What Else Could I Ask For?

Experiencing different aspects of ATMA SEVA’s programs, especially teaching and interacting with monks, is an amazing part of my experience here in Chiang Mai. However, my working experience at Doi Saket could not have been amazing without the improvisation from a colorful life style that any intern may live in during their time at Wat Doi Saket.

IMG_4301

Me at Wat Doi Saket!

Doi Saket temple is very beautiful and enriched with amazing decorating styles. The paintings on the walls of the Vihan, the entrance to the temple, and the statues all truly reflect the long, glorious and vibrating culture and history. Every day at Doi Saket is a happy day for me. For each day, I spend at least 20 to 30 minutes for an easy walk or a hike around the mountain and the temple with my music. There are a lot of quick ‘hi’ back and forth between myself and the people around the temple, as well as those who pass by. Starting my day by waking up early for a quick chat and breakfast in the Wat’s kitchen has become my favorite habit at the temple. It reminds me of a lot of my childhood when my mom would wake me up early in the morning of a normal school day for a quick breakfast and rush to school. The kitchen ladies, like my mom, basically want to feed me to death every morning.

I feel so fortunate that ATMA SEVA put me to work with a group of teachers in the same office at the temple. Though I felt like a new comer to their place, in just a short while I was made used to the place and made to feel at home. They are like brothers and sisters to me. Being caring and concerned about your well-being is how they are. I foresaw myself very homesick after having been there for a long while. But no, I was just right there at a place I could call home. The friendliness, hospitality and emotional support they gave to me are immeasurable. Every lunch time, there are always jokes around the lunch table. We talked, and we made jokes. Even though there were a lot of language barriers in our communication at first, we always tried so hard to learn and get to know more about each other. This is a really unique chance for me to get to know more about Thailand in terms of its culture and the commonalities between Cambodia and Thailand. I taught them Khmer, they taught me Thai. As time went by, our cross-cultural communication skills improved quite significantly.

Downtown is within a walking distance from my work place. You have access to almost any kind of necessities you may need. It’s a small beautiful town, full of friendly people. I made friends with so many people in the market, in the stores and in the small restaurants. When you look like a stranger to them, sure you’ll catch their eyes. All you need to do is to say a simple ‘Sa Watt Dee, Krup’ to them. They will sure greet you back, and with an additional smiling face. In the evening, one could always find cheap and fast foods to eat on both sides of the street. The social environment is just perfect for those who are tired from work and looking for a spot to seat and relax with amazing Thai food. I was very lucky to get to know a very friendly Thai family who has their shop nearby the market. I got invited for a visit to their garden family and for a cooking session.

941201_668552059825386_1555691824_n

Me with my new friends in Doi Saket!

What’s most fortunate of all, they have a Muay Thai training camp that I could have free access to training with boxers and a trainer. There, I got to practice a lot of Muay Thai, my most favorite martial art/cultural sport, with other interns from ATMA SEVA as an evening exercise. Just five minutes away from town, there is a beautiful fish pond where I spent a lot of time at. It is a great place for refreshing one’s mind with fresh air. You can go for a quiet walk or a run around the pond; and it is also a great place for reading.

1014314_10152938923555471_1895475519_n

Muay Thai training!!!!

This is what an intern’s life would look like in their off duty time at Doi Saket. Of course, there are still so many other places and more activities to be explored and get involved in, depending on one’s personal interest. The point is: no matter what life style one may be used to before coming to Doi Saket, experiencing a different way of life in Doi Saket during one’s internship is truly a worthwhile one. In addition to getting involved with interesting and enjoyable education programs, the internship truly gave me a chance to be surrounded by amazing people, colorful natural and social environments, and delicious Thai food. So what else could I ask for?

Click here for more information about internship opportunities with ATMA SEVA!

written by: Kimhean Hok

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Advertisements

The Power and Grace of Thailand

I joined ATMA SEVA in July to stay in Chiang Mai for two months, to teach English to novice monks at Wat Phra Non Pa Ketthi, and I’ve now been here two months.  I have happily decided to stay longer!

Wat Saen Luang 8 copy

Two of my students

I have built many bonds with the novice monks, some of whom I’ll visit at their temples during days off school for casual English lessons. Many wonderful characters, and when I am not at the school, it feels slightly odd not seeing them! A number of students are from hilltribes, so Thai is their second language, and English their third! They try to teach me some words in their local langauge, but I’m still trying to learn Thai! I try to make lessons fun for the novices, including activities and competitions, which they really enjoy, especially when I split the class into teams!

20130823_091130 copy

My classroom!

Chiang Mai uni 5

Me with some of my students

A few weeks ago myself and other volunteers had a mini English camp weekend in Wiang Haeng, further north towards the border of Myanmar, where we had lessons and activities for the novices there. It was an incredible experience and I gained so much respect for all of them, after we were shown a presentation by the novices, where we learned they grow their own rice, tomatoes and sweet potatoes as well as mango and papaya trees. Furthermore they build their own rooms and huts from the local mud mixed with cement and grass. The novices were wonderful and eager to learn English and take part in the activities, I like to think we all taught each other something.

