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From the archive…. Laura was volunteering with us back in 2011-2012. We still work with the same schools and communities today in 2024. Volunteering is such a special way to travel meaningfully, if it is something you are interested in, come volunteer with us!

As I write this, I am still in Thailand.  I have been living in bustling Bangkok, I have been to funky Chiang Mai, I have been to the beach at Hua Hin, but I still say Isaan is a VERY special place.

When I applied to volunteer, I wanted to do my best to engage with the culture and lifestyle.  If you feel the same way, homestay is the only way to go.  I spent three weeks living in homestay in Khok Sa-at village, in Bueng Kan province, in the Isaan region of Thailand (the Northeast).  I stayed with Bees and New, the kindest newly-weds ever.  They live in Bees’ spacious family home, with her equally sweet mother.  Bees and New are both teachers at the school. When I arrived, I was honoured with a thread-tying welcome ceremony with teachers and village elders.  I also had my first Isaan meal.  I would come to love this tactile style of eating: using your hands to take sticky rice and scoop up a series of aromatic dishes, your spoon travelling from bowl to bowl, everyone sharing everything, no inhibitions.

Each morning I would go running, walking, or biking among the rice fields and rubber tree farms behind the village.   Almost every morning offered a breathtaking sunrise.

My experience was a little different than some other projects in that I was at school for the full day.  I would arrive around 8:30am and leave whenever Bees and New were finished, usually between 5:00pm and 6:00pm.  During the day I helped with anywhere between 2-5 English classes, mostly with Kroo (teacher) Bees or Kroo Mungkorn.  Between them, I always had a “go to” person if I needed help.  That said, all the teachers would help me in a nano-second if they thought I needed it, even when they couldn’t speak English.  The teachers are also a social community and I was invited to many events and gatherings.  The language barriers made us all a little shy at first, but by the time I left we were undoubtedly friends.   


Kroo Mungkorn, the head English teacher, is extremely dedicated.  He was the one who sought out Mundo Exchange for a volunteer.  He had realized that, since his students never hear native-speakers speak English, their listening comprehension and speaking skills are seriously underdeveloped.

I would read out loud so the kids could hear how I pronounced the words.  Other times, I would ask questions to the class and then let them ask me questions.  Be prepared to have some interesting questions!  Sometimes I would ask questions to each student individually and help them through the answers (“how old are you?”, “what is your favourite food?”, “what time did you wake up?”, etc.).   I kept myself from running out of questions by making sure I hit “who, what, when, where, why, how many, how long, and how much.” 

The rest of the time, I would walk around the school grounds.  The kids do a huge range of activities, and it was fun to just watch them.  Eventually, a group would call me over to gossip.  They don’t speak much English and my Thai is next to non-existent, so we had to work together to have any sort of conversation.  But we always understood each other in the end.

In Bueng Kan, what you see is what you get.  It’s not changed for foreigners like much of the rest of Thailand because there’s not really any tourists.  The market is for buying groceries.  Vendors bring fresh vegetables, piles of chilies, and fish swimming in rubber bins (dinner!).   

Oh yes, and don’t go unless you’re willing to make friends with dogs, ants, and geckos.

During my three weeks, I was treated to an Isaan wedding, took a trip to Phu Thok mountain, walked the beaches of the Mekong River, had long conversations with a monk, and spent a day at Ban Chiang archeological site.


I would also visit the Mundo Volunteer House in Bueng Kan “City” just to give Bees and New some time to themselves.  The Mundo staff made it eventful and educational.  I had taken a risk by flying to a province my Thai friends had barely heard of, and putting my trust in an organization I had only emailed.  Thai Mundo Exchange turned out to be more than I could have hoped.  They were a constant source of tangible and emotional support.


What you must know about Isaan is that smiling and laughing are life.  People don’t ask “how are you?”, they ask “are you happy today?”  When I didn’t know what was going on, I just smiled and everything was okay.  When I thought there might actually be a problem, then I started laughing, and everything really would be okay! 


These fantastic kids are waiting for another volunteer to come share smiles and laughter with them!