Meet Layni, a girl with a passion for adventure and giving back. Read about her journey teaching in rural Thailand, and backpacking throughout Asia after.
1. What inspired you to volunteer in Thailand?
Hmm.. That’s a question I feel like I get all the time, and I never know how to answer. I had originally wanted to go to Thailand and teach English for the entire year, but taking the LSAT and applying for law school took priority over that. So instead, I decided to go and volunteer for six weeks, and travel throughout Asia after. I wanted to make an impact on the people that needed it the most, so decided volunteering teaching children was the best fit. I bought a plane ticket and knew I would figure it out!
2. Where exactly were you volunteering, and what was the mission?
I volunteered in Chiang Rai, Thailand! It was a very rural area that many people have never heard of. It was about three hours north of Chiang Mai, and about an hour to Laos and Myanmar boarder (The Golden Triangle). My job as a volunteer was to teach English to Thai children. I volunteered at the Mirror Foundation, where there were many different missions; but the main jobs of the volunteers were teaching English and outside work.
One of my great friends who I made there from Paris, Alix, was on the outdoor team. Even though we had different jobs, at the end of the day it was all about helping the local people in any way possible.
3. How did you choose the program, and how did you know it was legit?
I just Googled what I wanted to do and this foundation seemed like the best option for me! I knew it was a legitimate program after researching online, and reading positive experiences – it’s all about doing the right research ultimately.
4. What is your advice to people looking to volunteer abroad, or in Thailand?
DO IT! Seriously though, do it – and stay positive!! It was one of the best experiences of my life and I would go back tomorrow if I could. Don’t be afraid. Honestly, it can be scary at first, especially arriving in Asia and not knowing anything or having any expectations.
I had a bumpy start to my trip, but I quickly become accustom to the “Asia lifestyle”. It was intimidating at first, but people are always willing to help. For example, when I was stuck in an airport in Vietnam, I was crying (of course) but seriously, I was scared, it’s normal, but I didn’t know what to do. Nobody spoke English, I was alone and wasn’t allowed to leave the airport. While sitting on a bench, this man walked up to me (who I later found out was from Kansas) and asked me if I needed assistance. I was SO thankful for him at that moment. He gave me his business card and told me to call him if I needed anything. This wasn’t the only circumstance where I was offered help, but it was definitely the most memorable. Because of this specific instance, I made sure that I always offered help to anyone in need. I promise you that it’s worth it; it will make you a more independent person and forces you to grow throughout it all.
5. Do you feel like you accomplished a lot during your time there?
I definitely feel like I accomplished a lot while I was there! Our program was very unique, where we would go to different schools every day, but we would still see the same children every week. I could see the kids growing and learning as the weeks went by, and it was one of the most incredible feelings! You become attached to the kids, so every day we went to at least 3 different schools, and on your way there you just get so excited to see them and you want to just hug them and take them all home with you. The day care I taught at was truly incredible, the children were ages 3 and 4 and you could see them learning every single day; one day you’ll be teaching them numbers 1-15, and then you come back the next day and they remember!! It’s a great feeling when they remember things you teach them because it makes you feel like you’re making a difference.
6. What was your day to days like?
Every morning we would have similar schedules but at the different schools. We would: wake up, eat breakfast, go to a school and teach, come back for lunch, tgo back and teach, then come home and lesson plan, have dinner, and usually do something together as a group. With every being at a new school, it was always something new! Of course we went to the same schools every week, but I think the break up in the different classes every day really made the entire experience that much better, because you didn’t feel as if you were doing the same thing every day.
7. What was the highlight of your volunteer trip?
I had two absolutely incredible experiences during my trip. I think the absolute highlight of my trip was going on my home stay and the second highlight was teaching the Monks.
