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GVI Laos volunteer David Norton


My journey began on the 5th July early in the morning, as I began stage 1 of 4 to get to Luang Prabang in Laos. Although slightly nervous at having to brush up on my grammar skills, I was very excited at the same time. It was difficult to choose a location as there are so many fantastic projects but, the opportunity to teach English to young novice monks was one I couldn’t turn down.

I arrived on the 6th of July after 3 flights beginning at Gatwick and ending with a beautiful, almost perfect decent and landing into Luang Prabang airport. It was a very long journey but gave me plenty of time to read up on the GVI training manual. We were met at the airport by Valee, the GVI Community Liaison, and transported to our lodgings. The next morning we met all the new volunteers and staff at Villa Merry 2, our lodgings for the next three weeks. It was straight into our welcome presentation and a walk around the town to get familiar with our surroundings. Straight away I felt that this was going to be something special to remember for the rest of my life, and I wasn’t disappointed.

We began the first week shadowing volunteers coupled with ten hours of teacher training, which was straight forward and informative. Our timetables were given us on our first Sunday and the training involved a lesson in Laos language to demonstrate the difficulty of understanding a foreign language. We also had an introduction to speaking Laos to help us communicate with our hosts, which again was fun.

Life on project

A typical day was an early breakfast followed by a tuk tuk journey to The Bright Centre to meet up with our mentor Katie. This was followed by another journey to the Buddhist temple Wat Pha O, where we met and taught the Novice monks. Our lesson was an hour and a half, which went so quick but was so interesting and rewarding. Once we finished we travelled back to the bright centre to review and work on our lesson plans for the next lesson and the lesson plan for our second lesson with the young adults. This may seem a lot of planning and work but it was enjoyable and ensured we were well prepared to give the best for the students. Having had no experience in planning to teach English the hours spent gave me so much confidence for the classroom. The second lesson was an hour long and again went so quick, but the concentration and commitment of the students was inspiring.

A slow walk home back to base was followed on several occasions by a visit to the local temple to experience chanting and meditation with the Novice Monks. This was something to cherish with Monk Obee and Sivanh,  as they gave us their time and knowledge and answered so many of our questions. Something to savour for life.

Meals with the other volunteers and a couple of drinks were a good way to socialise and get to know each other and you do meet some great people. The staff were helpful and supportive and although too many to mention, my mentor Katie was bril to observe in her teaching methods and I was very grateful for her support. I think my experience in Laos has given me more incentive to explore other cultures and enjoy the difference from our very demanding western world. This has made such an impact on my life and I can’t wait to experience it again.

A life-changing experience

My advice to anybody who is thinking about having a new adventure and experiencing different cultures, is to look into GVI and see the amazing projects thy have to offer.

I have been coaching football and sports, mainly primary school age for 20 years and wanted to learn more about the difference in cultural education. I am based in Nottingham, England and work in a very time demanding environment. This was the complete opposite and although I had no experience in teaching English I thoroughly enjoyed every second. Looking into the future I am considering taking a TEFL course to enable me to teach with more knowledge. I have learnt that patience is key to working with the students, which has benefitted me on my return to England.

To sum up, I can only say that GVI gave me the experience that I have always wanted and achieved it in the first week of being there. Everything else was an added bonus. My best bit? Definitely working with great staff, volunteers, and students, and also meeting and learning about Buddhism with the novice monks of Luang Prabang.

An incredible time was had and a big thank-you to all at GVI.

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