Updated for 2022-2023
Learn first-hand the spiritual beliefs, traditions, and practices of Buddhism when you volunteer to teach English to young children and monks in Asia.
Travel to beautiful Sri Lanka and learn about Buddhist practices while engaging in important cultural exchange – or visit mystical Nepal and join other adventurous pilgrims at ancient temples with breathtaking views of the Himalayas, including majestic Mount Everest. Choose Chiang Mai, Thailand’s “Rose of the North” and a land that’s rich in cultural diversity, tranquil villages and other natural wonders. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang, an ancient and charming city in Laos: it’s the best example of traditional architecture in the country, with 34 preserved Buddhist temples set against a backdrop of lush green mountains.
When you sign up for an English teaching program in Asia, you’ll do more than sightsee in spectacular countries. You’ll learn about the Buddhist philosophy, which is adhered to by the monks and novices in their daily lives.
You’ll also learn that there are many reasons for young boys to be ordained, but the primary one is to acquire an education. Poorer families cannot afford to send their children to school, so they become temporary Buddhist novice monks at temples where their material needs are met. Young boys join a temple as a rite of passage or to alleviate financial stress at home. While they’re at the temples, it’s critical that they receive an education that includes learning to speak and read English.
Buddhism and Its Spiritual Leader, the Dalai Lama
Buddhism originated between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE in India, then spread through much of Asia. It’s the fourth-largest religion with more than 530 million followers worldwide.
There are two major branches of Buddhism. Theravada has the goal of eliminating “kleshas” (destructive attitudes such as ignorance, attachment, and aversion) and attaining Nirvana, which ends the cycle of suffering and rebirth. Theravada is practiced mainly in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.
Mahayana is found primarily in East Asia, and instead of Nirvana, its followers aspire to Buddhahood via the bodhisattva path, remaining in the cycle of rebirth to help other beings reach awakening. Vajrayana, which the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan followers practice, is a part of Mahayana, and they also aspire to Buddhahood.
By teaching English in Tibet, Nepal, or other monastery locations, you’re helping to fulfill the Dalai Lama’s vision. As the spiritual leader of Tibet, encourages all people – and in particular Buddhist monks – to continue their education and to learn English. His wish is that ancient Buddhist texts and scripture be translated into English for all to read and appreciate.
“One of the main ways of being diligent is to pay particular attention to the pursuit of knowledge. The world is undergoing an enormous transformation today. In order to achieve both internal and external progresses appropriate for modern times, having modern education is extremely important, “ he said during a speech in Dharamsala.
The Dalai Lama, who referred to himself as “a simple monk from Tibet” in 1989 when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on global human rights, was born Tenzin Gyatso in 1935. Since the age of 2, he has been considered the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, and he lives in Dharamsala, India. He, as well as many other Tibetans, have lived in exile after the 1950 invasion by China.
Buddhism is flourishing, with an estimated 1.5 million followers in the United States. According to the Dalai Lama, this is because of the U.S. education system, one he would like to see replicated for all Buddhists. “I feel that Americans are interested because they are open-minded. They have an education system that teaches them to find out for themselves why things are the way they are. Open-minded people tend to be interested in Buddhism because Buddha urged people to investigate things — he didn’t just command them to believe.”
If you’re interested in learning about Buddhism from its practitioners, and in return teaching them about your culture and language, consider a volunteer opportunity that places you in a class, sharing your knowledge with eager, respectful students. Keep reading to explore the opportunities waiting for you teach English in Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Laos.
Featured Volunteer Programs
About the Program: Volunteering Solutions, or VolSol, as it has been nicknamed by its 17,000 volunteers and volunteer alums, has been in the business of connecting passionate volunteers with great international projects since 2006. VolSol was founded by volunteers who wanted to help international volunteers connect to highly specialized, community-based local projects.
VolSol has a full staff of experienced coordinators who assist volunteers before, during, and after placement, providing resources such as international insurance, a connection to a network of passionate global citizens over 10,000 strong and resources on how to volunteer ethically and mindfully. VolSol is one of the most affordable programs in the world with one week projects starting at just $200 USD.
