Natalie Cataldo
Natalie Cataldo
Thailand 2018 - 2019
Sawadee Ka! My name is Natalie Cataldo, and I am in Thailand serving as a grant writer for the Wildflower Home in Chiang Mai and the Good Shepherd Youth Center in Chiang Rai. The sister organizations provide free long-term housing, education, recovery programs, and legal assistance for young women and single mothers who have sought help from dishonorable treatment (i.e. racial discrimination, domestic violence, etc.). I am truly honored to be given the opportunity to work with these organizations! Read More About Natalie →

Going through the motions

Hi friends and fam!

I hope you are all doing well and felt the love this past Valentine’s Day. I sure did as two of my best friends from back home came to Thailand to be with me!! It  was so great getting to be with them, and I’m so grateful they made the long trek over here. We met in Bangkok, visited Phuket, and then spent the longest leg of the trip in Chiang Mai. Smoky season, a time where all of the farmers around Chiang Mai burn their land to renew the soil, is in full swing so the town can be a little bit stuffy at times. Doi Suthep, a mountain that CM resides next to, can disappear and reappear within a few hours because of all the smoke. Despite the atmosphere, Chiang Mai still looks beautiful and we all had a great time venturing around the city. 

Following my last post, I want to talk about how I’ve felt personally throughout all of this. Truthfully, I think I should keep this brief because processing my time here brings on a rollercoaster of emotions, tangents, and stories. In some way, either physically or mentally, you would need to buckle up. After thinking about, I believe it would be best for me to really open up emotionally at the end of my time here in Thailand (when I am looking back). Here’s what I can say about it all right now: I feel good about myself and my future. There have been many challenging moments here, and the majority of them revolved around my time with the WFH. My mission here changes multiple times within the hour some days: one moment my priority is to serve and love the women at the home, the next is to serve and honor the leadership, and then I’m reminded that my ultimate desire is to serve and follow God. Sometimes these missions/priorities/roles don’t go hand in hand, and the answer to my questions seem unable to check off all of those boxes (praying you’re able to follow this).  I’m not trying to complain – I hope this shows you how my point of you and my own perception about my time here is changing so often. I talk less here but my mind is never stagnant. My pursuit in understanding this complex situation is a humbling, draining, rewarding, and important one.

There are many things I need to shape up on, such as my social media skills (the WFH insta goes silent a little too long every now and then). There are things I have seen growth in, such as my public speaking skills. I feel this period of growth, and at the end of the day, that leaves me hopeful, expectant, and grateful. I’m fearful of living a life of ignorance and numbness in order to live casually and happy.  There have been a lot of interesting conversations that have shown me that I have what it takes to become a great professor, and that’s a job that gets harder the more you care. I’d like to return to this field in some way before becoming a professor, and knowing that excites me (but also makes me take deep breathes hah).

Before my friends visited, the home was in full swing with many  things to do. Sadly, multiple donors and friends of the home visited the WFH during the same week that I was gone. Although I was not able to meet with these people I have been communicating with, I am glad that I was able to help the leadership become prepared for meetings and visits.

Last thing – we received another grant! I’m enthusiastic  to say that the latest project for the WFH – the addition of a classroom to the daycare area on the property as well as an extended roof to create larger play area – is now fully funded. They will not start the construction until after I leave as they want the new mothers home to be finished first, so I won’t be able to see the transformation. This hasn’t discouraged my excitement though, and I can’t wait to see pictures of our children and more learning in the new classroom.

Thanks for reading and for caring!


Transparency is a buzz word.. but for good reason!

Hello friends and fam!

Happy New Year to you. It was hard to roll back into the normal schedule after traveling around Thailand with my family for the holidays. My family loved being here, and I’m thankful they were able to see multiple facets of this country. Sometimes when we [this extends outside my own family] travel, we can miss truly diving into the culture. We may skip around areas admiring the beauty, landmarks, and people yet remaining naive to the way of life in that country. My family and I saw a lot of the beauty that lies within Thailand, but we also witnessed some of the prominent issues this country holds. There’s no need for me to go into detail about a few of our experiences on this platform, but if you’re interested, you can reach out to me. In the end, their encouragement towards me before their departure came out of a deeper place because they understood some of the heaviness and/or sorrow that I’ve had a hard time shaking off. It’s wonderful they were able to see my lifestyle here in Chiang Mai. It was also therapeutic for my parents (reasonably, as it can be hard to sleep sometimes knowing your daughter is driving around on a motorbike in a third-world country).

