Name: Shawn
Home: North Carolina, USA
Major: Biology
Program: Healthcare Volunteer
Program Location: Bangkok, Thailand

Tell us about your volunteer project.

I volunteered for four weeks right in downtown Bangkok. The hospital is very large and modern with many specialties ranging from orthopedics and pediatric oncology to psychiatry and plastic surgery. They are operated under the Thai Government, as well as serving as a teaching hospital.

What was your role at the project?

I had many roles at the hospital, some changing throughout my time there. I first started in the family and surgical ward, specifically with male postoperative patients. I assisted nurses with rounds, vitals, bathing, feeding and other various duties, gaining great hands on experience. Halfway through my time at the hospital I switched to the Pediatric Oncology ward. There, I played with the children, taught basic English and read stories to them. In the afternoons I taught English classes to hospital staff and nurses. I was also able to visit other areas of the hospital and an outreach clinic in the slums.

What was a typical day like?

I usually woke up around 7am, took a nice cold shower and had breakfast. Then, I’d walk about two minutes to catch the bus to the subway station. Depending on traffic, the bus ride would take anywhere from 10-45 minutes (traffic is terrible in Bangkok!). I’d then hop on the subway (MRT) and get off at Silom, about a 30 minute ride which took me right to the hospital. Once I arrived at the hospital (usually around 9AM) I helped out at the pediatrics or surgical ward in the mornings. I always had lunch at the hospital- they had several cafeterias with lunch around one dollar. In the afternoons I taught English classes to the hospital staff, nurses and children. Sometimes I would explore Bangkok when I was finished for the day at the hospital- going to a park, shopping or even a boxing match. I’d then head back home and have dinner around 7:30 with the family and the others at the house. On the weekends, I explored Bangkok and other areas of Thailand with other World Endeavors interns/volunteers.

How was your experience living with your host family? What did you gain from it?

My host family was incredible. From the time they picked me up at the airport to the time they dropped me off to go home they were so hospitable, helpful and loving. Living with a Thai family gave me a deeper understanding of Thai culture, Buddhism, traditions, language and food. Since most of my days were spent at the hospital or traveling on the weekends, dinner was the main time to interact with them. They always cooked plenty of delicious food, I never went hungry. From sharing stories and telling jokes to teaching me more Thai, I learned so much from them. They really were a second family to me, I miss them so much!

What were your first impressions of your host country? Did they change over the course of your program?

When I first arrived in Bangkok, not only was I sweating from the heat and humidity but I was surprised to see how modern parts of the city were. It’s really interesting to walk around Bangkok. You can walk by one of the most modern and upscale malls and then right next to the mall there’s an ancient temple, and across the street are the slums. However, over the course of my program when other volunteers/interns and I traveled to other areas of Thailand on the weekends, I saw a more rural side of the country. There, I realized a lot of the country is underdeveloped and saw how tourism really benefits many areas of Thailand.

What are you most proud of from your time abroad?

The English classes were extremely beneficial to the hospital staff. The students were so receptive to learn and always showed appreciation for my time teaching them. I also consider myself to be more compassionate from the interactions I had with the children in the Pediatric Oncology ward. I’m also proud of how much spicy food I was able to handle!

What did you find challenging during your time abroad, and how did you overcome it?

The language barrier was the biggest challenge I faced in Thailand. While some Thai people speak basic English, it’s hard to have an actual conversation with most of them. In the hospital, I felt a great need to teach English classes to front line staff, those who have the first contact with patients when they arrive at the hospital. Since the hospital is located downtown in a popular area for foreigners, it’s important for the front of the line staff to know very basic English. Teaching English to Thai’s is a two way street for them- they want me to learn Thai just as much as they want to learn English. I noticed that Thai people are shy with foreigners, so once I started speaking some Thai they seemed to become more comfortable with me.

What advice would you give to someone considering volunteering abroad?

You may be overwhelmed planning everything to go abroad and nervous traveling and getting there, but once you meet your host family and get settled into your placement, you won’t want to leave! Once you are there, have an open mind and be willing to try new things. Make the most of your days and weekends, be adventurous and step out of your comfort zone. The best way to get to know Thailand is to try their food and talk to the locals, ask questions and listen to their stories- you’ll learn so much!

What advice would you give to someone volunteering at the project you volunteered at?

Have an open mind, because even though you may have a schedule, things change daily- you never know what the next day brings. Since a lot of the staff does not speak any English, have patience and try to learn as much Thai as possible. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions- almost all of the Doctors and residents speak a good amount of English and are all happy to talk with you and answer questions, a lot of them are just shy when approaching foreigners.

How has this experience impacted you, your priorities, your future plans, etc.?

From my experience at the hospital I feel that I’ve become a more sensitive and sympathetic person. I’ve never had interaction with Pediatric patients, especially in an Oncology ward. I highly value the time I had at the hospital with the patients and staff, and will always remember the things I learned and relationships I made while there. From exploring Bangkok and traveling around Thailand on the weekends, I feel like I’m more adventurous and eager to try new things. My future plans are to become a Doctor. Before volunteering in Thailand I never really considered Pediatrics, but now I will.

Do you have a particular story or experience you like to share with friends when they ask about your time abroad?

Everybody at home asks about my pictures from the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi. Several other volunteers/interns and I actually pet and took pictures with the tigers! We also rode elephants which was a ton of fun. On another weekend some other volunteers/interns and I went to Ko Phi Phi- and island off of Phuket. There, we snorkeled and swam in the famous Maya Bay, fed monkeys and relaxed on the beaches. Everything there looked like a desktop background, it was so beautiful!

Why did you choose World Endeavors? How was your experience working with WE , both in the US and abroad?

I first heard of World Endeavors through my University, everyone had great things to say and I loved the fact that World Endeavors placed volunteers with host families, giving the ultimate cultural immersion. The World Endeavors staff is very helpful and supportive and placed me exactly where I wanted to be. The in-country coordinator was incredibly friendly and hospitable. I had some trouble during the first week of my placement at the hospital and the staff was right on top of it and made sure I was happy and comfortable with my volunteer project. Thank you World Endeavors!

Is there anything else you would like to share?

If you’re trying to decide whether or not to go abroad, just do it! If you’re looking to go to Thailand, you’ll be amazed how rich and vibrant their culture, food and history is. Sometimes its overwhelming how much there is to see, so take it all in and enjoy it while you’re there. You’ll have the experience of a lifetime!