So to start, my home stay was absolutely incredible! A bunch of us went and stayed at a principal’s guest home for a week, while teaching at his school. A principle in Thailand is essentially a movie star in Thailand. Joking, but also serious… They know EVERYONE and are very highly respected. During the home stay, the couple took us to the Golden Triangle, running around with wild monkeys, going to a Thai University, running through tea fields, eating delicious home made food, and SO much more! ALSO, the principle and his wife didn’t speak English well, but we still connected on a different level. It’s so funny that we didn’t speak the same language, but we, as human beings, still connected and established such a deep friendship. The day I was leaving Chiang Rai, I arrived at the airport at 4 in the morning, and I got there and the Principal and his wife were there, with presents and cards for me – they lived an hour and a half away and they came ALL that way just to say goodbye to me! I couldn’t believe it. The people in Asia are absolutely incredible, I can’t say it enough. I can’t wait until I can go back and visit everyone and hopefully one day live in Asia!
Teaching the Monks was another highlight of my trip. I mean, in all honesty, I learned more from the Monks than I think they taught me. Buddhism is such an amazing religion and I loved learning about it while I was there.
8. How much money did you bring for your trip?
I saved a total of $2,000, and didn’t spend it all while I was there. Asia is the easiest place to budget while backpacking!
9. What was the most difficult moment of your trip?
I’m not going to lie, I had a few moments when I wondered why I was even in Asia. I think the most difficult moment was arriving in Asia, not being able to communicate since no one spoke English, being detained in the airport (that’s another story!), and being stared at when I arrived. I have blonde hair, so everywhere I went I was asked to take pictures with people or stared at. Once I adjusted to life in Asia, I was completely fine and any issue I had I could deal with. I got sick a few times and that was obviously awful, but it honestly wasn’t a big deal. Again, I think the most difficult moment was arriving in Asia initially.
10. Did you travel after volunteering in Chang Rai?
Yes! I went to Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and traveled all over Thailand!
11. What are your best tips for people looking to backpack through Asia?
Stay positive and do your research. I would ensure you know where you want to go, what you want to see, what happens in certain countries i.e., what to do when you get sick (because that happens A LOT), what you need to bring, where your nearest hospitals are (there are certain hospitals you don’t want to go in Asia), how much money you want to spend (aka budget plan), etc. Asia is a whole different trip then backpacking around Europe. I always say my trip to Asia was a whole different world compared to my trips to Europe.
12. What was the most essential item you brought from America when traveling around Asia?
This is going to sound silly, but I was so happy I brought dry shampoo, a journal, a book, a sweater for the temples, a long skirt, GoPro, and Toms! Everyone dresses very conservatively in Asia, so you want to make sure you respect their culture – there’s nothing worse than going to Asia and seeing girls wearing short shorts.
13. What were your overall favorite moments?
Some my favorite moments:
Going to an elephant sanctuary in Thailand
Visiting the Monkey Temple in Bali and seeing the rice paddies and coffee plantations in Bali
Going to the waterfalls and hiking all throughout Asia
Eating street food (Banana Roti with condensed milk is my favorite – also you can never go wrong with street Pad Thai)
Exploring Thai beaches
Going to Siem Reap
Floating down the river in Laos with a beer in hand
Hot air ballooning in Laos at sunrise
Catching the sunrise over Laos (from Thailand)
Meeting amazing people in hostels
Swimming in Ha Long Bay
Getting custom suits made in Vietnam
Drinking Thai tea and Vietnamese Coffee
Eating authentic Pho and Banh Mi on the streets in Vietnam
Riding on mopeds in crazy traffic
going to the Gili Islands and swinging on a swing in the middle of the ocean
Dining at the Cliff bar in Nusa Dua
Walking around Sihanoukille and relaxing on the beach
Spending the day at Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak, Bali
Participating in a Thai cooking class
Buying souvenirs at the night markets and day markets
Seeing a Thai boxing match
And so much more!
Every single day in Asia was an amazing day. It’s hard to come back to real life after living in Asia. I miss the every day life in Asia. The people are so peaceful, calm and caring. I look forward to the next time I get to go back!
Follow Layni on Instagram@Layniic and comment below with any questions you have for her about teaching abroad or traveling throughout Southeast Asia.