Chaos. That’s the one word that instantly sprung to mind as I looked out over my 40 Balinese kindergarten students in horror. One little boy was dancing on the table, another throwing puzzle pieces on the floor, and several were brawling in the middle of the tiny overcrowded classroom. One thing was for certain: the angelic, perfectly behaved little children of five minutes ago, when their full-time teacher was in the room, had vanished. I think it was probably at that exact moment, as our classroom was quite literally being turned upside-down, that my teaching partner and I truly understood just how completely unprepared we were.

Now, having returned from Bali and the rest of my solo travels around South East Asia and Oceania, I find it strange to look back at the person I was before I left. Just a mere week before the classroom chaos mentioned above, I was sitting on the floor of my cold western-style housing, naively overpacking my already 100-ton-heavy backpack. It’s safe to say that, while I knew volunteering in Bali would be an experience, I was entirely unaware of just how rewarding and incredible that experience would be. However, while I recommend volunteering as a teacher, I don’t recommend turning up to your first lesson with one sad little exercise and a boringly generic nursery rhyme like I did. Luckily for you, I’m going to share 5 things that I wish I’d known before volunteering as a teacher in Bali, so you can be ten times more prepared than I was.

1. Ask questions

I cannot stress how important this is. I think most of my initial mistakes were down to a lack of confidence. Despite working with an incredible organization (Green Lion Bali), who were nothing but kind and helpful, when I first started I was so nervous I didn’t ask any questions! Simply asking how many activities to prepare probably would have been a huge help. Make sure you know how old the children are, what to do in an emergency and if there are certain specific things you shouldn’t do. Strange sounding, yes, but very important. For example, touching a child’s head in the UK can be a sign of affection, whereas in Bali this can be considered offensive! I would also just use this as a general rule of thumb before choosing an organization to volunteer with. It’s important to feel comfortable with them even before you head over.

2. You won’t necessarily have the support of an in-country teacher

I can remember the looks of sheer panic that were exchanged when my partner and I realized that the (real) teacher wasn’t coming back! I think we were both under the illusion that we would be playing more of a teacher assistant kind of role rather than being the only teachers in the room. Again, this probably could have been solved by asking beforehand…oops. Although this isn’t a major deal, we ended up much preferring being able to teach the class in our own way and having more time with the children, it’s a good idea to find out what sort of role you will be in before as it can help you to be more prepared.

3. Overprepare

Teaching children is never easy, there’s the constant need to move about, that five second attention span and oh, I almost forgot, the fact that they don’t speak English. After a few pretty awful lessons, we would always make sure to have at least 3 planned activities and several more game ideas on hand. More often then not you’ll end up changing your original plans based on how the children react, so it’s always good to have lots of backups. Creative activities will always go down the best, things like painting and cutting and sticking. And yes, sometimes you’ll just have to give up and let the kids do it ‘their’ way. Trust the girl who spent half an hour trying to explain finger painting, to a bunch of 5-year olds whose main goal seemed to be who can create the biggest brown smear…

4. Things will go wrong

I’d love to say that after that first lesson everything ran smoothly, but honestly, in class of 40 little kids, smooth isn’t really an option. I remember one case where a little boy full on punched a little girl in the face, who then proceeded to have a massive nose bleed and start crying. By the end of that lesson we had 4 crying kids and an actual pool of blood, not exactly the happy class we were going for. Just remember that if you’re volunteering with kids things are bound to go wrong. While this shouldn’t put you off, just make sure you’re aware of what to do in an emergency and who you should go to.

5. Leaving is hard

Whether you have the rowdiest, most disobedient class, or the quietest one, you’re bound to become attached to it. By the end, I was so different from the overwhelmed, timid girl who first walked into that classroom. I had grown happy and comfortable in it. I knew the children’s names and their little personalities, and was honestly so sad to leave them. If someone had told me how sad I would be when I left, before the experience, I probably would have laughed, not because I’m cold, but more because I’m not one to grow attached easily. I guess this is one of those ones that you’ll never truly understand until you experience it for yourself.


This is a guest post by Meera.

Meera is 19 years old and has just finished her gap year, during which she worked, traveled and volunteered. She started in Indonesia before heading off to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Meera loves traveling and hopes to volunteer again in Sri Lanka later this year. She will be studying psychology at University in London starting September 2018. You can hear more about her adventures at her blog or follow her on Instagram.