Michael Glazier is a 26 year old man hailing from Lakeport, California. He graduated from Brigham Young University in 2012 with a degree in marketing, and has spent the past two years working in sales and account management for a Fortune 500 company. He enjoys traveling, trying new things, reading, sports, and living adventurously. He volunteered with Friends For Asia from Nov. 1, 2013 - Dec. 21, 2013.
What led you to teach English in Thailand with Friends for Asia?
It has long been a goal of mine to spend a couple of months volunteering somewhere in the world. While a student attending my university, I was often presented with opportunities to travel and offer my time in a service activity, but I was very career oriented, and didn't have the funds to travel.
While making a transition between jobs, the opportunity to spend a couple of months abroad presented itself and I seized it. At the recommendation of several friends, I selected Thailand as my destination, and determined that I would like to investigate volunteer opportunities in order to both serve and immerse myself in the culture.
A quick Google search took me to Friends For Asia. And in looking at their projects, teaching English at an international university for monks seemed too good to pass up.
What was your favorite moment of the trip?
I actually have 3 incredible experiences worth sharing.
I had the good fortune of being in Chiang Mai for the Loi Krathong festival, their festival of lanterns. For an entire week, there was a build up of people launching burning lanterns into the night sky, with firecrackers occasionally popping off, but the weekend celebration was something I will never forget.
Thousands of people gathered all over in the streets to launch lanterns into the sky, and float flowers down the river to pay tribute to the river for her life-sustaining gifts. To experience that in all its beauty and chaos was amazing.
At one point during the volunteer service, I had some time off, so a couple of volunteers and I opted to travel down to Phuket, an island in Southern Thailand. The beaches were beautiful, the scenery was incredible, and the time I had to spend with the special friends I had made there was truly unforgettable.
Each year, the monks at the university I worked at will do an off-site meditation retreat. This lasts 10 days, and the monks will learn about meditation methods, and have the chance to practice for themselves. As members of the staff, myself and another volunteer were invited to attend, which we were thrilled to do.
For four days, I had the chance to live with monks, chant with monks, learn with monks, and meditate with monks. Most of these monks were my students, so I had the chance to become very close with them, and develop strong friendships while we were essentially camping together.
Several of the monks approached me and said that the two of us were the first lay people (non-monks), he had seen in all his four years attending the University. To be the only non-monk, living and learning meditation with 125 monks from 9 nations, was a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Tell us about one person you met.
I became somewhat close with one of the monk professors that I worked with, a man by the name of Joelee. Joelee was in his early 30's, and though he was the same age as many of his students, he was wise beyond his years. He would often share words of wisdom with both myself and the monks, and it was a pleasure to learn from him.
As part of my volunteer service, I worked as a Teaching Assistant in his class, which was Morphology and Syntax in English. Coming from a background in business, rather than education, I found instruction rather daunting, but Joelee placed a lot of faith in me.
My very first day in his class, he did a short inspirational thought, brought up a PowerPoint presentation on the board, explained that the lesson was going to be on various forms of word construction, and then called on me to come teach the class. I had never seen the material, nor studied the lesson, but he had me give an hour long instruction on various principles in English. This type of treatment was common in Joelee's class, and I grew in both confidence and ability as a result.
If you could go back and do something differently, what would it be?
This may sound like a cop-out, but I don't know that I would do anything differently. I came to love the students that I was working with, and genuinely made the most of my project. I also took full advantage of the adventures near Chiang Mai, and was blessed to have the opportunity to travel to a few places when school would be cancelled.
I had great, lifelong friendships that were kindled not only with the natives, but with the other volunteers. I'm from the United States, but was very much in the minority with the people I was serving with. They hailed from all age groups, though mostly 18-25, and from all over Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand.
It was fascinating to mingle with people from so many backgrounds who were all eager to experience a new culture, and willing to volunteer their time to help the people around them.
What advice do you have for someone considering this program?
Firstly, I would strongly recommend doing it. I loved working with Friends For Asia. The staff was incredible, the country was beautiful, the food was magnificent, the culture is wonderful, and the people you serve will be enriched by your efforts.
You will make the world a better place by giving your time, but you will inevitably receive the better end of the deal with the experiences and friendships you will take home with you.
Secondly, I would recommend coming in with an open mind. While the experience is incredible, it is also authentic, which means that not everything will go exactly as planned. Thai school systems are very loose, and you will often have classes cancelled or things fall through.
If you want a real taste of Thai culture, you're going to get it, so embrace it. Don't have any rigid preconceived notions about what you must do and have to do with your project, simply come, give what you have to offer, and make the most of your time there.