My name is James Colclough and I taught in Thailand on my gap year, which was one of the greatest choices I have ever made. I always wanted to do some volunteering and decided to go to Thailand because I had heard lots of great things about Asia and I really wanted to experience a true feeling of it, instead of just being a tourist and travelling whilst surrounded by lots of other tourists.
Northern Thailand was the one true place that I got to really experience Thailand and all that it has to offer. Whilst there we were welcomed with open arms and were able to immerse ourselves in their community, which is richer and more vibrant than anything I have experienced in my travels before. All of the Thai people were so friendly and more than happy to show you how they live, which for some families was a real eye opener. Before we started teaching, AV taught us rudimentary Thai phrases, an introduction to Thai culture, and also a couple of really easy Thai dishes that we cooked nightly.
Whilst in the school all of the teachers, locals and especially the children were delighted, and quite often inquisitive, to have a “farang” (foreigner) visiting them and teaching them English, which in the north of Thailand is quite a rare skill.
The school day started with flag raising, the national anthem and prayer at 8:30am, where the children line up to say good
morning to the class above and below, and finally to the teachers. During the day we taught, in pairs, two 1 hour long lessons a day to children aged from 5-11 years old, after which there would be a grand sit-down lunch with all the students and teachers. Most afternoons we spent coaching sports, which was much anticipated by the kids, in particular trying to teach the great English game of rounders! After I finished for the day my time was my own to prepare lessons and mark homework.
Whilst in the school we were able to teach the children a good basic standard of English as well as learning a lot of their language and culture from both teachers and children, we even ran a couple of lessons for the teachers so that they would be able to keep up our efforts after we had left.
In our own time we were able to do what ever took our fancy, from cycling or runs, visiting local hill villages or Buddha statues, to taking the 3 hour bus journey to Chiang Mai, the nearest big city.
Whilst out there I liked to be active and managed to find loads of great, quite remote, beauty spots that you never would be able to find if you were just travelling. I stumbled upon a couple of village tribes that were some of the friendliest people I have ever met and created a bit of a stir when the foreigner came into the village on a bike. Most evenings I played football with the local teenagers which, in spite of my amazing lack of football talent, was great fun and apparently hilarious for them.
From going to Thailand I have gain many great friends, both Thai and English, and even stayed with our Thai friend Chon. I was the second foreigner his family and local village have ever seen. I also gained a great perspective about how happy these people were, all of the time, even without our western comforts; and how great their sense of community and family played in their every day life.
When leaving you really feel like you have helped both the children and the school to gain skills and experiences that they never would have had to opportunity to enjoy without your help, as well as looking great on your CV, and doing something that’s a bit different than the standard gap year experience.