In A Volunteer’s Words

IMG_0297Ron Trunkick – 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad? 

Since stepping away from my professional career in marketing and building brand names, I have felt inspired to use my abilities and expertise to now travel the world and volunteer along the way. Since embarking on this year long adventure, inspiration continues to come from and grow from all the incredible people and cultures I have met and worked with.

Why did you choose Mundo Exchange?

Mundo Exchange actually happened thru a contact of a friend of a friend. Mundo Exchange is also based in my hometown. So, as luck would have it, I was able to meet face to face with my placement staff ahead of time to learn more about their program. Mundo Exchange is small, but they work extremely hard and maximise the limited resources they have. In the time they have been active in communities in Thailand and Guatemala, their influence and accomplishments are absolutely incredible. Their volunteers have accomplished so much with teaching English and working with disadvantaged communities and their residents.

What was your favorite part about Thailand?

The people, the people, the people.

What made your experience abroad unique? 

I was in a tiny poor village in upper Thailand. It was incredible to see my students energy, passion, and desire to learn. The students I met were so eager to learn English, and I was inspired everyday to give them the same energy in return. The students and the greater community also made me feel incredibly comfortable and welcomed; I felt a part of their family from day one.

How did the local staff in Thailand support you throughout your program?

Mundo Exchange was incredible from start to finish. Their placement staff are very supportive throughout. They know that volunteers are there to work hard and use their personal experiences and knowledge at the highest level; hence, they give volunteers ownership of the program and the trust associated with it.

What’s one thing you wish you would have done differently?

Arrive in Thailand during cooler months! Kidding of course, but April temperatures were approaching 114 degrees. But, what made the non-air conditioned classroom bearable was seeing that the students were suffering all the same, but were still there to learn!

Describe a typical day in your life in Thailand.

Early rise at 6 a.m. for a yoga class (our host family sister was a yoga instructor)! A traditional Thai breakfast followed. Bicycle through the village to the school and teach English to students for two hours. Return home for another incredible Thai lunch, and then prepare for my afternoon class. Bicycle again to school to teach English for two hours. Return home for another incredible meal. After, we would sit with our five host family members and do a private English tutorial for them! Prepare for classes the next day. Early to bed…people in this village go to bed early!

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

Each week, we would have two days off. I spent this time travelling around northern Thailand, seeing incredible cultural and natural sites, and learning about Thai history.

Tell us more about your accommodation. What did you like best about it?

The best homestay I have had with any volunteer organisation. The host family were some of the nicest people I have ever met. I had a private room and bath, and the entire house was incredibly clean. The food was unbelievable, and they understood that sometimes I wanted a more Western meal for a change! They were the most hospitable and gracious family, and I cannot wait to go back within the next few years.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

Be prepared to have one of the most rewarding life experiences ever. Be prepared to work hard and give a lot to the people you meet and work with. You may even make new friends you will continue to communicate with long after.

What surprised you most about Thailand?

Issan, Thailand was an incredibly beautiful and hospitable area. I always felt completely safe too, despite being in a remote area where there are no tourists. I was surprised that most of the region has cut down native rainforest trees and replaced them with rubber trees. The native landscape has changed, and as a result, a lot of the native animal species have disappeared. It is sad, but perhaps as awareness increases, native fauna and species can be reintroduced.

Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Thailand?

Because Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, when you are in the classroom, guys need to wear pants and near elbow length shirts. Women need to wear clothes that cover most of their legs and the shoulders. Other than that, normal shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops could be worn outside of class.

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

It is amazing how far simple hand gestures can get you! It is important though to learn at least a few words and key phrases in Thai. I did find that many Thai’s actually want to try and speak English with you.

What is one thing you wish you would have known before volunteering abroad in Thailand?

Thailand is hot in April!! It is also the burning season, and many farmers still burn their fields to get ready for the next harvest. Mixed with high temperatures and humidity, the smoke can be stifling. But again, the students are suffering too, so as a volunteer, I still needed to set a positive tone in the classroom.

Would you recommend Mundo Exchange to others? Why?

Definitely. You can actually see, firsthand, the accomplishments and inspiration you make with your students and the community you live in. Mundo Exchange has a great structure and supportive staff to make sure that your volunteer investment is worthwhile and highly productive for not just the students and community, but for you as a volunteer.

If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?

Back to Thailand. It is amazing, and the people I met and taught were simply the nicest people I’ve met abroad. Mundo Exchange also works in Guatemala, so this too may be of interest to me at a later date.