Plekwiwek 24 copy

English camp at Wiang Haeng

After the presentation, they chanted as we sat at the back and listened before taking part in meditation. They then surprised us with lanterns, one for each of the volunteers, which we set off up into the night sky. In the morning, the novices made waffles for our breakfast, I watched them as they eagerly showed me their culinary skills!
Me and Mr Pong  copy

My new friend with the card he made me

When we said goodbye I was presented a handmade card by one of the novices, which made me get tears in my eyes, so sweet and unexpected.

Living in Chiang Mai is amazing, I have fallen into the way of life here, I have fallen in love with Thailand. Sometimes when I go around Chiang Mai city, I like to let myself get lost and walk around, absorbing everything, from the markets to the temples. So many temples to see, all so uniquely beautiful with great history. Some have lots of visitors and some are wonderfully peaceful, one in particular called Wat Muen Larn, was so peaceful I found myself ready to meditate, and so I did. I spent the rest of the afternoon visiting temples.

20130803_141827 copy

Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai

I am so glad there is an organization like ATMA SEVA and the incredible work they do, it is the best move I have ever made, and I feel so happy and privileged to be working with novices and helping them.

Victoria Castro

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

New Video – Teaching at Buddhist temples

Check out our latest video which features the Wat Doi Saket project! The WDSP places volunteers to live and teach conversational English at Buddhist temples in Northern Thailand.  This video is a look into the experience!

Video shot and produced by: Antoine Gratian

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Two months into the on-site intern experience!

I’ve officially been living in Wiang Haeng for two months. At this point one would expect the excitement of living in a new place would be wearing off, but that is far from the reality.
In the past two months I have visited numerous temples in the area, tasted dozens (if not hundreds) of new dishes, and participated in several religious ceremonies. In addition to my classes with the novice monks, two other teachers from my school and I started teaching classes at the government sub-district office this past month. I started to get into a routine – wake up, morning run, shower, eat, school, sub-district, teach English to novices at the Dharma Center, read, sleep, wake up and repeat.

IMG_3776 To some extent, I was beginning to think that I had seen it all – however, that changed recently when one of my students from the sub-district office invited me to cook and eat lunch with her and her family. We ended up having so much fun that we spent the entire day together. We cooked, ate, visited sites around the area, and met her friends and family. She then invited me to spend every Sunday together so that she can take me around to tour the area and check out the sights. How could I resist such an offer?

IMG_3851

Over the past few weekends I have found new beauty in the town and district in which I live. I’ve seen parts of my town that I never knew existed, fields quietly tucked away on side roads near my school, and neighborhoods hiding past the row of businesses on the main street. The sights are simply spectacular. As we coast through dirt roads on her motorcycle, we are flanked on both sides by lush rice paddies and the brooding mountains surrounding us. The rainy season is among us and the air is becoming crisp and cool, while rainbows become a common sight.

IMG_3883 These trips have also helped me feel like a more integrated part of the community. Kong Lom is a small village boasting around 400 houses. As a naturally kind and extroverted person (and a person who was born and raised in the village), my friend Toy seems to know everyone in town. Here, there is no such thing as a short bike ride, as we are constantly stopping to say hello to various family members and friends. And let me tell you, Thai families are not small! Everywhere we go we are warmly greeted and offered something to eat, which means I have eaten more than ever before but every dish is uniquely delicious.

IMG_3884 I also have to admit that I am addicted to Toy’s children’s energy. There’s nothing quite like enjoying a new site when your tour guides are 4 and 6 years old. They simply have a different taste for life and it makes you appreciate the experience that much more. The kids squeal with delight as we bump along the roads, while I close my eyes and grip tightly to my seat. They repeat what I and their mother say in English, even if they have no idea what it means. They like to hold my hand and tickle me when I least expect it. Her children, like many of the community members around me, communicate with me even if it’s not by using words – but rather, by sharing and creating experiences together.

IMG_3905

I’ve tried to document some of the experiences through pictures, but I’m finding it difficult to capture the sights, sounds, and emotions on camera. The views can’t be fully experienced until you feel the wind blowing in your hair as you wiz through the fields in a motorbike, hear the giggles, and see the warmth of the smiles in person. Here is a brief attempt to capture those experiences.

IMG_4063

Stay tuned for more pictures in the Photo Corner in a few weeks and don’t forget to ‘Like’ ATMA SEVA on Facebook!

Maria Moreno, on-site intern

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Where are they now? – Anton

In this edition of ‘Where are they now?’ we checked in with Anton, a former volunteer with our Wat Doi Saket project who is from France.  Read his answers below to hear more about his time in Thailand with ATMA SEVA and what he’s been up to since returning home to France.

