FAQs About HoT

What is Hands on Thailand (HoT)?
Hands on Thailand (HoT) is a unique, reasonably-priced, 3-week, study-abroad, service-learning, mind-expanding, transformative adventure in Chiang Mai, where students immerse themselves in the culture and beauty of Thailand. Situated in South East Asia and focused on service learning, HoT is one of the most fascinating yet least expensive study abroad opportunities at SJSU. It is one of the best investments you can make in yourself!

Will I be required to set up my own volunteering opportunity?
Part of students’ responsibilities is to set up their own volunteering situation, whether it is with one of the organizations listed on the syllabus or another one the student finds. You should try to make contact before you arrive, but if it doesn’t work out beforehand, you can try further when in Chiang Mai.

Can I switch volunteering placements or do more than one?
Yes. As long as you accomplish at least 15 volunteer hours per week, you can volunteer at one or more organizations, doing so as you please to get the best experience for yourself, while helping others.

Are all HoT activities and assignments required?
Yes, all reflections sessions, group meals, volunteering hours, required field trips, required readings, and complete journal are required.

Can I arrive late or leave early to travel around Thailand or Asia?
No, this is a real and otherwise-regular SJSU course, where students are expected to be present and participatory for the entire 3-week session in Chiang Mai.

Can I leave during HoT to go to the islands or Bangkok?
No, students cannot travel to other regions of Thailand during HoT. Students may travel by land (no flights during HoT) for up to one night in Chiang Mai or a neighboring city/province (e.g., Chiang Rai or Pai), but I strongly discourage it. Here’s why:

1) There is more than enough to see and do in and around the city of Chiang Mai and I hope you will immerse yourself in the local scene (if you need ideas, please ask me, check the map, or find out otherwise);
2) If students leave Chiang Mai and something happens, I may not be able to assist them;
3) If students miss too much of the program or are unable to complete it, regardless of reason, fault, or circumstance that keeps them away, they would not be able to get credit for the course.

If you decide to leave Chiang Mai for a maximum of one night during of HoT,  you would have to get approval from me on the location and then let me know (a) specifically where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and for how long, (b) exactly when you’re leaving, and (c) immediately when you’ve returned. You also need to make sure you are not missing any required activities (e.g., group meals, field trips, reflection sessions). If you want to go beyond the local area, it would be best to do so before or especially after HoT.

Will I be able to eat the group meals if I have dietary restrictions?
There will be planned group meals included in our program, where we can casually eat, talk, socialize, laugh, and share experiences. Our group meals, our craft factories lunch, our village lunch on our trek day, and our elephant sanctuary buffet will be veg, so as to be maximally inclusive. Most diets can easily be accomodated in Thailand.

Are we required to eat breakfast in the hotel?
No, the hotel breakfast buffet is a perk that I try to negotiate as part of our special group rate, but it is not mandatory to eat it. The all-you-care-to-eat buffet breakfast includes Thai and western food (e.g., rice, pad thai, mixed vegetables, congee, meats, fried eggs, pancakes, french toast, bread, mini-croissants, etc.), fruit and vegetables, coffee and tea, juice and water, etc. If you ever don’t want it, you are of course free to eat elsewhere at your own expense. (You’re also not required to swim in the pool.)

Will we have a chance to meet as a group before we start HoT?
Yes, we will have a group meeting and orientation, probably the week before Spring Break, to share information and get to know each other.

Will I be able to choose my roommate?
If both you and the other person write me requesting each other, I’ll be happy to pair you up. If not, I will assign roommates.

Will we fly together?
I encourage students to talk and plan amongst themselves and share itineraries on the listserv after we get administrative approval to purchase airline tickets, but we will not be officially traveling to Thailand as a group and may leave and return from different airports on different airlines on different days. Each student will purchase his or her own flights.

How physically demanding will HoT be?
Thailand will be hot and humid, it’ll rain, there will be a lot of walking, and our all-day trek will involve a lot of hiking.

Will I be able to workout during HoT?
Our hotel will have a pool and a tiny workout area. There is also a park on the other side of the Old City where people workout, and there are studios for yoga, mountains for climbing, and some people bike, run, and walk around the city and its environs. And our all-day trek will involve plenty of hiking.

