Tag Archives: volunteer opportunities

Little Phop and why this round-the-world trip isn’t just a big vacation

Pop star Ricky Martin plays with orphans at a Thai Red Cross Children’s Home in Bangkok on Wednesday
As no pictures are allowed for regular visitors at the Thai Red Cross Children's Home, I poked around on Google Images until I found this pic of Ricky Martin visiting the home:)

You may have read my post about my first meeting with 3 year-old Phop, last week.  It was my first real volunteer opportunity since landing in Bangkok and I felt like I had really connected with Phop.  I had heard that the Thai Red Cross Children’s Home had been able to identify a family for him so I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to see him again this week when I went to volunteer.  But he was there!

As much as I am delighted that he has a family that will take him in, I was very happy to see Phop.  This time around he was a lot more cooperative.  Last week I literally had to carry him for almost the entire 2-hour visit.  This time (thanks to my wife Jammie’s coaching), I got him to interact a bit more with the rest of the people in the play room.  He was really into his own version of kickball!

All went well until I left the play room to go to the bathroom.  Apparently he cried nonstop until I got back.  I felt special:)  It was one of those moments when I could more clearly see the deeper purpose behind our round-the-world trip.

When Jammie and I were still just thinking about taking a year to travel we had some really strong feelings about how we wanted the year to look. Yes, we wanted adventure. Yes, we wanted to experience life in other countries. And yes, we wanted to eat amazing food. But these things were not enough. We weren’t looking for just a big vacation.

We wanted the trip to actually mean something. And the way we wanted to find this meaning was through volunteering for good causes.  We were really intent on finding excellent volunteer opportunities.

Where to start?

The only problem was that we did not know where to start. Should we volunteer to tutor people in English? Feed the homeless at a shelter? Help care for endangered animals? Fight human trafficking? Each volunteer opportunity seemed worthy.

Shaking things up

We decided that instead of signing up with a volunteer organization before we arrived in the Bangkok (the first of the four cities we had selected to live in for three months each) we would check out volunteer opportunities after we arrived.

We had both done things the other way around before (signing on the dotted line with an organization before you arrive in a country for volunteer work) and for a number of reasons we wanted the freedom this time around to pick and choose after actually visiting the service locations.

That is what we have started to do in Bangkok. Because the Thai Red Cross Children’s home volunteer opportunity has been working so well, I have committed to going every Monday for starters. I may go more often if I decide to make this my main service project in Bangkok.

English tutoring.

English language teachers are in extremely high demand here. Both Jammie and I have been offered paid jobs. On our shoestring budget it’s a little tempting to take people up on the offers. But the point in this year was and is to travel and find international volunteer opportunities, not simply to find new full time jobs in Thailand. (For those that may be interested in full time teaching work in Thailand, I’ll have a future post about it and why it is a unique way to make and save money.)  For now we are holding off from the paid positions.

But just the fact that we weren’t looking for teaching jobs doesn’t mean that we couldn’t tutor people in English for free. Jammie has volunteered to tutor our apartment caretaker’s teenage daughter in English. She’s had one session so far and the language barrier was tough to deal with but she did really well and I am proud of her.

Thank you to everyone that is helping!

After hearing what this year is all about, so many people have stepped up to help us. I have lost count of how many times people have hooked us up by blog comments, emails and in-person conversations.  So far the Swedish Embassy in Bangkok, the Scandinavian Society, the Church of Sweden and Capitol Toastmasters have been very helpful in terms of finding us local connections.   Thanks everyone!!



Bjorn Karlman

Bangkok, Thailand


Nobody Gets It – What to do when your traveling lifestyle attracts doubters

Most of my friends that are living unconventional, international lifestyles absolutely LOVE their lives.  When I talk to them they tell me how glad they are that they made their decision to live differently, to explore, to grow and to experience life outside of their home country.  As much as I love Sweden, I feel the same.  I would not trade my traveling or my long-term relocation experiences for anything.  The international life is perpetually exciting, adventure-filled and full of opportunities to grow and experience the best that the world has to offer.

One of the biggest caveats to the undeniable advantages of the mobile lifestyle, however, is that a lot of people just don’t get it.  Whether they be parents, friends, bosses, colleagues or people you meet on the street, people will find it difficult to understand you and your way of thinking.  You are too different for them to get their heads around and they may therefore treat you differently, question you or hold you at arms length.  This can be discouraging at times.

Realize that although they may mean well, friends’ gut reactions to your lifestyle should be taken with a grain of salt.  I am not advocating blowing off the counsel of friends and family.  Certainly the important people in your life that care about you should be listened to and respected.  But do not expect the international, mobile and service-centered life that you have spent years dreaming about and preparing for to be understood by your average acquaintance.

Often the mere fact that you are approaching life radically differently is enough to make insecure people around you feel like you are judging their lifestyle.  There is little you can do to avoid this other than deciding for yourself that you will not judge others for their lifestyle decisions and – just as important – that you will therefore relieve yourself of the need to worry about how others see you.

Be Patient.  Cut those that question you some slack.  Put yourself in their shoes.  What if someone told you that they had decided to spend the next 10 years at a silence retreat to fully experience the benefits of never speaking a word?  If you were relatively open-minded you could appreciate the potential benefits of such a life choice but you would probably still consider the decision questionable at best.

Now look at your situation.  You are telling friends and family that you are leaving behind school, your reasonably paid job or even worse, your current stint of unemployment, to travel the world and do some volunteering in Asia.  You what?  On face value it does sound a little crazy.  But hang in there, some of the doubters will turn into supporters if you stay in touch faithfully and give them updates on your progress.  Who knows – your updates of new friends, adventures, romances, exotic job offers, delicious food, fascinating conversations and meaningful opportunities to serve, might turn some of the doubters into your staunchest supporters.

Embrace your new family.  Here’s a refreshing rule of thumb:  Your new base of supporters and “fans” will soon outnumber the doubters, detractors and naysayers.  As more and more people hear about your refreshing and empowering life choices, you’ll start to develop a support crew of people that think what you are doing is great.  They will often be more passionate in their praise than the party poopers complaining from their armchairs at home.  You only have one life so focus on the smiling, happy people that are building you up rather than those that do nothing but criticize.  These new supporters become your new road “family”.  Whether they are Facebook friends, blog readers, Twitter followers or real life local friends, celebrate the people around you that love and appreciate you for who you are and what you stand for.  They are there for you and they “get it”.



Bjorn Karlman