Soyoung Son, 27, of Flushing knows firsthand about helping others in need after volunteering with the Peace Corps in Thailand from 2009 to 2010.
In recognition of 50 years of the Peace Corps, March marked the worldwide launch of Peace Corps Month.
The organization was created in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy in order to promote peace and friendship throughout the world. The three goals of the Peace Corps are: helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women, helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served and helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
Since Kennedy started the organization, more than 200,000 volunteers have served in 139 host countries assisting in AIDS education, local tourism and environmental preservation.
Son had always wanted to travel and help people and believed the Peace Corps was the right thing to do. Prior to joining she worked as an office manager. Surprisingly, many of her friends had never heard of the Peace Corps before she went to Thailand, she said.
“I wanted to go outside my comfort zone,” Son said. “I was working knowing that I wanted to leave. A lot of my friends were jealous of me.”
The first 10 weeks in Thailand were intensive training for all 52 volunteers. Very few people in Thailand outside Bangkok speak English. Volunteers spent four hours each day learning Thai.
The training also involved assimilating to the culture and overall day-to-day life. Son was placed in the town of Tham Sing Khorn within the province of Surat Thani.
“People are very laid back in Thailand,” Son said.
In Thailand there are a few customs followed by the people that would be frowned upon in America, she added. Thai people don’t express their emotions. At funerals people don’t cry. People don’t honk their horns while stuck in traffic and at restaurants if the food is taking a long time people wait calmly and don’t say anything to the waiter.
Also, in Thailand almost everyone rides a bike and people handwash their clothes. Because of the heat and humidity, riding a bike was a challenge, she said.
“I was horrible at biking at first,” Son said. “I definitely value the little things more now.”
Son stayed with a host family where she practically became their second daughter. Her two main objectives were to spread local tourism and business skills. One of her main jobs was assisting a lady with advertising, accounting, production and the packaging of customized T-shirts.
“I think the one thing I value the most is the relationships I formed there,” she added.
Son said she would recommend volunteering to anyone because it is good for a person’s growth. Though she likely will not work with the Peace Corps again, she will return to Thailand.
“Getting out there and experiencing a different culture, you’re not going to experience that anywhere else,” Son said.
The Peace Corps would be a perfect opportunity for the youth of America, she believes. With unemployment high and the bad economy, being able to help other people and indirectly promote peace at the same time would be the right thing to do.
“The experience is worth so much more than the money,” she said. “It’s just a really good opportunity.”
The Peace Corps provides full medical benefits, airfare and a living stipend while volunteering. In addition to those expenses, each volunteer receives between $4,000 and $5,000 at the completion of the contract.
During March, there will be many parties and events throughout the country celebrating the Peace Corp’s 50th anniversary. She plans to attend a few parties in Manhattan. Recently, The Empire State Building was lit up red, white and blue in honor of the organization.
Son currently works as an accountant at a non-profit AIDS service center in Manhattan.