Top 7 Tips for Volunteering in Laos
Deciding to volunteer abroad is a big step – congratulations! Deciding to volunteer in Laos is also a big step! Laos is such an untouched country that there is hardly any information on the Internet about it. Here are some tips to help ease the transition into volunteer life in Laos by past participant Caroline Thee...
1. Learn the local language
Many locals do not know English, and if they do, it’s not much! Try to pick up some basic Lao phrases during your stay. It will not only make life easier, but the locals love it!
More than anything to them, a “Sabaidee” (hello) with a friendly smile shows great respect for them and their beautiful culture. If a long-term stay is planned, research for nearby language schools!
2. Become friends with locals
As daunting as this sounds, just do it! The people of Laos love foreigners! They want to practice the English they do know, and they want to learn the English they don’t know. They want to show their culture, their way – usually through food and Beerlao.
Remember, volunteering abroad is more than just having a daily project to work on, it is being apart of a cultural exchange. Great friendships will form this way, and so will weekend plans! So, sit down at a local restaurant, buy a round of Beerlao, and get to talking!
3. Embrace the morning market
Ah, the morning market. The land of produce stalls perched off the paths of fish juice covered floors. The place where anything can be found. I can still smell it now.
Truth is, there is no better place to find the school supplies needed to teach the kids next week, fresh produce or that long sought after pair of shoes that is well deserved after all this volunteering! Learn to love it, all parts of it. After all, shopping at the morning market will give insight into what daily life in Laos is all about!
4. Travel often
Depending on the volunteer location in Laos, there is usually somewhere to go for a weekend trip nearby. Ok, maybe not nearby, but who doesn’t love the sense of adventure that only a 10 hour ride on a sleeping bus can provide?!
After a week of volunteering in Laos, get on a sleeping bus headed for Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or go down south and island hop in the 4000 Islands! Leaving the placement location every now and then is healthy, and seeing different parts of the country will provide a better understanding of the culture. Booking a tour of Laos is recommended.
5. Review the history
Laos has such a unique history, and becoming familiar with it will deepen your appreciation for the people. The Laotians have been affected by many things in their communities, from French colonization to war and peace.
Fact: Laos was bombed more by the U.S. forces during the Vietnam War than Vietnam was – and war was never declared in Laos!
6. Ride a bike
No no no, not a motorbike – a bicycle! This is one of the best ways to get familiar with the area, and it is very convenient! A bicycle can be locked practically anywhere, can be taken through multiple terrains, and is a good way to stay fit after eating all of that delicious mango sticky rice. (It’s also slightly therapeutic after a day of teaching English to little kids… )
7. Have fun!
Laos is a country that allows volunteers to flourish due to the needs of the communities in multiple areas, such as medical, teaching, construction, special needs assistance and more. Try as many projects as possible, take time with the locals, play with the kids, and just have fun with it!
By Caroline Thee