As I jump back into my work with the Wildflower Home, I am nervous yet hopeful. I am nervous about the ways that my time with this organization could continue down a road of tension and frustration (more on this later). Not too long before the holidays, I (with the cooperation of the Lumos committee) decided that it    would be unwise  to also serve at the Good Shepherd Center in Chiang Rai. Immigration in Thailand is tightening up their ever-changing paperwork, drop-ins, and fees to foreign volunteers. Those who are volunteering without the right paperwork can not only receive serious consequences on themselves but also the organization.  After witnessing the organizations I am volunteering with handle a few situations in ways that protect them, not the volunteers, I requested that I just volunteer within the providence of my work-permit. Although I am disappointed I will not be able to help at the center in Chiang Rai, I am relieved I will not have any hiccups with the police. It’s also nice to just be settled in Chiang Mai.

My role has shifted a little bit at the home. I am now helping with English lessons three days a week, and boy is it  tough.  Our sessions are full of many humbling moments where I can’t figure out the best explanations or I don’t understand how I was even taught English (yikes, I know). But, as I am getting closer with the women and children, I look forward to seeing them more and more each day.

In the end of November, I mentioned that “I *to my best ability* will outline some of the things I am seeing that can be incredibly destructive in a working environment, especially one where peoples emotions are irrevocably attached to serve a vulnerable population.”  Although this is something I still want to do, it’s a little bit of a daunting task. How do I convey stories and give evidence to issues I am seeing without revealing too much? I think many people in different industries could feel this way. They see some sort of disfunction, disruption, lie or problem in their place of work but feel paralyzed to anything about it because it could bring more harm than good in the end. I often remember a repetitive conversation in my classes with Dr. Turner at Belmont. When addressing the need, opinion, and bias that people have towards the non-profit model (vs. the popular/newer social enterprise model and a traditional corporation), our conversations always ended on the same note: is there room for all? Many people believe non-profits tend to lack the fundamental knowledge and understanding of how to run an business operation, and therefore they aren’t addressing their mission in the most beneficial/strategic/ethical way (this is the situation with the Wildflower Home). Others believe that social enterprises and corporations have too much interest in greed and money to actually care about their mission. But at the end of the day, if all are in some way addressing a need, although unique to one another, then should we just let them be rather than force the businesses to operate the same way? What would happen to the population they are serving if the organization went away?

I replay this conversation over in my head a lot because at the end of the day, the Wildflower Home is meeting a need and caring for young mothers and their children. I do not wish this organization away because I can’t...knowing the residents who are staying here. They feel safe here. But, this notion that the organization does have a place in the industry of mission and service does not excuse some of its activities and behaviors. From what I have seen, an organization (despite having a moral, good mission) that is lacking structure and policy will unfortunately spend the majority of it’s energy focusing on the thing that keeps it running: $$$$. Even though they are on separate ends of a spectrum, non-profits can end up focusing on money like a traditional  corporation that could care less about it’s employees and customers. 

Here are some of the strongest root issues an organization can have that will affect it’s capability to pursue the mission (in this case, specific to the WFH): 

