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By: Malin Claesson

After a year of travelling, spending around five months with Openminds I am sad to say that this adventure of mine has come to an end. On Friday I’m flying down to Bangkok and on Sunday I’ll be flying home to Sweden. I’ve had the best time and gained so much experience during my time here and I’ll definitely be back as soon as I can. I’ve mainly been working at the Training Centre in NongKhai in northeastern Thailand and the staff and trainees here have become my second family. I’ve been teaching English both here and in Cambodia, volunteering at the student camps in April and during my last couple of months I’ve been working on the social media for the organization.

I’ve been going over to Laos a few times visiting my friends Khan and Aay’s families. Khan and Aay are both trainees at Openminds. To travel in a country with a local is never the same as when you travel by yourself as a regular tourist. Just imagine not having to be misunderstood every other minute and being with someone who knows that there’s a cheap bus and that the pricey tuktuk is not your only option. On my last day in Khan’s village his family arranged a traditional good bye ceremony for me. They made a lot of different kinds of delicious Lao food and many people came to join in the evening, both family and friends. Khan’s grandmother gave me a blessing and somewhere in the middle of it all I had to eat a chicken liver in front of everyone. After the blessings they all tied white strings around my wrists for good luck on my trip back home.

In Aay’s village we tried to meet with a few teachers and villagers to see if there’s an interest to potentially start up a project there. Toto is hopefully going next month to finish off what we started. As one of the first foreigners to visit the village, the people were very shy and some didn’t dare to come close to me. But once we stated talking to them they were all very positivte to our idea, they all want to learn English and meet volunteers from different parts of the world. I can’t wait to go back as a volunteer to this place! 

During my timewith Openminds I also went to one of their projects in Cambodia for two weeks. I was teaching English in a small fishing and farming village one hour outside Siem Reap. The students at this school doesn’t get any English education unless there’s a volunteer there. As a volunteer you can stay with the local English speaking host, Hak, and his family. They were all very kind and it was interesting that we managed to find different ways to communicate even though we didn’t speak the same language. I’m so happy that I went there and got to meet all the fantastic people.

I have so many incredible memories from this trip, but one of my favourite ones is when everyone celebrated a Swedish tradition with me. I was in NongKhai during Swedish midsummer which is one of the biggest holidays in Sweden, so me and two volunteers from Norway showed our multi-cultural family how we celebrate it. It ended up being a whole day of preparations and listening to Swedish songs. We finished it off with a BBQ and dancing around the midsummer pole. 

Have you been thinking about volunteering? I say – just do it! It has been the most fun year for me, and I’ve learned so much about myself and other cultures that I wouldn’t be able to anywhere else. I recommend Openminds because it’s a small local NGO and you get to interact and live together with the people you’re there to help. And on top of it all you get to meet and work with people from all over the world, with different backgrounds and experiences.

Credit : The Openmind Projects (http://www.openmindprojects.org/)

Openmind Projects is nonprofit education and development organization arranging for overseas volunteer opportunities and providing free training and other support to local people, schools, conservation and other projects in Southeast Asia.