Lorelei is from Chicago and studied biochemistry in college with a concentration on Pre-Medicine. She was a Healthcare volunteer in Thailand with World Endeavors.
How was your experience in Thailand?
It was probably the best experience of my life. I didn’t have many expectations; I expected just whatever was going to happen. From the second I got off the plane, the in-country coordinator and her husband were so friendly. They took me over to her brother’s home, which was where I was staying, and they were the nicest people I had ever met!
The very beginning was a little difficult with getting my bearing and seeing what I was capable of doing. But the people at the hospital went above and beyond to find places for me to be helpful. Everyone made a huge effort in helping me be the most useful. It was a lot to take in, but it was fascinating. I went to bed each night happy.
What were your responsibilities at your placement?
At the hospital, I did lots of different things. Every day was different, so I had more like a weekly schedule. Two days a week, Monday and Wednesday, I taught English to the hospital staff. They ranged in age from 17-60 years old. A woman from the hospital put together the lesson plans, and I just tried to make it fun. They were so kind, and at the end of my trip, they gave me presents. One person gave me a CD of pictures we had taken during class.
After class on Mondays, I would work in the 2-month to 2-year-old ward. Only one parent at a time was allowed by the child’s bedside. If no parent was there, I was there to hold them, feed them and change them. During the beginning I had a difficult time communicating with the nurses, but as time went on the nurses and doctors would let me do rounds with them. They explained everything to me, and I got a better understanding of the patients and their situations.
On Tuesdays, I would volunteer in the hematology clinic. There were two Thai women that already volunteered there, and I jumped right in with them. We would make activities for the outpatient children, such as coloring or Play-Doh, while they waited for their treatments. After that I would go down to physiotherapy where there was a group of 16 autistic children. We would do activities to train their minds and bodies. We would toss balls or bean bags to get their minds to understand their bodies. We also had more cognitive activities such as dominoes to work their minds.
On Wednesdays, I was in the consulting room with a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, seeing all of his patients with him. It was more shadowing than volunteer work, but he was very willing to show us everything he did. This was my favorite part. While shadowing him, I got the best understanding of the Thai healthcare system and how it compares to ours in the US. For his consultations, he would bring 5 to 6 patients into his office at one time, and they would come up to his desk one by one. He explained to me that all the kids came from provinces in Thailand and they were the only ones in their villages with their conditions. By being in a group, it shows that they are not alone. It was almost like group therapy. These cases were really intense; nothing I had ever seen before in the US. I had never been in an OR before, so it was all really fascinating.
On Thursdays, we were in the Operating room, where typically we saw patients from the previous day.
On Fridays, I rotated between the ER and other labs. Most of the kids who came in had asthma or pneumonia and had to wear masks. I would spend my time with the children helping to keep them calm. The in-country-coordinator’s husband worked in the dermatology clinic next door, so he would come over and check on and show me around other labs.
Several times a week I did meditation with the parents of children who were inpatients. It was guided by a Thai woman, and sometimes the parents would explain to me what they were going through. We would then meditate and do other activities as well.
What were your first impressions of Thailand? How did your feelings develop from the beginning to the end of your trip?
Before going to Thailand, I had been mostly to Europe: England, France, Italy, Greece, etc., but never to Asia.
I got there at midnight and it was shockingly humid out. During my first week, I was surprised at how clean it was and the amount of delicious smelling foods was amazing! Their transportation system was million times better than here in Chicago! From what I experienced, they were very conservative in terms of what you wear. The prevalence of Buddhism was amazing, and it was very important to be respectful.
Leaving the hospital, it was so hard to say goodbye to all the people that had helped me. I am not a very emotional person, but I cried when I had to say goodbye. I think it was hardest to say goodbye to my host family. That had taken such good care of me, and had been so supportive of me.
Why did you choose to volunteer abroad?