  1. A lack of communication. A lack of openness, trust, and honor within the leadership can bring tension and disorder into the daily routine of the home.
  2. A lack of structure regarding:
    1. Finances
    2. Day-to-day activities
    3. Measuring success for each individual resident at the home.
    4. How to ensure the mission of the Wildflower Home is being met on an organizational level as well as a sole beneficiary level (similar to no. 3).
  3. A lack of policy. As a home that puts a roof over a vulnerable population of women and children, I have been saddened by the lack of policies that protect this community. To see an organization that uses its religion as a compass yet neglect the need to consider safety and strategy is tough. For example, anyone is allowed to come on the property throughout the day. I have witnessed abusive ex husbands come in for an un-announced visit, as well as random strangers that wanted to pop in. And there is no recording of any of these visits. In a conversation where I addressed the need for better policies (with safety and strategy being the top reasons), I was told that I need to be less judgmental towards others (specifically towards the ex husbands of our mothers). There was also a mention that I was lacking a “good Catholic heart.” Policy and you can tell.. are direly needed.
  4. Unequal moral compasses. A difference in defining what is good and what is wrong. This is not necessarily a bad thing (looking at you, USA!) but there should be a communicated plan of action towards different subjects.
  5. A lack of respect towards the beneficiaries. This is something that would be hard for most people to detect, as many visitors, donors, and friends of the home are on the property for small amounts of time. It would be hard for one to recognize the long working hours put on the women during their visits to the home. It would be hard for someone to detect  the lifestyle of the leadership greatly differs from the lifestyle of the WFH residents.
  6. A lack of auditing and supervision. 
    1. Although there is a board, I have never witnessed any meetings or intentionality when it comes to communicating with the board.
    2. Many of the foundations allow lightly detailed reports on how their money is being used. As the communicator between the organization and its donors, I have been surprised to see more than a few foundations accept informal reports (or even just emails) as their quarterly reports. *These reports that are very informal are not the products of my own grant-writing. Although I am the writer for these reports, the worst that have come through my hands are the ones where I have the least amount of freedom to write (don’t question/push your elder too much, remember?). They are requested of me spontaneously and required of me to be finished same day. Formality is considered unnecessary and sometimes “Western.” Informality has worked and therefore I should not change it .

These are some of the root issues I have seen at this home that have provided insight to how non-profits will inevitably operate if without the core business practices.  In later posts, I will go further into detail about these issues that are damaging the mission of the home with examples of what I have seen. I think the challenge I have (and other foreigners volunteering here in Thailand) is how to honor and advance the mission of this organization when the foundation of business acumen and values are missing.

Will write again soon. Thank you for reading and for caring!

Merry Christmas!

Hello all!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you!! The past few weeks have been filled with event planning, last minute reports, buying gifts and meeting many people! The Wildflower Home hosted their annual Christmas party and invited multiple Good Shepherd centers to our location. Our home was packed with girls of all ages and friends/guests/visitors who wanted to take part in the celebration. It was so special to be a part of the party and see so many people come together joyously. The majority of the population at this party have overcome or are currently overcoming some sort of struggle, grief, trauma, or despair in their life.  Despite carrying these things, they danced, laughed, and smiled as if they had no worries. The pain that we all can carry cannot dominate our happiness and love for the world, and I was reminded of that many times throughout this holiday season.

The past four – five months haven’t been easy here, but they have been transformative and humbling. I’m grateful for all of the people and situations that I have encountered.  I am also very excited for this next season. As I am getting closer with the women and children at the WFH I look forward to seeing them everyday.  Plus- there will be more travels and visits from loved ones in the next few months!

I’ve just finished packing and will leave for the airport in a few hours to meet my family in Bangkok! I’m very excited to see Bangkok and Krabi in the next week.  I will bring my family back to Chiang Mai and show them my stomping grounds for the rest of the trip.








I hope this season (and next year) is full of hope, peace, and joy for you. Merry Christmas!


Believer – Emily King

Hey friends and fam!