Anton after his English class at Wat Doi Saket with teacher Natch.

Anton after his English class at Wat Doi Saket with teacher Natch.

1)  How did you first get connected with ATMA SEVA?  Why did you choose to volunteer with the Wat Doi Saket Project?  

Initially, I was just looking for an internship somewhere in Southeast Asia; the country and the activity of the organization did not matter as long as their mission was in line with my own philosophy. I found a short message written by programs director, David, on a forum so I contacted him to learn more about ATMA SEVA.  After hearing about what this experience could be, I immediately said “yes”. For me, the appeal of the program was being able to explore Asia in a rural and traditional area while also teaching kids. The idea of living in a Buddhist temple was also exciting, and even if I am a mostly convinced atheist, I knew I would discover new points of view and ideas about life with the monks, which is exactly what happened.

2) Tell us a bit about your time at the temple and teaching at a Thai government school. What were some of your favorite moments? 

Anton with teachers, volunteers, and children after his school play production.

Anton with teachers, volunteers, and children after his school play production.

At first, it was hard to adjust to the temple schedule with a lot of free time, teachers living in the temple, and often changing class times.  I like teaching and it was quite pleasant to teach in these places. I had a lot of freedom in the classroom and I could talk about whichever subjects I chose. The hardest thing was that so few people spoke English at that time in both the temple and the school.  This meant that I really had to make an effort to learn the Thai language, which is difficult to learn, in order to integrate and communicate.  Despite the challenge, it was really interesting to get into it, and very valuable for my work with the kids. Some of my favorite moments were bonding with the kids in both the government school and the temple. I also really enjoyed a theatre project I worked on at the government school.

3) What was it like being the first volunteer?

Intense! I was glad to be the first volunteer and help to continue building relationships with these monks and teachers who are continuing partners with ATMA SEVA. It was a challenge to figure out how to communicate and work with so many new people, but I enjoyed sharing our ideas about education and teaching.  I hope my work has been beneficial and that the links between ATMA SEVA and its partners continue to grow and strengthen.

4) How did you find your transition back to France after being in Thailand for several months? 

Anton with a teacher from a Thai government school

Anton with a teacher from a Thai government school

Actually, after Thailand, I spent two months in South America and then five months in Quebec.  The whole year was crazy for me. The transition between Asia and South America was really a shock because these two cultures are quite opposite in many ways: quietness and meditation, “soft human contact” for Asia; intense social life and passionate feelings for South America. The difference was pronounced and it was incredible to see how diverse human life and culture can be.  Once I got back to France, it took me about a year and a half to get used to French people again and appreciate them, but that’s part of traveling!

5) What are you doing currently?

I am actually finishing my master’s degree in political sciences in the cultural field. I am on an internship in the French countryside, working on a theatre project involving an equestrian show mixing classical text and modern direction with hip hop music.  I manage the administration of the project by looking for funds, places to perform, and setting up partnerships to communicate about the project.

6) What are your plans when you finish university? Would you consider any more work internationally?

My plans are still tentative, but I would like to finish this project that runs up to summer 2014, and find another job in the cultural field. After this, I would like to go to Quito, Equator, for a master’s degree in video documentaries. Eventually I’d like to get back to Montreal, a city that I love, and spend a part of my life there.

Anton with some mons from Wat Doi Saket

Anton with some mons from Wat Doi Saket

7) What did you learn from your time in Thailand volunteering with ATMA SEVA? 

I learned how to integrate to the unique Thai culture and how to communicate with people who don’t share a common language. I learned about how to teach effectively, what life is like in a Wat, that French food is not the best in the world, how to drive a motorbike… and more! I learned so many things that I can’t list them all!

8) What is your advice for anybody interested in volunteering or traveling abroad?

First, make sure to get enough information about the country and the organization that you are considering working with. I didn’t do as much research as I should have. I was lucky that ATMA SEVA was a good NGO, that David was so helpful and that Thailand is such a welcoming place. I have a few friends who landed on an unfriendly territory, and had a bad international experience. It’s good to know a little about where you’re going and what to expect before committing to work abroad.

Once you’ve arrived abroad, I recommend forgetting about what you know or think you know. Everything is relative, and it’s really dangerous and inappropriate to think your culture and your ideas are the one correct way. Understanding a country and its people doesn’t depend on simply the language or politeness, but on your capacity to think as others do and understand perspectives other than your own.  Always keep in mind that your views derive from a history you did not choose. Meeting different people is a great opportunity to challenge your ideas and beliefs in a search for your own personal truth. And don’t forget to have fun with the people you meet and enjoy your time!

Anton helping set up for a temple festival at Wat Doi Saket.

Anton helping to set up for a festival at Wat Doi Saket.

www.atmaseva.org