Center for International Education
Fall 2009

UNH students, alumni engaged in service abroad

In recent years, the Center staff has noticed that increasing numbers of UNH students and recent alumni are spending a period of time abroad involved in volunteer and service activities. What motivates them? What do they gain from the experience?

Acclimation to the Kingdom: Life in Thailand

by Jacob Howard '07

Jacob Howard with his students in Thailand Jacob Howard with his students in Thailand

When my girlfriend Emma and I graduated from the University of New Hampshire with our international affairs dual majors, I never imagined I would soon be dodging traffic in a shirt and tie while riding a motorbike through the pouring rain on my way to teach a class of rowdy Thai five year olds. Now it is a simple morning routine, just part of my extremely flexible reality. Although I am not happy to arrive at work dripping wet, I am content. One of the best things about Thailand is that everything is an adventure, and I have quickly learned to take the good with the bad. Our whole experience has been a wild ride of culture shock and acclimation.

Emma and I have been in Thailand for seven months. We arrived planning to travel for a couple of weeks before putting our new TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificates to use. We quickly found out that the school term was just ending and would not start again until late May. Scrambling for an alternative situation, we managed to get positions volunteering for an NGO in Chiang Mai called Wildflower Home.

Wildflower Home is a wonderful organization that supports women in crisis. It consists mostly of young pregnant women or women with newborns who have no means of support. We spent three months living in this communal environment teaching English in the afternoons and working in the nursery or on the building site in the mornings. It was at Wildflower Home where I learned that, in Thailand, a hard life is nothing out of the ordinary and certainly no reason to be unhappy.

Four months into our adventure a new term started, and Emma and I got hired to teach kindergarten in Nakon Sri Thammarat, a city of 130,000 on the South Eastern coast. Three months into our year-long contract, we are really settling in. We have rented a three bedroom house and the islands are a quick boat ride away. As for teaching, classroom management can be difficult, since the children only understand little of what we say, but we and the kids are learning quickly. The job takes lots of energy, but seeing quick improvement makes it worthwhile.

Living in Thailand I feel as though I am learning as much as I have ever learned before. Having never spent any time in a non-western society, I feel as though I am constantly gaining perspective and insight that I could never pick up without living here. Although I am technically working in the field of education right now, it is much more than that. I am learning about myself, the world, and how to be an effective teacher all in a very hands-on, enjoyable way. What could be better?

Others engaged in service abroad

Nic Tanner ’08 (international affairs and Spanish) is currently serving in the Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan. He is teaching English in a village of about 6,000 people and living with a host family. Says Tanner, "It was the notion of living in an entirely unknown environment that brought me to this country. I wanted to be shocked and confused and amazed. As luck would have it, there is no shortage of shock for an American living in Kyrgyzstan. But, ultimately, it is when the novelty of a new place and people fades that a Peace Corps volunteer is truly has been attempting to overcome the more substantive challenges that has made the whole experience worthwhile."

Rachel Kelly-Martin ’10 (international affairs and outdoor education) just returned from spending the summer working with genocide survivors at an orphanage in Rwanda. In spite of the horrors these people have endured, she remarks, "I was truly humbled by the humility, generosity, and joy that these people bring to every day life."