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Volunteering Abroad Changed My Life

As many of you know, I recently got back from a 4-month stay in Thailand, where I taught English to kindergarteners, and had the opportunity to travel to a few different countries in Southeast Asia. Going into the experience, I knew it would impact me in some way, but it was impossible to know exactly how.

Fast forward 6 months later, being home for almost two months, I’ve noticed some minor changes in myself, but I had one major change of heart while I was in Thailand.

When deciding on a college major, I always knew I wanted to make an impact, but never really knew in what way. Being a teacher was always in the back of my mind as a ‘Plan B’ if everything else failed, but it wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to pursue. Well, not until I got to experience it firsthand.

I won’t lie. The first few days, even weeks, of teaching were nerve-wracking. I had a few breakdowns at first, wondering what the heck I got myself into. The kids were out of control. I couldn’t keep them entertained. I obviously loved the kids, but I had no idea how anyone could do this for the rest of their lives. Lesson plans, nose-pickers, not following directions. I’m not sure exactly when my mindset changed, but I noticed along the way that the more time I spent outside of class preparing my lessons and the more I cared about them, the more fun they were for the kids. The kids were more engaged, entertained, and (mostly) well-behaved. Not only that, but time was drawing closer to the end of the semester, so I knew I had to enjoy the time that was left.

This was when I really started noticing a difference in myself and my lessons. I also started seeing improvement from the kids, which was enough motivation alone to continue doing what I was doing. This was when I realized that teaching was something I could most definitely do for the rest of my life. The impact we had on those kids in just four months was so great, I can only imagine the impact that actual school teachers have on their students.

Had I not volunteered with International Language Programs (ILP), a nonprofit organization based in Utah, I never would’ve known how much I actually love teaching. Being honest with myself and deciding whether or not to switch my major was the most difficult part of the realization, because I still have a love for nonprofit organizations (the reason I wanted to volunteer with ILP in the first place) and what they do for people. There was an abundance of stress, mostly because I didn’t know what school to attend, and I’m still not sure I chose the right one.

Anyway, volunteering with ILP literally changed my entire future, not to mention the smaller changes that took place while I was there. I’m no longer deathly afraid of bugs. I have a smaller appetite than I did when I left America. Being away from home gave me a greater appreciation of the small amount of time that I do get to spend with my family. It made me push myself both mentally and physically (in a positive way), because we were constantly trying new things. I discovered that I have anxiety, and learned how to cope with/manage it. I have a greater appreciation for the outdoors. I learned that you don’t have to speak the same language in order to bond with someone. I strive, daily, to be as kind as the people of Thailand. I made ten lifelong friends, and was made aware of the fact that Phitsanulok, Thailand will always be a second home to me. Lastly, I grew in my faith and relationship with God.

If any future volunteers are reading this, this will truly be the best few months of your life, so make the most of it when the time comes. If you’re not signed up for the program yet, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!?! Volunteering with ILP was truly the most incredible four months of my life, and I don’t regret a single moment of it. Volunteering was easily the best decision I’ve ever made, and I’ve never been more sure of anything in my entire life. As if that’s not enough reason to go, ILP has incredible benefits for alumni if you choose to go again.

This post is not sponsored in any way. I really just wanted to share my life-changing experience, and how thankful I am for it and everyone involved.

If you’ve never heard of ILP and you’re even the slightest bit curious about them or their programs, check out their website, www.ilp.org. If you have any questions about ILP, their programs, or my experience in Thailand, let me know. I’d be happy to answer them!

Stay traveling!

Stephanie

P.S. Everyone who’s traveled knows that trips are usually far from perfect. So, a ‘reality post’ filled with all of the not-so-great parts of this trip is coming next. Be sure to keep an eye out!

3 thoughts on “Volunteering Abroad Changed My Life

  1. dear Stephanie, I totally understand you 🙂 I also had the chance to volunteer for some months, an experience that changed so positively my life, something that I never forget, and it was 8 years ago eheh best regards and happy travels, PedroL

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