Hoi An is a wonderfully, peaceful town doused in culture and beauty. Colourful lanterns stream across the streets, bright flowers flourish over buildings and intricate patterns are laced across buildings. Among the quaint streets, discover Chinese temples, a Japanese bridge and French Colonial buildings; the blend of cultures allowing for the charming, historic town to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's a haven for bespoke clothing and the perfect retreat for those wanting to unwind.



Volunteering abroad is a great way of travelling whilst keeping costs low but how do you know if it's for you? Whilst it seems like a perfect idea beforehand, you have to do your research and really think about whether it's something you can really commit to. After a month of full on travelling, I decided to end my trip with a few weeks of volunteering. I opted for two weeks teaching and a week in an elephant village. It was an amazing eye opening experience for me and I got to meet some really amazing people. 

We arrived into Bangkok and got transferred to the small town where we'd be teaching, Surin. Here, we had a guest house shared with other volunteers, some doing medical or child care. Our first day at the school was admittedly a bit strange. It felt a bit unprepared, from both us and the teachers of the school. We weren't fully briefed on what the students learning level was or what they'd previously been taught and it often felt as though we got chucked into a classroom at the last minute expected to teach a full lesson. There were a few times that we got some time to prepare, although, after a few days of being there, it became aware to us that some kids weren't properly taking in the information and would just memorise a word without understanding it. The teachers didn't understand what we meant when we tried to explain this and the miscommunication led to quite sloppy lessons. I've made it sound like a total mess and bad experience but those kids were amazing. They all had high energy and some had a real eagerness to learn but overall, they were all so welcoming and friendly and we all became really attached, especially with our year 4 class, who we'd taught more than others. 
I also have to give credit to the teacher who guided us along the way because although it felt like she was controlling, she really took care of those students and it felt like she had a lot of responsibilities. 

Elephant Village
The elephant village had no wifi or TV's so really, all we had was each others company. After two weeks teaching with three other girls and sharing a room with them in our guest house, we became pretty close - taking weekend trips together and basically doing everything together. It was a really cool experience spending this much time with people you've just met and it surprised me how we didn't manage to get sick of each other. Our roles in the village, were to help getting food, feeding the elephants and bathing them. When we got there, there were a couple of people who had been there for a week already and had expressed how much they had loved it here. There were 6 volunteers in total and they said they felt relaxed, they had loads of fun getting the food and in the evenings they would all sit together and help make dinner. However, by the time we arrived, it was 'peak time' for volunteers and suddenly there were nearly 20 of us in the village. From the minute we arrived, we knew it was going to be a strange experience. We discovered that there were only a handful of machetes to cut down the food for the elephants, which meant that we often were left to stand around not even helping out. Luckily, we managed to make friends with the non-English speaking guest house owner, Mr Lee, who took us ahead of the big group to let us actually do some cutting and we even got to sit front seat with him in the truck. There were also too many of us to help cooking with dinner and when it came to bathing the elephants, it felt so hectic with 20 volunteers, 20 elephants and 20 mahouts (the person who work with the elephants). Me and the girls all felt that we'd been a bit misled when booking this and don't felt that it was true to what it promised. I definitely felt that I should have looked into this further and found out how many people there would be volunteering. However, as I was with great people, we found ourselves having a really good time, entertaining ourselves with card games, kayaking down the river, squeezing ourselves into one hammock and taking selfies with elephants. 

What this experience showed me is how little I researched into this. I wondered once I'd left whether we'd actually made a difference - whether we helped those kids to learn a little more English than they would have without our help or whether we provided food that the villagers couldn't have managed to cut down by themselves and overall if our being there was beneficial for all of the locals involved. It's something I completely overlooked and although it sounds good to be a 'volunteer,' I urge anyone else looking to do the same to really think about these things when they book their trip. 
It was definitely a learning experience and I'm glad I've done it and know what to look for next time I think about volunteering. One thing I got right was choosing the 'Teach and Beach' option - when there's a beach at the end of all of it, who can complain...

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