The Uncertainty of Volunteering Abroad

What to do when excitement turns into anxiety.

After a night of very little sleep (thanks to some last-minute packing and my procrastination issues), the morning had finally arrived. What was once just a vision had suddenly turned into a reality and it all seemed so surreal. My flight to Bangkok was departing in just a couple hours and I was lying in bed thinking, “What exactly have I gotten myself into?”

Backpacking around Southeast Asia and volunteering for two non-profit organizations was my plan for the next six weeks. However, after months of preparing I never took a minute to digest the fact that I didn’t personally know any of the individuals joining me. All of the excitement quickly turned into a giant knot in my stomach. Every day for the next month and a half with 10 strangers? Maybe I should have thought about this a little more in-depth back when I was booking tickets.

As that realization was flooding my mind, it then dawned on me that I would not have connection to my world at home many times during my travels. Suddenly this whole idea of “stepping outside my comfort zone” became full of uncertainty as I was truly throwing myself into the unknown. Unknown people, unknown cities and an unknown culture.

My mind was running wild when I decided to make a coffee and get a grip, there’s nothing a little caffeine can’t fix right? I suppressed my previous thoughts with the realization that this was only six weeks of my life and I should be ecstatic that I’m going on this adventure. A life-changing journey was just around the corner, there were amazing people to be met, exploring some of the most beautiful countries was at my fingertips, and street Pad Thai was waiting for me just across the Pacific. A dream come true to say the least.

Upon walking out of the air-conditioned Suvarnabhumi Airport (no, I still can’t pronounce that name) and into the streets of Bangkok I was hit with an unforgettable wave of soggy, sweltering heat. The air smelled of sewage, car exhaust, foreign spices, sweet fruit and countless other scents that would come and go. The city was colossal and although the jetlag was lingering, I couldn’t help but want to go everywhere and see everything all at once. The areas of wealth juxtaposed the slums all over the city.

We stayed in backpacker’s heaven right off of Khao San Road, where street food was plentiful and 260 Baht ($7 CAD) Thai massages were irresistible. A jam-packed couple of days were spent exploring Bangkok via walking, long-tail boat rides, sky trains and, of course, tuk tuks. After only three days with the group they started to feel like family, putting my pre-departure panic to shame. We immediately connected while falling in love with the people, the food and the culture of Thailand. However, it was time for a change of scenery from the busy city life and to head up North to the jungle. Next stop: Chiang Rai!

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Anna Sawchuk

Originally from Vancouver, Anna Sawchuk now lives in Toronto but is moving once again to experience life in Holland at Tilburg University. She gets slightly claustrophobic staying in the same city for an extended period of time. Cure your travel itches with Anna’s stories about travelling and volunteering in Southeast Asia with Operation Groundswell.

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