Should I get Thai baht before arriving in Thailand?
That is not necessary and the exchange rate in America will be considerably worse. When you arrive at the airport in Thailand, you will easily be able to get baht from an ATM or bank kiosk, which is what I do.

Will we get to see elephants?
Yes and much more than that! Not only will we see magnificent elephants when we visit the elephant sanctuary, we will learn about them and be able to get up close and personal with them, including feeding, petting, and hanging out with these amazing beings. We will also see other animals at the sanctuary, including water buffalo, dogs, cats, butterflies, and perhaps horses and pigs. Because it’s a real sanctuary, there will be no riding, chains, sticks, hooks, forced labor, or other forms of coercion or exploitation of any of the animals. To be ethically consistent, Elephant Nature Park only serves veg food.

Will I be able to sightsee in Thailand?
We will have some structured activities that explore Thai culture (fieldtrips to craft factories, an elephant sanctuary, an all-day trek in the countryside), as well as plenty of unstructured time to explore the city, but this is a service-learning sociology course in Chiang Mai, not a sightseeing tour of Thailand. Students may go on their own fieldtrips on their days off, alone or as part of a group, and can also explore Thailand before and/or after HoT.

Can I use my phone in Thailand?
If you want or need to bring your cell phone (or tablet), you may have to arrange with your carrier beforehand: incoming and outgoing calls could have high roaming charges. Other possibilities include relying on wi-fi, buying a data plan through your carrier, purchasing a Thai SIM card, or renting a cell phone in Thailand.

With the exception of during our reflection sessions and whenever else inappropriate, you can use your phone at any time for any purpose. Thailand is very photogenic!

Can I motorbike, bungee jump, zip line, cliff jump, parachute, dive, etc.?
No. For safety and insurance reasons, certain activities are strictly prohibited during HoT: riding on a motorbike/motorcycle, flying, zip lining, cliff jumping, bungee jumping, diving, parachuting/skydiving, swimming alone, or engaging in any other especially risky or dangerous activity. Most of these activities are also not covered by our SJSU insurance policy. Any of these activities may result in students being removed from HoT.

What else is prohibited?
Certain activities are illegal in Thailand, having landed people in jail, and are therefore strictly prohibited, including: any illegal drugs or other illegal activities; any e-cigs or vaping; any criticism or insult of any sort of the king, royal family, and monarchy; any criticism or insult of any sort of the military; any criticism or insult of any sort of the government; any criticism or insult of any sort of the Buddha and/or treating any Buddha image in a non-sacred way. Pornography, gambling, and advertising alcohol, including online, are also illegal in Thailand. Any of these activities may result in students being removed from HoT.

Will I be OK if I don’t know anyone else who is going?
Yes, you will be more than OK! You don’t have to know anyone who is going because you will meet others who also don’t know anyone else who is going and students will quickly bond together. Most HoT students go without knowing anyone on the trip.

Will I be OK if I don’t speak Thai or have never been outside the U.S.?
Yes, Thailand is an English-friendly, very-welcoming, hospitable country, where you can explore, learn, enjoy, and thrive! No HoT student yet has been a Thai speaker and many have little to no international travel experience.

Why should I travel abroad?
Jason Silva, Why Should We Travel? (short video) and Why We Explore (short video)
Dan Brook, Go! (ebook of travel quotes)

What, when, how?
Please submit your online application and supplemental questionnaire as soon as you’re able to, so we can demonstrate support for this program and have a better sense of the enrollment numbers. HoT will likely fill up in the Fall, probably before Thanksgiving Break.

Your application will not be complete and will not be considered until both parts are fully filled out and properly submitted. After the class is full, accepted applicants will be placed in a wait pool. Non-refundable $500 deposits will be due by November 17 (Jan. 25 for those in Round 2, if applicable), with the balance of $1355 due by March 15.

How can I learn more about HoT?
For lots more info, check the home page, HoT Info Guide (with info from AIDS to Passports to Zip Lock Bags and more), and the Syllabus, as well as the pages for HoT Media and Student Reviews. And, of course, you can always contact me.

Application info is here.

Are there even more FAQs?
Yes! The FLP department has their own FAQs.