“Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to begin our descent into Bangkok.”

The announcement sent a flurry of activity through the plane.  Like bears coming out of hibernation, the passengers came to life.  Eyes were blinked and arms were stretched, belongings were gathered and the squawk of restless children permeated the air.  Throughout this all, we sat as still as statues, frozen by the anxiety that had now taken hold. We had months to prepare for this moment, and yet now that we were here, it seemed we had done anything but.

This was no holiday.  Over the next few weeks we were not only going to be living in Thailand, but teaching.  Us.  Teaching.  I don’t know which was more consuming, the anticipation or the sheer madness of it all.  Questions began to whir through my mind;

“What happens if I haven’t prepared enough materials?”

“What if the language barrier is too hard to overcome?”

“What happens if this is all just some elaborate scam and we’re about to be collected from the airport by the Thai mafia?”

OK, so the last one was a tad melodramatic, but nevertheless, we had good cause to be nervous.  Although I had earned myself a TEFL qualification earlier in the year, I knew that there was a world of difference between talking about teaching and actually doing it.  I had lots of experience of working with children through music and drama, but never before had I been left to my own devices in charge of a class, let alone a class whose first language is not English.

It was the summer of 2011, and my friend Ciara and I were about to begin a month-long volunteering trip with the organisation Original Volunteers.  Like many of the better decisions in life, it was a plan hatched after one too many cocktails in the student union after discovering that we shared the same desire to do something meaningful with our summer off.

Up until this point, I had quite enjoyed the fact that we had no idea where we going or what we would be doing.  All we had been told was that someone from the organisation would be there to meet us at the airport, and that we would take it from there.  Now, as we prepared to land, we wondered if our spontaneity would come back to haunt us. After twenty minutes of questioning at the immigration desk, it became increasingly evident that this might well be the case.

“Where are you staying while you’re in Thailand?”

“I don’t know.”

“Which school will you be working at?”

“I don’t know.”

“Who is collecting you from the airport today?”

“Genuinely, I don’t know!”

 Eventually, after much persuasion, the officer was satisfied that yes, I was crazy enough to come to this country and work for free, without knowing where I was going or who I was meeting.  With a sigh, my passport was returned and I was free to go, only to be presented by the next challenge – getting met.

 Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, a sort of hybrid space ship-come-shopping centre.  It’s vastness is unfathomable.  As we wandered through the arrivals hall, we began to wonder if finding our host was going to be a bit like finding a needle in a haystack.  Sadly, it seemed that the visions I had held of finding a man in chauffer’s uniform holding a sign with our names upon it was just not meant to be.

 An hour went by and still there was no sign of anyone there to meet us.  We had been through every logical explanation, and were slowly coming to the conclusion that we had either been forgotten about, or had given the company the wrong details.  Overcome by both jetlag and anxiety, the conversation soon turned to other ways we could spend our time in the country.  Thankfully, by the time we got to ‘Lion Tamer’, a piece of paper was waved in our faces, containing a hand-written scrawl with the details of our flight, beside some rather unflattering photographs of ourselves.

“Cee-ah-rah and Eezee?”

And so we met Wan.

 Wan, it seemed, was not one of the company’s organisers.  Nor was he a volunteer.  Nor did he speak English.  He did, however, seem relieved to have found us, and proudly jingled a set of car keys to suggest that he would be our driver for the day.  Coming to the conclusion that he seemed far too happy to be part of the mafia, and impressed by his willingness to carry both of our backpacks upon his broad shoulders, we decided to put our trust in our new companion and followed him, bemused, to the car park, ready to begin our Thai adventure…

About The Author

A twenty-something-year-old with a penchant for travel and a never-ending supply of terrible puns.

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