Sometime during my last few months in high school, when I really started thinking about the after. Most of my friends couldn’t stop talking about how pumped they were for university, to meet new people, finally embrace their subject area or center down on one if they hadn’t chosen.
The problem was, I wasn’t. I’d meet new people, maybe choose a degree along the lines of biology, and four years later, then I’d travel. I didn’t want that, I wanted to leave home before I was completely sick of it. explore the world and meet people who not only liked Biology, but had the courage to also leave.
It was because of this interest, that I discovered voluntourism. It took me quite a bit of surfing different companies and such to find GVI, I’d heard about GVI, from my mom, and knew they had a great reputation, so I looked into a few programs, but ultimately decided on elephants. I’ve always wanted to go to Thailand, to see Chiang Mai. My dad had, and told me countless stories from there. I was looking for something honest, and out there, that would allow me to stay for a long time. I had at least one month planned.
When I told my parents, a crazy hurricane started up. Eventually I convinced them that I’d go after my first semester, and that’s exactly what I did.
I said 2020 will be my year! I’ll go to Thailand, meet new people and do all sorts of crazy things!
So I contacted GVI, emailed a few ambassadors who’d recently gone there, worked up enough money, all that was left was the wait.
About a week prior to coming here, I was getting stressed. About what everybody was like, what they would think of me, how I would fit in , if I’d enjoy this 2 month program I paid for. It was scary. My first time away from home.
Upon saying farewell to my dad (who had come with me to Thailand) I embraced a totally new group of strangers. It was a surreal experience, and only then did I realize the power of programs like this. I was in a room with people from all across the world. With one thing in common, GVI. Total strangers became fast friends because of our viewpoints, we had all invested our money and energy in conservation and were all fascinated with the idea of learning about Huay Pakoot. We had so much more in common than we thought. In a week or two, I kind of thought us as one big family.
I remember my first time seeing the village. It was totally different then I had expected, totally different. The people were different too, and the elephants, it was a culture shock for me, the first few days were a bit of a blur.
Here I am now 3 weeks in. And it is starting to really feel like home, I have gotten used to the roosters gawking at 3 am and the unique tonal language of Pakinyaw.
It’s not at all like my experience in Chiang Mai, Bangkok or Phuket. Everyday when I walk around the village to get my laundry, get a smoothie or just immerse myself in the moment, I feel so lucky.
I feel like only a few people, especially foreigners, got to see this side of Thailand. Only a few got to truly become part of a foreign community. Sure, I’m a foreigner and stick out in these parts, but I’m a familiar foreigner. Someone who was chosen such a remote village to spend two months on, and that was what made it so special.
I believe I’ve grown considerably since investing in GVI Thailand. The experience; the community, Villagers, Elephants,The Staff, Volunteers and Interns. It has been life changing.
-Michael Dove-Smith, intern