Name: Jackson Kook
University: Griffith University
Degree: Bachelor of Secondary Education
Languages spoken: English
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Teaching English in Vang Vieng, Laos
Duration: 6 weeks
Start month: Jan 2014
Claim to fame: Winning the meat tray at the local raffles!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
Originally I was going on a trip to Cuba with some friends to live it up for a few months. This was at least until I mentioned to one of my friends my interest in going overseas to teach English… At this stage it was only a thought. This was until I saw the extreme amount of joy and excitement that he was brought with the thought of his adventure… This rubbed off onto me in seconds and, before we knew it, there we were, in the heart of Vang Vieng, Laos. We chose this company because of the extensive choices that it provided us with and gave us an opportunity to work within multiple project areas, not just our preferred one.
What were your major challenges?
It was definitely the cultural shift that I experienced coming from Australia. Not so much about their living situation or the traditions, but more so their concept of time. You were never quite sure when things were going to happen, the structure of your day was always a little bit helter-skelter, and sometimes things just wouldn’t happen at all. But once I was able to sit back into “Lao time” as they called it… everything became perfect. Now that I am back in Australia, I wish “Lao time” had followed me.
What was your impact on the project?
I think having a qualified teacher benefited the project during that time. Working with other volunteers who did not have any teaching experience was extremely invigorating as they were extremely happy to learn the tricks of the trade that you would only pick up with experience. Seeing the confidence build of these volunteers was wonderful and with the addition of structured lessons the children seemed to really respond well.
As well as this we spent hours and hours a day digging bamboo out of the ground. For a skinny, indoors-y, sissy type like myself… This was tough. Looking back now we can see the progress that is still being made on the farm in Pak Po, and we are starting to (literally) see the fruits of our hard labour.
How were you impacted by the experience?
As a profession it put my teaching into perspective. If I was able to teach children who spoke another language, in a classroom that only had a chalkboard, I could certainly help my students back home. It has forced me to be more creative and compassionate towards students and realise how privileged my students are.
This trip also helped me find myself. I didn’t know who I was when I went on this trip. The amazing people I met, the change in the world I saw, and the lifestyle that was led in Lao all contributed to this sense of discovery! I came home a new person, and for once in my life… that person was me.
What advice would you give to a UBELONG Volunteer heading to Laos?
Open your mind and your heart to every experience. If an opportunity presents itself to you… Take it! The best adventures we had were the ones that we were unsure of or the ones that could have ended in mistake. Don’t take yourself too seriously, the Lao people don’t, and neither should you.
And smile… It will save you every time.
In a sentence or less, how would you describe your experience?
The chance to discover things about yourself that you never knew.