted by many of the people who lived there. For example, we attended the village Zumba in order to conduct free health checks, but then after we were done we would join in on their Zumba. The woman who participated loved when we would come to join them, and it was amazing to see the combination of the people from this Thai village and then 7 Ohio State students. I feel much more cultured now that I have seen Thailand, and can’t wait to learn more about other areas of the world.
During our project, we were able to visit a center for disabled children in the village. When we would attend this center, our goal was to provide them with activities that would help to further socialize the children and improve upon the skills that they were working on. Attending the sessions at this center was definitely the highlight of the program for me. Our program leads had told us about how Thai disability culture was definitely not the best, and how some families are embarrassed by their children who may be disabled. This definitely gave me a new perspective on the world because it shows how one’s culture can affect the treatment of others around them. While at this center, the children and staff were so well behaved and respectful towards us. There were only two people on staff at the center, so it was nice to be able to relieve them for a few hours a day when we were able to run the activities. We would play different games, do relay races or crafts, and always say our hellos and goodbyes in a circle while sitting down. Even though we were there to help the kids grow, they helped us volunteers grow as well. Their positive attitudes and heartwarming acts will always be something that I’ll remember and try to incorporate into my life. When we left this center for the last time, all of the volunteers had such heavy hearts. We really felt like we were making an impact on these kid’s lives, and it was hard to know that after two weeks of getting to know them, we won’t be seeing them again. We took comfort in knowing that GVI would continue to look out for this center and prepare the children for their futures.
One of the most amazing aspects of my experience with GVI in Thailand was being able to meet volunteers and staff from around the world. Although there were a lot of Ohio State volunteers on base, I was also able to meet people from Australia, Canada, the UK, Brazil, and more. These people allowed me to notice not only the differences, but also the similarities between our lifestyles and cultures. I was able to speak with the volunteers about their experiences at home and also their experiences from when they had traveled. The staff would always spark up conversations about the importance of learning about the cultures of the countries that your visiting and how some things may be extremely different than what you would expect. I felt that by living with people from across the world, I was able to learn so much more about them and where they were from. For example, when eating meals together we would talk about common foods that we all ate, and it was interesting to see how many differences could be pointed out. Even a lot of the lingo and slang words that we all used differed so greatly. By living on base together, we were able to create such strong bonds that were formed throughout the program and that were based on a mutual learning of new cultures.
My experiences during the GVI Program in Thailand have led me to several realizations about my future and myself in general. After meeting with the disabled children for two weeks while in the village, I know that I want to work with children who are medically vulnerable/disabled throughout my life. I noticed that after all of the work I did while in Thailand, nothing impacted me in the same way that those children did. I want to be able to bring this passion into whatever company or organization I end up working for. For example, I am currently interning at TD Bank and because of my trip to Thailand I am proposing a community project that aids disabled children in the area. Also, this program made me realize that I want to see so much more of the world. My eyes were opened to so many more cultures and lifestyles while in Thailand, and that was just in one country. Whether it be for work or leisure, world travel is definitely included in my future goals. This program also has made me consider taking some time after I graduate to give back to the world in some type of capacity. Through talking to the staff, I realized how many different initiatives there are that I could be a part of and that would also allow me to travel the world. Whether I decide to or not, this program definitely opened my eyes to the many possibilities and routes there are post-graduation. This program is one I will think about frequently and look back upon as one of my most meaningful experiences, and I am so grateful I was able to participate in it through STEP.