I hope things are going well for you. It’s been a crazy few weeks here in Thailand, and to be honest.. it’s been kind of tough. I’ve uncovered that some of the practices of my organization are not what anyone would hope for them to be, and I am saddened by the reality that this is not known to many. Before I go on, let me say that I am 100% thankful to be here; 100% thankful to be learning so much; 100% grateful for the chance to be within a culture I knew so little about. Truly. I could start writing essays about everything that I am seeing and learning (in fact, I will be). I have a lot of stories that I feel will be useful to look back on (maybe during my masters/PhD program or after as… Dr. Cataldo heh). But as an outsider, young person, and a person raised under different cultural values, my voice is not significant here. And it is hushed a lot of the time. I spend a lot of my time away from work processing the challenges and issues that I am seeing with those who are wiser than me (and those who believe I do have a voice worthy of attention). But I don’t want to hide this information from those who are tuning into my journey here in Thailand from afar or maybe looking back on my writing in the future (looking at you future Lumos travelers!). My blogs for this Lumos page are going to take a new direction, and I *to my best ability* will outline some of the things I am seeing that can be incredibly destructive in a working environment, especially one where peoples emotions are irrevocably attached to serve a vulnerable population. 

In a vague manner, I’ll be sharing some of my personal experiences that are changing – or maybe strengthening –  my perspective on how an organization should conduct itself. After this post, my blogs will give more attention into the rainy days happening here than just the rainbows. I’ll be compiling and organizing my thoughts/stories for the next post. Until then, here is a more cut and dry layout of the last few weeks. 

Getting to be in Chiang Mai during Loi Krathong and Yee Ping was really special. Loi Krathong is a Buddhist holiday that gives respect to the water spirits that have blessed the people of Thailand in the past rainy season. The holiday is also a time for people to give away any anger, hatred, or frustrations they may have been holding on to by symbolically letting a krathong (a small boat made out of leaves) float away in the Ping River or by cutting a piece of their hair and putting that into the river. In the pictures I posted you will see some of the thousands of lanterns that are lit to celebrate Yee Ping. This festival, which is held following Loi Krathong, has the same premise of one ridding themselves of their past ills, misfortunes, frustrations. When a Buddhist person releases the lantern while simultaneously making a wish, it is believed that the wish may come true based on the merit the said Buddhist has achieved in the past year. Most of my friends were not Buddhist, so we decided to watch everyone give away their lanterns (and dodge the hot wax that drips from them). 


Opening ceremony at the Loi Krathong Festival!


The best crew! I am so thankful to have made friends with some awesome Thai’s- View, Nat, Mim, and Pi Nouar. They have taught me so much and they are really kind to us.


Loi Krathong/Yee Ping


Hundreds of thousands of lanterns are lit during two nights of the holiday. During this time, no planes are coming in or out of the major cities to prevent the lanterns from getting in their way (this has happened before). They go really high!




My family will be here for the Holidays, and I am so excited to be with them. I recently discovered that I’m not great at getting out of “work mode.” All throughout my education, I would procrastinate completing assignments until the very last hours of the weekend, or I would discuss tasks that were pressurizing or tedious to my peers if I came across them outside of school. In some ways, these tendencies have transferred into my work life (I guess you could call it volunteer life, but I would argue that my position goes a lot deeper). During a recent video chat with Thandi, spokesperson for the Lumos Committee and Director of Global Education at Belmont, she shared with me that it was easy to detect I was carrying around a lot of stress and frustration from work into my personal life. In a wise and gracious manner, she shared with me a few tips on how to preserve my personal life in a time when my work life feels so heavy and complicated. For example, not talking about work outside of work (at least in large increments). Doing that puts me right back into my desk chair. Another tip was to plan out ways to fulfill the rest, adventure, and learning that makes my heart feel whole (in accordance to serving others).I know that I will be able to fully unplug when I am with my family. Counting down the days!

Surprisingly, I haven’t gotten sick from the food here in Thailand yet. I’ve heard all sorts of horror stories from friends who live here or have traveled in Thailand about food poisoning or stomach issues they had while here. Although I haven’t come dealt with food poisoning, I have had my fair share of other sicknesses. I currently have a cold and no voice, and last week I showed up at the hospital looking all cute with one kankle from a bug-bite that became infected. My immune system has definitely been off-balance since I arrived, and I will now focus a good portion of my time away from work to build up my immune system here. I know my last post said “Somebody send me their halloween candy,” but now I beg of you DON’T. Don’t do it! Even if you weren’t thinking about it  beforehand, stop thinking about it now! I can’t eat it because I am weak and anymore sugar will compromise my immune system more!  STAHHP!!