If you have two weeks to volunteer, why not check out Volunteering Solutions’ amazing opportunity to teach English to novice Buddhist monks in Chiang Mai? As a volunteer, you’ll work at one of five different monastery schools to teach English to students aged 12 to 18.
A few activities you can take on include working alongside local teachers to conduct lessons, teaching conversational English to students, helping out with other subjects such as computer literacy, and sharing new ideas and views with your students through conversation and activities. You’re also encouraged to take weekend trips throughout Chiang Mai and visit ancient temples, heritage sites, marketplaces, and much more.
Since 2006, GoEco has offered affordable volunteer abroad programs and internships in over 45 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Australasia, Central America, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and South America. With more than 170 different wildlife, marine, medical, and teaching programs, GoEco is a great organization to check out if you’re looking for a variety of impactful trips to choose from, from wildlife conservation to teaching English overseas. GoEco was recently recognized as the Top Volunteer Abroad Organization from GoAbroad, Top Eco-Enthusiast by Greenmatch, and has been recommended by Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and more. As a volunteer, you will have 24-hour support from the GoEco team, from start to finish.
Teaching English to Buddhist Monks in Sri Lanka
As part of this project, volunteers will help at a monastic college by teaching English to the monks of the school who are generally aged 11-19. As most of the monks’ focus is on Buddhism studies, there is not much time for English language lessons and therefore the monks will only have a basic level of English. There may be between 2-15 monks per class. Each English lesson will be about two hours along, although one to two hours of lesson planning are required beforehand.
The project is located in Galle, a beautiful area in southern Sri Lanka that is surrounded by lush greenery and close to world-class beaches, including prime surfing spots. Galle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, complete with Dutch-colonial buildings, ancient religious buildings, museums and more. Galle is also quite trendy, and is home to cafes, specialty shops and boutique hotels.
Founded in 2011, Plan My Gap Year is an award-winning organization working in 17 countries in Africa, Asia, and South America. Known for its inspirational and affordable volunteer projects, Plan My Gap Year offers placements lasting from one to 26 weeks, for travelers 14 years old and up. From solo volunteering to school expeditions, this is a great choice for meaningful, responsible, and sustainable travel, and it’s an excellent way to meet like-minded people and make friends.
Teaching English to monks in Nepal is a unique opportunity to learn about their way of life, while you live and work in a monastery in Kathmandu or Chitwan. This is a unique opportunity to live in a Buddhist monastery. Free English lessons will significantly help the monks’ education. The majority of the children at the monasteries are Tibetan refugees and impoverished children from ethnic hill tribes. Education is a chance for them to enjoy a better life. If you’re interested in other topics, you can also teach math and science as a volunteer. Nepal monastery class sizes are between 10 and 15 students, with ages ranging from seven years old to teenagers – you’ll gain insight into their lives and religion, taking part in some meditation rituals. Prepare for your trip with an online TEFL course through Plan My Gap Year. This volunteer program starts for two weeks at $420. Click here to sign up!
Volunteer with GVI on a combination program that places you in the beautiful city of Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Laos, teaching English to novice Buddhist monks for two weeks. This can positively impact their quality of life, their socio-economic status, and their future employment opportunities. Spend the next two weeks in northern Thailand on an elephant conservation program, where you’ll learn about elephant history, behavior, biology, social interactions, and more in the Karen community. Program fees start from $3,520 for four weeks. Click here to learn more and to register!
Spend two weeks in the ancient city of Luang Prabang, volunteering with GVI to teach English to novice Buddhist monks and local students, from children to young adults. You’ll provide students with mentoring and support while you learn about Lao culture, history, food, religion, and language. The city is situated along the Mekong River, and you can spend weekends visiting the city’s temples and sights. Fees start at $1,995 for two weeks. Read about GVI’s program and apply here.
