With summer quickly approaching, so is a time of mild panic at ITDP as we begin to prepare for a busy 4 months of volunteer mission trips to Thailand. But this panic is swiftly followed by a time of indescribable joy as two completely different cultures come together and build relationships that last a lifetime. The villagers are excited to meet their new house guests, and I’m sure you are just as excited to meet your hosts.
Because your time here is short, we want to help you get the best experience possible. This means being prepared. I’ll admit, nothing can fully prepare you for the culture shock of experiencing a new country, but there are definitely some things you can do to help manage that shock. This is our list of essential things that will help you prepare both mentally and physically for your upcoming trip to Thailand!
No, I don’t mean physically flexible (although that wouldn’t hurt!). Really though, don’t take this lightly. If you take away nothing else from this post, remember this one. As much planning and preparation go into these trips, plans change. In fact, it would be safe to say that plans will change a lot. Your expectations will not always be met. Being flexible and adapting to change may seem like an easy enough task, but I would encourage you to make a conscious effort to constantly remind yourselves to be flexible and open minded.
Photos of your family
Hill tribe culture is very family oriented. Your host family will genuinely enjoy seeing photos of your siblings, parents, grandparents, and significant others. Photo prints would be a perfect memento for your host family.
Break the ice early
Hill tribe culture is very shy. It’s unlikely that they will initiate conversation with you first, so take the initiative and begin interacting! Breaking the ice early on will give you more time to begin building that relationship.
*SPOILER ALERT* There will be lots and lots and lots of rice. For most of you this will be ok, but some of you might hit a “rice wall”. If you’re worried about hitting that wall, bring protein bars and other snacks. There will be plenty of food at each meal, but protein bars will do wonders for that pick-me-up in order to finish strong on a hard day’s work.
Definitely not something that you want to forget! The lighter the sleeping bag, the better. Summers in Thailand are hot and humid, so be warned. There are no beds, and the floors in the hut will either be teak wood or bamboo. Bamboo is actually fairly soft, but teak can be quite hard so bring a pad if you have back issues. A pillow can also be the difference between a good and bad nights sleep. If you happen to forget the pillow, a good trick is to stuff some clothes into a backpack and voila!
Summer in Thailand is monsoon season so it can get very wet. Very, very wet. It’s been known to rain for for days at a time. So although it may make for spectacularly lush views, it can be miserable if you’re soaking wet all day. A light, breathable rain jacket will be a lifesaver.
Remove shoes, don’t touch people’s head
These are 2 cultural no-nos. Remember to remove shoes when entering a home, as failing to do so is seen as a sign of disrespect to the person who cleans the house. Also, touching the head of someone older than you is disrespectful. When playing with the kids, touching their head is fine, but don’t let them touch yours! We want to be mindful of keeping their culture alive in the kids.
Be aware of the midweek lull
This is a common theme with many of our teams. The morale of the group starts on a high, hits a low point by the middle of the trip, and then ends on a high. While this is a perfectly natural group dynamic, it’s important to end the trip on a high note. We’ve found that by informing teams to be aware of this dip in morale before hand leads to a much more positive experience all the way through.
Remember why you’re there!
This one seems fairly obvious, but if you start to feel down or get homesick, remember why it is that you’re there and the positive effect that you’re having on these villagers.