At age 17, Jakob Fjeldsted has seen more of the world than most of us have at 30 or 40. The globetrotting Maple Grove High School junior spent last year’s summer vacation traveling solo in Asia—where he focused on giving back instead of on leisure. Fjeldsted joined a volunteer program, where he taught English in a Thai village, and ventured into new cultures in Taiwan and Indonesia. Pretty impressive, huh? We talked with him about his trip and about why he decided to devote his summer to service.
Maple Grove Magazine: What inspired you to take a service trip?
Jakob Fjeldsted: I love traveling and helping other people, so I thought maybe I could find an organization that could make both possible…I used a website called goabroad.com to find [the organization] I worked with, called Isan Survivor.
MGM: You spent a few weeks teaching English in Thailand. What was that like?
JF: I got on the back of a motorcycle and drove around several small villages with my volunteer coordinator. We gave information announcing my class to [the village leaders]. Then about 15 kids showed up to a two-room community school where I taught them. I got to know them really well, even though I couldn’t speak their language. It made me so happy that my students were learning…I set an example for them as a confident person, as I was about the same age as many of them but from a place far away, all by myself. More volunteers were sent to my class after I left! I will never forget my students and the time we had together. We had such a good time and learned so much from each other.
MGM: What was your biggest challenge?
JF: I think the biggest challenge was actually just putting the trip together. I spent hundreds of hours thinking, working and organizing this trip. It took up most of my sophomore school year.
MGM: Where did you stay while you were in Thailand?
JF: I stayed in a villager’s home through the volunteer organization…I got to work in the rice fields. That was a very cool experience. We worked alongside the rice farmers, right outside of the house I stayed in. There were all sorts of things in the mud, and it was really hot outside!
MGM: What was surprising about Thai culture?
JF: Most of the time, I didn’t know what I was eating! The weirdest thing I tried was a fruit that looked exactly like yellow Play-Doh….There were some other weird things, like tongue, but for the most part I really liked [the food]. In the small village where I stayed, older generations would take out their guns and shoot at the moon on certain days, due to the belief that demons were trying to overtake it.
MGM: You also traveled to Taiwan and Indonesia. Tell us about your adventures there.
JF: I wanted to go to Taiwan because I happened to have friends [from Minnesota] to go along with…I stayed at my friend’s family’s apartment. They helped me practice the Chinese I learned over the school year. I ended my trip in Bali, Indonesia, because I’d always wanted to go there [to experience] the culture. I stayed in a local family’s home, and I also stayed in the Puri Saren palace for one night and met a king. I remember everything perfectly!
MGM: What was the biggest take-away from your trip?
JF: I think the biggest lesson I learned was patience. My students [in Thailand] were very nice, but tested me…usually because of cultural differences or the language barrier. But I learned to just relax and do my best with the situation. I also learned that I am a brave person. I was never worried about flying to new countries by myself. People everywhere would tell me how brave I was, and I started to realize that maybe they were right!