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American Travels Half Way Around the World to Volunteer

“I volunteer abroad because it is the best way to really experience a culture. Volunteering abroad is a beautiful gift and a way of sharing yourself and receiving love and knowledge from those that surround you. Bottom line, I volunteer because I truly care about others and want to give what I can to them,” said Kaitlyn Reil, a 24-year old volunteer who participated in Projects Abroad’s Care Project in Thailand.

Kaitlyn ReilEvery day at Kaitlyn’s placement school was a new adventure, “During a typical day, the opening ceremony and announcements were from 8:00 to 8:30, and from 8:30 to 9:00 the classroom teacher did some songs and daily check-in things with the students; 9:00 to 10:00 was English time! During the 10:00 to 10:30 slot sometimes English filled it up, and sometimes the children worked on a handwriting sheet in either English or Thai. From 10:30 to 11:00 they ate lunch and I would help handing out food and help students cut their food and I made sure that they ate. After lunch they would sing songs and practice basic academic skills in the lunchroom with the classroom teachers. Then they would return to the classroom for naptime or play outside for a while!”

Kaitlyn’s favorite activity at school was English time. “I really loved the first few moments when the teacher turned the class over to me and the students would greet me in Thai then English with a rousing ‘good morning teacher!’ followed with me asking ‘are you ready?!’ and they would respond with an equally excited ‘YES!’. Towards the end of my placement I introduced using centers in the classroom to break down the class size into more manageable numbers for doing projects. I loved how well it worked! The head teacher, assistant teacher, and myself each had a group (I planned an English activity for each group). There was also a group of students at independent play with blocks; I was so happy to see them play cooperatively together because the group was small enough so they didn’t have to fight over toys! I loved center time because I got to really work with each student at his or her ability level and see him or her succeed.”

“There were always so many laughs and, well, a child’s laughing is contagious! At the end of my placement I made a book to leave in the classroom called ‘What do you see’. We had just finished an English book following a similar theme, but instead of the book characters I put in pictures of the students and their nicknames in English! They loved it and thought it was so funny that I was trying to say their names and giggled at everyone’s pictures.”

The cultural differences that Kaitlyn experienced made her trip even more interesting. “My biggest culture difference was probably the toilet situation, they were just different… and everything worked out just great! It took a little getting used to eating so much rice in once sitting, but since the food was delicious it didn’t take long! The heat was also a little shocking but with each day my body adapted. Before long I found myself comfortably sleeping under a blanket at 77 degrees. I like to take discomfort as a challenge and own it! Turn it into a positive experience and have fun with it! Be flexible and optimistic and happiness will follow.”

On the weekends when Kaitlyn would travel with other volunteers, she found that she thought of Krabi as her second home. “I loved going to school every day and seeing my children’s faces light up when they saw me, knowing that I was just as excited to see them. Hearing my children so eagerly use any English they knew looking for my excitement that they did well always warmed my heart. Feeling those little hands close around mine as we walked to lunch or the tiny unexpected hug from behind on the playground filled my heart with amazing memories every day.”

Living with a local host family in Thailand was one of Kaitlyn’s favorite things about her trip. “My host family was incredible. My host mom truly made me feel like one of her daughters. She was always willing to sit and talk with us [the volunteers] and have a few laughs. She took us for tours around the island and loved sharing stories and her experiences. Each day my host mom genuinely cared about my happiness and I genuinely care about her as well.”

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