I’ve always wanted to volunteer abroad in terms of reaching my long-term goal. My dream is to be a doctor who volunteers in countries that don’t have the medical resources we do. I wanted to see what it was like to be in a country and to learn from that. I had always wanted to go to Asia and I had heard good things about Thailand.
It was tough finding a program in healthcare without already being in the healthcare field. So I was really excited to find World Endeavors! It was the first step toward making my lifelong goal come true.
How was your host family?
They were so amazing! Their home was really nice. They were very interesting people with big hearts. We had great conversations and lots of fun. The wife was the friendliest and happiest woman I have ever met. She also teaches English to other volunteers, so she would take us all out to eat, to the floating markets, conventions, etc. She just went completely above and beyond. She even threw a party for some of the volunteers on their last night.
What did you do in your free time?
Evenings were pretty easy-going. We would always have dinner together and then just watch TV or read. I went to bed early as I was getting up at 7am each morning. On the weekends we got together to hang out or go out to eat. Since my host family was related to the in-country-coordinator, we would go over there too. We were all very much like a family.
One weekend trip I took with two other volunteers was to Koh Chang, an island off the gulf of Thailand. It was a 5 hour drive and we went snorkeling in five different places, were taken to a secluded beach and ate the most delicious food. And it was very affordable!
Before I left, my host mother said I had to visit Angkor Wat. She said it was the most beautiful place she ever went. It was a little pricey so I decided that I would just go by myself on an all-inclusive trip. It was this historical place with many temples and one of my favorite places I visited.
After my 6 week program, a friend from back home met me in Thailand, and we traveled for 3 weeks.
What was a typical meal in Thailand?
I usually just grabbed some toast or fruit for breakfast as I’m not a big breakfast person. For lunch, I ate at the hospital where they had a market underneath. I usually had soup or something like dim sum. I never ate anything too adventures when I was by myself. A typical dinner was either fresh fish or some type of meat (short ribs, pork), plain or fried rice, and always a soup either broth-based or curry. They also had omelets but like nothing I had ever tasted before. Maybe it was the wok that cooked it at a super high temperature but it was crunchy and delicious. Everything is pretty spicy but if you can ask them not to make it spicy. I didn’t like spice before I left but now I need it on everything!
There was always dessert, whether it was fruit or mango sticky rice or a type of dessert soup. They have more types of fruit than I ever thought possible!
Sometimes we would get food on the street and it was usually lots of noodles, fish, and they would put it all into a soup.
How did your time abroad impact you or your future career goals?
It completely reaffirmed my desire to work in the medical field. I am currently applying for a Master’s program in Public Health with a concentration on Community Health. Being in Thailand made me realize the importance of community. It seems like something we should take advantage of more in the US.
What advice would you give to someone traveling abroad?
Do research about the place you are going to visit. Try not to have expectations. People will be bending over backwards to help you, so keep that in mind. Take it day by day. And remember to be respectful of their culture.
Do you see yourself volunteering abroad again?
It’s my future goal! This was a great starting off point. I didn’t have much volunteer experience before this because I was always so busy with work and school. It was great to be able to step back and know what it would be like.
Number one story you love to tell about your time abroad:
It’s all silly, stupid things. Like eating on the streets and ordering “eggs explode”. Or just sitting around the dinner table and having great conversation, sharing our cultures. My family is Italian and we make wine, so I would pick out a bottle of wine for us to have with dinner. My favorite moment was my last night; I got to take my host family out to dinner. Some of them had never had sushi before so we just ordered so much food! It sounds silly but it was really special.
Most important thing you gained from your time abroad:
Now that I am back and struggling with applying to my Master’s program, I look back at my time in Thailand and that is something I did. This was something I went out and found on my own, and when I was there I made the most of my time. If I want to do something, I know that I can do it and I am capable of doing it.
Anything else you wish to share?
Thank you guys [World Endeavors staff] so much! The best part of this program is that the coordinator is Thai. It is operated through Thailand, and the people selected in Thailand were amazing and the most important part of my program.