For four weeks in June/July, 2016 I volunteered with the Diving and Marine Conservation Project with Projects Abroad. The entire experience was incredibly eye-opening, fun, and left me wanting more; from the moment I met the Projects Abroad staff to the moment I said goodbye, it was an experience I'll never forget. During the drive from the airport to the placement, I had all of my questions answered by the staff member and felt completely comfortable in my new surroundings. When I arrived at the placement, I met the other volunteers, was shown my room, given my dive book, and was introduced to everything on site. All of the volunteers were extremely friendly, welcoming, and made me fit right in.
On my first day, the volunteers and I went kayaking through the mangroves, a little drive away from our placement, which was such a fun experience and allowed me to get to know some of the other volunteers better. Over the weekend, some of the volunteers and I went hiking in town and did some other adventurous activities such as zip-lining. Since I arrived on a Friday, I received my official induction into the program on the Monday with another staff member that showed the other new volunteer and I around town, and it gave us the opportunity to purchase anything we may have needed, in addition to having lunch at a local restaurant. The staff at Projects Abroad were incredibly knowledgeable about marine conservation, diving, and life in Thailand. Not only did I get to learn more about marine conservation efforts in the country, I got to learn more about the country and culture itself which only added to the experience.
During my time in Thailand, I had the opportunity to learn how to scuba dive according to the PADI regulations, which then allowed me to learn how to survey the coral reefs we were studying. In addition, we learned how to properly identify various fish and marine life and how to differentiate coral, all while cleaning up the Andaman Sea by collecting any debris, nets, and garbage floating in the waters. 3/5 of our volunteer days comprised of diving, either at the Phi Phi islands or at local islands, with the other volunteer days engaging in other activities such as conducting shoreline cleanups, educating students at local schools, transplanting mangroves trees, planting trees, etc. Each day we were fed delicious and plentiful meals by the staff at the placement and everyone highly enjoyed the food as we would all eat our meals at the table together! On our weekends, we often embarked on day trips within the local area to sight-see, and participate in various excursions, such as attending a Thai cooking school, visiting the famous Railay Beach, and hiking the steps of Tiger Cave Temple for example.
Overall, I had an amazing experience with Projects Abroad. From the friendly and welcoming staff, to the volunteers I met and became friends with from around the world, to the meaningful and fulfilling volunteer work we engaged in, I couldn't have asked for a better experience. I'm incredibly thankful to have learned as much as I did and to have met the staff and volunteers I volunteered with in Thailand, and now have memories to last a lifetime!
If there was one thing I would change, it would be to extend my volunteer experience for a longer amount of time. I became really engaged in the activities we did, and did not want to leave due to the friendships I made and the fun I was having. I would suggest volunteering for as long of a time period as you can to truly get the most out of the experience, as well as coming to Thailand with an open mind, a giving heart, and a willingness to learn as you will leave for home a changed person, a lot more tanned, and with new friendships across the world!