Since 1962, Peace Corps Volunteers have been serving in Thailand in a variety of capacities and numbers. In the second half of 1997, Thailand's economy collapsed after a period of quick decline. The impact was extensive at the national level as well as on the quality of life for the rural population. Thailand has begun to make a significant economic recovery thanks to a number of government reform initiatives. The need for the Peace Corps to continue its service in Thailand is more apparent than at any time in recent years due to the important contribution Peace Corps Volunteers are making to the Royal Thai Government's educational and economic reform initiatives.
Peace Corps History
Main article: History of the Peace Corps in Thailand
Thailand was one of the first countries to receive Peace Corps Volunteers, the first of whom arrived in 1962. More than 7,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Thailand. Projects in early decades covered many areas, such as secondary and university teaching in English and other subjects, work in agriculture and fisheries, primary healthcare, malaria control, and soil and water conservation.
As Thailand has changed over the past four decades, the Royal Thai Government’s requests for assistance have changed. In 1997, the Peace Corps was invited to assist with primary-school educational reform, an area identified by Thais as one of the most important in the country today.
Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle
Main article: Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Thailand
In villages and small towns, where most Volunteers live, homes have electricity and indoor plumbing, including toilets and cold-water showers (occasionally a hand pump must be used to obtain the water). Drinking water must be either boiled or purchased, but is readily available. Other basic amenities (e.g., soap, shampoo, hair conditioner, lotion, sanitary napkins and tampons, towels, film, stationery, stamps, sodas, and instant coffee) should be available in provincial or regional centers, if not in your town. You should also be able to purchase items like an iron, rice cooker, or fan if desired.
Main article: Training in Thailand
Pre-service training provides you with solid technical, language, health, safety and security, and cross-cultural knowledge, skills, and attitudes to prepare you for living and working safely and successfully in Thailand. Pre-service training is rigorous and demanding, and sometimes not all trainees qualify for Peace Corps service.
Peace Corps/Thailand’s training program is split into two parts. Part one (10 weeks) is community-based and prepares you to live and work safely and productively at your site for the first three to six months. We have successfully used a community-based training design since January 1997. In this training model, four or five trainees live and study in villages located a few kilometers from a central “hub” site in a larger town. Most language, cross-cultural, and technical sessions and activities occur in the training village. Throughout pre-service training, you will primarily ride bicycles to the hub site and small group training, where you will study with the larger group for one or two days.
Health Care and Safety
Main article: Health care and safety in Thailand
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to health and medical issues. The Peace Corps in Thailand maintains its own health unit with qualified and experienced Peace Corps medical officers (PCMOs) and support staff to take care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Additional medical services such as diagnostics, evaluation, and treatment are also available at local, Western-standard hospitals. If you become seriously ill or injured you will be transported either to a Thai medical facility (in Bangkok or the Provincial Hospitals where you serve) or to the United States.
Diversity and Cross-Cultural Issues
Main article: Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Thailand
In Thailand, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs are judged in a cultural context very different from their own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Thailand.
Outside of Thailand’s capital and other cities, many residents have had relatively little sustained exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles, though they may have had some contact with the many tourists who visit each year. What people view as typical American behavior or norms may be a misconception, such as the belief that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes.
- Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
Even though a woman may think she is not especially attractive, she will find herself described as beautiful if she has fair hair and a light complexion. It is not unusual for a blonde volunteer to have strange women touch her hair as she rides on a bus. They are simply curious. However, be aware that Hollywood films have given the impression that western women are "easy". If you date Thai men, this can possibly lead to misunderstandings.
- Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
In the early days, Peace Corps discouraged African American volunteers from serving in Thailand. However, when black volunteers were finally allowed, they encountered very little racial prejudice and were well received. There was even a female African American country director in the late 1970s. The only possible difficulty is of an African American volunteer being mistaken for an African (particularly Nigerian), since they have a poor reputation amongst Thais. Asian American volunteers may sometimes be mistaken for Chinese-Thais, which can even work to their advantage.
- Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
Age is respected in Thailand. Senior volunteers thus have an advantage. Any possible issues will probably relate to health, especially getting used to the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia.
- Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
Thailand is one of the most liberal minded countries when it comes to homosexuality. Nevertheless, volunteers must remember to conform to the accepted standards of conduct regardless of their sexual orientation. Public displays of affection are frowned upon. Thais will not say anything to an offenders face, but they will most definitely talk behind your back.
- Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Thailand is a Theravada Buddhist country, except for the extreme south where Islam prevails. Thais are very tolerant of other religions. Be sure to respect theirs. Remember that you are not a missionary.
- Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
There are schools for the blind and schools for the deaf. However, volunteers with movement disabilities will find there is little attention paid to their needs in Thailand. Handicapped ramps, restrooms and so on are not common even in Bangkok.
Main article: Packing list for Thailand
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Thailand and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight limit on baggage. Although you can get almost everything you need in Thailand, underwear, clothes and shoes in larger sizes may be hard to find here.
- General Clothing
- For Women
- For Men
- Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
Peace Corps News
The following is automatic RSS feed of Peace Corps news for this country.
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PEACE CORPS JOURNALS
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Contributions to the Thailand Country Fund will support Volunteer and community projects that will take place in Thailand. These projects include water and sanitation, agricultural development, and youth programs.
- Volunteers who served in Thailand
- Friends of Thailand
- List of resources for Thailand
- Pre-Departure Checklist
- Inspector General Reports