Ever since I arrived in Thailand, I have thoroughly shared my enthusiasm for this destination. It was the same for Patricia, a friend who decided to go travelling through Thailand and it’s surrounding countries with one of her best friends in 2009. Just like many other travelers in Thailand, Patricia got involved in volunteering. By accident she passed by in Nong Khai and got involved at Isan Survivor. Meet founder Jack, the person who changed Patricia’s life forever.
A few days after arriving back in Thailand at Nong Khai, Jack was waiting for me at the guesthouse lobby. He was wearing a professional cycling outfit which reassured me about the 60 km ride we would make to his home and project site in Phon Phisai that day. We paid a quick visit to Openmind Projects on the way out of Nongkhai and started our journey off the main highway, through paddy and tabacco fields.
Having welcomed Jack before in the Netherlands made it really easy and fun to exchange stories about the many cultural differences that we both experienced. But we also had a lot of fun! Just before Jack would share the amazing story of meeting Patricia, he surprised me with some beautiful harmonica playing while we were riding the bicycle at the same time!
Jack told me he often picks up new volunteers at Mut Mee, a famous guesthouse in Nong Khai. Patricia coincidentally met a group of volunteers who were involved in volunteering at Isan Survivor and enthusing Patricia to get involved too. So she did.
Patricia started to teach English as a volunteer for 4 months and had the unique chance to experience local Isan life while staying over at Jack’s parents’ home. Jack’s help with teaching at primary school appeared to be very driven and by spending lots of free time together they had chance to really get to know each other. Soon they were seriously in love.
Patricia went back to Holland for 9 months before she came back to volunteer (and be with Jack!) at Isan Survivor for another 4 months. This time she decided she would move to Thailand permanently to live together with Jack. Things moved up apace from the moment they were portrayed in the Dutch TV series ‘Grenzeloos Verliefd‘.
Now, 5 years after they first met, I took the opportunity to cycle with Jack to their new built home. After the exciting ride Jack and I were welcomed by Patricia and their beautiful daughter Luna. They are now running Isan Survivor together.
I stayed over for a couple of days at their home and was hosted like a king. At the moment of my visit, Milou – a volunteer from Holland, was involved in their program. Every night we ate out, at local restaurants or with family. Jack proudly showed me the Isan Survivor Tuktuk and used it to show us the neighborhood where he grew up and bring us to the local market where we got overwhelmed with local delicacies.
Jack invited me to join him and the other volunteer to teach English at a local schoolcamp, and so I did. I took my bicycle and went to the school in the city center of Phon Phisai. Jack organized a class to teach students of varying ages how to correctly fill an immigration form. The group of students was changing each half hour so they could join another language class.
It was a really exciting experience to teach students that were different in age. Some were only 18, some 47. But they all pretty much were not able to speak, or at least to scared to do so. It was a bit of a challenge to make them feel comfortable, stimulate and compliment their efforts but as usual when a little sense of humor was added, you could feel the group opening up. A very nice experience which was awarded by a certificate.
What I found the most memorable about Jack’s story is the way he described his luck in meeting Patricia: “Patricia was originally planning to travel to Laos but she traveled by a very old and slow bus that forced her to make an overnight stop at Nong Khai. If she had taken another means of transport or if she would not have met our volunteers, we probably would have never met each other. I feel really lucky we did.”
Isan Survivor is based in Phon Phisai, approximately 40 kilometers east of Nong Khai. It offers teaching English opportunities in one of the warmest cultures within Thailand: Isan. Check Isan-Survivor.org for more information and featured volunteer stories.