You never really know what you are getting yourself into until you actually go out and do it, and even then, what we do is rarely what we expected. That’s the way it is with most things in life and that is the way it has been with volunteering here in Thailand.
Coming into this, I didn’t really know what to expect because I had never done anything like this before. It all seemed so distant and unrealistic. I could not conceptualize that I would be in Asia, riding in tuk-tuks and eating an entire meal for under $2. It seemed impossible and so strange for someone coming from a Western background.
But as it turned out, some of these expectations were indeed true, and I got to experience them in real life! And luckily, some of the expectations were NOT true, which made the experience more enjoyable for me.
Some of the aspects of daily life that I was expecting to have to endure were cold showers and catching a taxi to work every day, neither of which turned out to be the case.
The showers at the volunteer house each have a “personal instant hot water heater”, so the option is there if you want it. I came into this prepared for cold showers for two months, and I would usually take one anyway because of how hot and sweaty I was after a long hard day at work!
The volunteer project has an SUV they use to drive everyone to and from work during the week. Many volunteers also choose to walk to work — it takes about 15 minutes, and it’s a great way to see more of the area! We found an awesome new restaurant because of walking to work, which we would not have found if we had had to take a taxi every day.
I also did not really think about the cultural differences between the U.S. and Thailand before coming here. A lot of the typical “Asian” customs, such as taking off your shoes before entering homes and restaurants were normal for me because I was born and raised in Hawaii, which is widely influenced by Asian culture.
But the way the locals act in certain situations was somewhat of a shock to me because of their strong Buddhist faiths — something I can honestly say I knew nothing about.
Some of these beliefs can be seen in the way they treat dogs, as I talked about in my previous post (dogs are considered the lowest form of spiritual life and if you are a dog, then you must have done something terrible in your previous life to get there).
They also have a lot of interesting beliefs about the soul. For instance, they do not believe in euthanasia because if you end a life, the soul is unable to complete its process and is unable to advance to the next stage because the cycle was cut short.
I was lucky enough to be involved in a Buddhist holiday celebration at the beginning of my volunteering experience, which helped me to gain more of a perspective from the local Thai people. Coming into this, I certainly did not expect to learn so much culturally because of the Asian similarities within Hawaii, but my eyes were opened in so many ways, and I am glad I was open to having my expectations changed!
However, the best thing that I gained from volunteering in Thailand was actually not something I expected at all to find.
I knew that there would be other volunteers here, and that we would be living and working together, but I did not think that we would become as close as we did. I figured we would be acquaintances and colleagues, but leaving today, I know that I have new, wonderful life-long friends! And all of the dogs have of course become some of my best friends as well.
The people who come to Rescue Paws from all over the world are there because they genuinely care about animals, and are looking to help people better understand the proper treatment of them. Sharing that with the other volunteers helped us to bond, and it was something that I had never really experienced aside from my closest friends and family.
The Rescue Paws staff helped us to come together and build something beautiful out of that. It is so rare to meet such wonderful caring people who are sooooo passionate about a cause, and I am leaving inspired by their dedication and hard work.
My advice to future volunteers is to be open! Be open to different opinions and different perspectives. Be open to cold showers and sleepless nights. Be open to calling a taxi and going to some far-off place. Be open to everything because that is what makes your experience so much more worthwhile. If you try to make it live up to your expectations, chances are it won’t happen and you will have wasted so much time on those fruitless efforts.
Above all, be open to change.
A lot changed during my two months here in Thailand — nearly every week at Rescue Paws we had a different procedure of doing things and different volunteers coming in and out. Sometimes it is just a matter of time and figuring out what works and what doesn’t, which is what started happening as my last couple of weeks came to a close.
Just don’t get too caught up in your expectations. Reality is always so much better.
About the Author:
Emily Evans is 20-years-old, from Waimea, Kaua’i, Hawai’i, and is a Greenheart Travel Correspondent for our volunteer in Thailand program! One of the many things Emily looks forward to during her program is experiencing the Thai culture through the food and the Buddhist temples and walking the rescue dogs on the beach. Follow her adventures here!