Love Volunteers offers 120+ affordable programs, each one focused on empowering communities. Founded in 2009, the organization has placed more than 20,000 volunteers and interns on meaningful projects in 34 countries. Love Volunteers staff reviews each program for safety, social responsibility, and impact, and sends 90% of its fees to its partner charities and hosts.
Explore the “City of Angels” when you volunteer in Bangkok to teach English to Thailand’s Buddhist monks with Love Volunteers. You’ll be paired with a Thai teacher as you provide daily lessons, helping the students improve their English language skills and learn more about other cultures and places. You can stay two weeks or longer and program fees begin at $669. Learn more and apply here.
Teach basic English to underprivileged monks and nuns, and share the knowledge you have of other subjects when you travel to Kathmandu in Nepal on a placement with Love Volunteers. Class sizes vary from five to 60 students of all ages, eager to learn English. Share your culture and learn more about Buddhist culture as you immerse yourself in the land of serene temples, historic monuments, and shrines. Program fees start from $769 for four weeks. Learn more and register here.
Open the world to sheltered young monks when you teach them new skills and help with basic English-speaking lessons in Chiang Mai, Thailand. You’ll need to be flexible since you’ll be called upon to perform a variety of tasks, from tutoring and homework help to arranging games and fun activities. You’ll also assist teachers with their administrative duties. On this program, you’ll enjoy the authentic Thai atmosphere of Chiang Mai, whether you’re strolling through the old quarter, visiting a temple, or meeting orange-robed monks passing by in the crowded city streets. Fees start at $669 for two weeks. Learn more here.
If you want to actually live with monks, join a wonderful project in Pokhara, Nepal, teaching novice Buddhist monks, and nuns. This placement with Love Volunteers gives you the chance to reside in the monastery itself – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! While you’re living with monks, you’ll share your knowledge and experience in other topics, such as first aid, health and hygiene, environmental and political issues, and human rights. Your students lead a sheltered life, having joined the monasteries at a young age. You can help improve their English language and conversational skills and introduce your culture and interests. You can stay one week or longer and program fees begin at $339. Read more and sign up here.
A Broader View offers volunteer programs that provide aid to needy communities, forging bonds between volunteers and those they have helped. Founded in 2007, this nonprofit charity offers 245 volunteer programs in 25 countries throughout Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Its founders believe that one person can make a difference in the lives of others. Volunteers participate in service trips that last from one to 12 weeks, learning about cultural differences as they help with programs in the areas of healthcare, teaching, conservation, community development, and women’s support.
Help the children of Kathmandu, Nepal improve their English language skills when you volunteer with A Broader View. You’ll work in a monastery, teaching children between the ages of four and 18, sharing your cultural background and interests. Most of your students have come to the monastery for an education and a better living condition, so come with an open mind. You’re encouraged to bring books, maps, and more to make your lessons more creative and interesting. Program fees start from $890 for one week. Read more and register here.
A global NGO, Frontier places people on quality volunteer programs that combine community development, ecosystem protection, and economic growth with adventure travel. Established in 1989, Frontier operates in 60 countries. Its 400+ capacity-building projects safeguard biodiversity and help contribute sustainable livelihoods for communities in the world’s poorest countries. Frontier projects range from community development, education, wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, humanitarian work, and research and conservation.
Volunteer as an English instructor in the Buddhist monastery schools in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal with Frontier. No teaching experience is needed, though you’ll need to be flexible and patient as you work with children, encouraging them to speak conversational English and assisting with extracurricular games. Organize drawing, singing, dancing, and other creative educational activities that foster cultural exchange. Use this time to earn your TEFL certificate for free! This program starts from $995 for two weeks. Click here to sign up.
A New School of Thought: The Good Heart
It’s an amazing experience to volunteer in Tibet, Nepal, or Thailand and to interact with young novice Buddhist monks, and to realize you’re able to have a positive impact on their education and their lives. Regardless of where you go, you’ll be enchanted by the people who practice Buddhism and their commitment to a spiritual way of life that encourages everyone to “develop and strengthen the good heart.”