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Daring to take the first step

By Alex Kharouk 3 years ago
Categories Luang Prabang

You know what’s nerve-wracking? Putting yourself out there. Writing words on stained-white paper, performing for an audience. Capturing a moment of someone else’s on a camera. It worried me, like the mosquitoes that surrounded me, or the stray dogs that I would give my life to protect (unbeknownst to me about their diseases). As a twenty-year-old from Canada, this gets to me. I’m a sufferer of the heart pacing two steps ahead of my feet. I suffer from the consequences of first-time impressions. I ponder over impact after I leave. I wonder if the actions I set in place actually made a difference.

Now imagine me in a situation where I must go and volunteer to teach English to the locals of Luang Prabang, Laos for two weeks.

Let’s get something straight. Two weeks was not enough for me. I left a few days ago, and headed back to my current home in Cambridge, England. I am now absorbed in the fog some may call, ‘Post-Volunteer-Depression,’ or what I call, “normality sucks.” Instead of waking up at 7 am to prep for my morning class, I now wake up gloomy, re-visiting memories through the images that I’ve taken, as if I can cling onto them and transport myself back in time to when I still taught.


Alex at library
I’m over-exaggerating. I think. I sometimes explain to my neighbours that no, it’s not the wails of a young man, but this new musical instrument that I found. Of course, do not take any of this as negativity. It’s just that this trip had a strong effect on me. I am an agent of stress so when I first discovered this opportunity one month prior to my actual trip (always remember to plan ahead folks), I thought, ‘Great!’ However my next thought was, ‘Well, how am I going to be able to handle this?’



Flash-forward one month, and I find myself staring at a fan that rotated counter-clockwise in a guesthouse in Luang Prabang, Laos, on the day before my morning meeting with GVI. Great, I thought as I chew through my fingers and nibble at the bones. I still don’t know what to expect. What I realise now is that you must expect nothing. Hollywood hasn’t polluted this area (yet), nor has best-seller novels. You might know absolutely nothing of this environment and your stand within it, and that’s a good thing. Actually, it’s fantastic! You know nothing, and Luang Prabang knows nothing of you. So here comes your legacy.

Anxiety is a companion many have, and I’m not excluded. However, when I was introduced to the volunteers of my generation (By that I mean the people who are joining me this week), I was like a child who was thrown in the deep end. I scrambled about, occasionally going overboard with some jokes, or having rash feelings towards other volunteer’s jokes. I internally screamed for support as I posed a smile. It happens, right? Yet, like that myth of a child in the deep end, the end result was clear. I was able to finally keep myself afloat.

So the other volunteers, the staff, and I became friends. Then we became companions. Now I consider them family. My two weeks taught me that honesty is the key when you meet new people. My two weeks taught me that I should serve myself to them as a full dish, letting them choose the best parts and/or ignore or take notice of my faults. I allowed myself to become a dartboard, and gave the darts around. Thankfully, no one threw anything at me. Instead, I was able to reveal troubled thoughts, and be truthful with them. My two weeks taught me that new people aren’t so bad, since we’re all flowing in the same mind-riddled water.


Alex photo waterfall

This should be a blog post about preparation. I’m sorry I can’t offer that. If some like-minded individual decided to read this, I have only one little piece of advice. Do it. Honestly. You will not get a five star accommodation. You will not be served by the top Western Chef on this side of Asia. You won’t have a hot shower at times. Honestly, that’s not what is important. The students that you meet here are spectacular. Keen on learning, they will devour any knowledge you give them. They will swarm like beautiful bees who want to colonise on everything you say. I was told by someone very wonderful on staff that, “you are the least important person in the classroom.” She is right. You are not. But you have the ability to make the important people become even more important. You will be doing something that is becoming less important in the world nowadays. You will teach.

And trust me, you will smile. You’ll want to come back. I know I do. And if you’re worried about your fellow volunteers and staff, don’t. Prepare to make your family tree a tad bit bigger, because these people will teach you something new. And if you’re anything like me, a once-stupid jigsaw puzzle not quite so complete, be prepared to find the last remnants of the puzzle. Be prepared to feel complete.



Much Love and Regards,


Alex, two week volunteer from Canada