My project I did the 24-week teaching and TEFL internship with GVI’s Luang Prabang base in Laos between September 2017 – March 2018. How did I find out about it and what made me do it? I’m sure this is true for many of GVI’s alumni but I stumbled upon GVI somewhat by chance. I was at a pretty low ebb at the time and fairly disillusioned with life and my future prospects. It was actually my wonderful grandma who first called me and gave me the name ‘Global Vision International’. A quick browse through their website showed me the huge and diverse range of destinations and programmes on offer and, being quite an all-or-nothing type person I was immediately drawn to their longest offering of a six-month internship. Following a visit to an open day a few days later I had narrowed my choices down and the decision I faced was – Six month in Laos or six months in Nepal?? If only all my big decisions in life could be like this! In the end I chose Laos and by Christmas I was signed up. Admittedly in the coming months I had my fair share of What-the-hell-have-I-done?! moments, I’d never even ventured out of Europe before and when I’d given a teaching career in the UK a go it had been a disaster. Whatever happened though I knew I’d be challenging myself, that I’d be making a difference and that if I made a success of it, I would come back a far better person than when I left. It was a decision made on gut instinct, and my concerns turned out to be completely unfounded. A typical day on project This will vary for each volunteer according to classes allocated, and the many different institutions GVI Laos partner with means that classes can take place at all times of day. Some would start at 8am and Some would finish at 8pm. A typical day for me would start with breakfast at 7am and, once adequately loaded with eggs and coffee it was off to my morning class! There are several morning classes running at the same time which usually start at 8.00. If you’re still tired by this point the energy and willingness shown from the students will certainly be enough to wake you up! As an intern I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to teach at a large temple school for novice monks 3 mornings a week. Being about 20km out of town it required a bumpy, dusty and occasionally terrifying tuk-tuk ride to get there which certainly made a change from a typical morning commute back home! My afternoon would begin with my pre-beginner novice monk class, a very special group of 10-12 year-olds who I’ll talk more about later… After 80 minutes spent combining the roles of teacher/children’s entertainer/stand-up comedian in the tiny, un-air conditioned classroom at Wat-Mano primary school during the hottest part of the day I was more than ready for my lunch-break at 14.30! Evening classes would run from 17.00 to 18.30, after which it was time to celebrate a job well done (or commiserate if classes hadn’t gone to plan.. don’t worry it happens to everyone!) with an ice-cold beerlao! Three meals a day are provided free of charge by a nearby café. During your free-time and weekends however you are spoilt for choice by the town’s fantastic range of cafes and restaurants serving a mix of local and western dishes. The food is delicious very affordable. The staff I have a disability (Asperger Syndrome) and at times this has had a very negative effect on my professional life as well as my personal life. I decided to disclose this to the staff several months before I joined and was able to arrange a Skype call with the programme manager to discuss my concerns. The amount of consideration shown by the staff in the lead-up to my internship was amazing and it meant so much to me that they were able to be so accommodating. This demonstrated the culture of inclusiveness and open-mindedness that these projects are built around and this in turn was reflected in the staff who, like the volunteers, contained a range of ages, nationalities and personalities. Advice for future volunteers Avoid having too many preconceptions and keep an open mind. This is a culture entirely different to anything you’ll find in the west. You will often hear the saying ‘Lao time’ which describes the philosophy of going about your daily business on your own terms, not rushing and paying only minimum attention to schedules. This can be a bit of a shock especially with the tendency to change schedules at the last minute. My advice would be to simply accept and embrace it and ‘go with the flow’. Just being immersed in this culture allowed me to become more laid-back and able to view any set-backs, such as only 5 out of 30 students turning up to class because it was raining, with a sense of humour. If anything it was more of a shock being dropped back into the rat-race at Heathrow at the end of my six months! My second piece of advice, especially for when you are just starting out, is that there is no such thing as a stupid question! The first week is manic and you are required to process a lot of new information, the staff are completely aware of this and are therefore very empathetic. My personal highlights There are so many to choose from! I had some great times teaching my young- adults evening class.. laotians are quiet and humble by nature but can demonstrate a wicked sense of humour and certainly aren’t afraid to exchange in a bit of good-natured banter! Things could also get seriously competitive when I bought games into the lesson! If your lesson falls flat then games are a surefire of getting things back on track, and you are given a list of about 20 possible ideas during your first week. My experience teaching my pre-beginner novice however class was something truly special and unique. The classroom, located within the grounds of one of the city’s most well known temples, could best be described as ‘rustic’. Constructed entirely from slightly decaying wood, it was cramped and incredibly hot, 2l of water would usually be sufficient to see me through a lesson! Absolutely none of this mattered however, because of the students. The first piece of advice from my mentor was to make sure I smiled, partly because my 6ft1 frame would apparently make me ‘the biggest person they’ve ever seen!’, and partly because I would probably also be the first westerner they had ever seen. Gaining their respect and trust was therefore a pretty big step in the first few weeks. From that point onwards they were so engaged in every lesson, responding to every activity with their infectious energy and smiles. Given what many people expect from novice monks volunteers could be very surprised with just how much personality, sense of humour and cheekiness these boys could show! I also discovered the benefits that came with such basic facilities.. no computers or interactive whiteboards needed here, just some pens, flash-cards and a couple of adults willing to lose a bit of their dignity! Being pre-beginners they are at the very earliest stages of language learning, meaning that when me and my mentor took them on at the start of the school year they were unable to read or write in English. By the end of my six months they were able write sentences, spell 8-letter words and conduct a basic conversation. Knowing the part I played in this and the bond I had formed with the students, from being so shy in the beginning, left me feeling a sense of pride that I have not experienced in any other line of work I have been part of.