The new home for the mothers will be finished ahead of schedule! Maybe March now?


Inside one of the two mushroom houses on the property. We grow mushrooms to sell in markets and to provide food for our home. They give our meals a surplus of nutrition, and this is one way the WFH teaches the women about running an agricultural operation. The mushrooms grow out of these starter bags filled with sand, nutrients, and more (that I don’t know).

A look inside the Chapel at the Wildflower Home.

A look inside the Chapel at the Wildflower Home.


Where history was made. I learned how to cook.....

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Thanks for reading and caring! I will write soon.



Somebody send me their Halloween candy!

Hello everyone!

I hope you are doing well. I am doing fine here in Chiang Mai, and the past three weeks have gone by with a few changes. The Sisters of the home recently attended a conference in Bangkok with all of the other Good Shepherd Sisters in Thailand. This left me completely in charge of all communications and visits for two weeks, and I also was able to put in a good amount of time to clean the office and reorganize a lot. 

I now have more co-workers (long-term volunteers) at the Wildflower Home, and they are wonderful! Pierre and Constanza are from Bordeaux, France, and they have moved to Thailand to work at the home for the next two years! Pierre is helping restructure the farm on the property to create a bigger yield for all of the homes meals, and Constanza is the head educator at our daycare and she will begin to transition it to the Montessori education style soon. Constanza is originally from Chile, and they both speak to their 1-year old daughter Magdalena in Spanish, French, English, and Thai. We now have many languages being spoken at the home, and I love the atmosphere that it creates. I’ve started brushing up on my Spanish skills from high school to speak to Magdalena and Constanza, and I hope to leave Thailand with a little bit of knowledge on how to speak conversational French. I have two more visits with my Thai tutor, Khru Pin, before our time together ends. My Thai language skills are improving, but also becoming a little jumbled with other languages happening. Sometimes a sentence comes out like this: Thai beginning + English word to replace a Thai word I don’t remember + Thai + English word or a broken fragment + English again dangnabbit + Thai + unnecessary Spanish ending such as “para mi” or “por favor” = palm to forehead. 

As we get closer towards the end of the year, I am hoping to finish a few more grants for the Wildflower Home. With so many transitions happening in the next year and the possibility of the home doubling in care for mothers/children, it has become apparent to all that the home needs more English – speaking Thai staff members. I am hoping to lock down grants to provide the salaries for these positions. 

Here are some pictures from the past few weeks!

Sweet Constanza, Magdalena, and Pierre! I am so thankful to have them here with me at the home.

Sweet Constanza, Magdalena, and Pierre! I am so thankful to have them here with me at the home.

A few girls from Remote Year that have volunteered at the home a few times this past month. I have loved getting to hang out with so many people from all over the world!

A few girls from Remote Year that have volunteered a few times this past month. I have loved getting to hang out with so many people from all over the world!

Cabbage from our garden that is used in many of our meals.

Cabbage from our garden that is used in many of our meals.

Watching the new home for the mothers being built has really been a sight to see. The men and women work very hard and they amazing me with their balancing skills.

Watching the new home for the mothers being built has really been a sight to see. The men and women work very hard and they amazing me with their balancing skills.

The current stage of building we are in!

The current stage of building we are in!

The women make these adorable baby holsters and watching them walk around with their babies makes my heart weep (in a good way).

The women make these adorable baby holsters and watching them walk around with their babies makes my heart weep (in a good way).

This is the And Kaew Reservoir at Chiang Mai University. I started going there last week to exercise and relax, and I think it   will be a prominent location for me during my time in Thailand.

This is the Ang Kaew Reservoir at Chiang Mai University. I started going there last week to exercise and relax, and I think it will be a prominent location for me during my time in Thailand.

The Wildflower Home

The Wildflower Home

We are trying to better security standards at the home. Physical changes to the home are beginning as well as changes to the social media and coverage of the women and children. I am starting to post only pictures such as this one to continue the social media platform use yet protect the women and children from exposure.

We are trying to better security standards at the home. Physical changes to the home are beginning as well as changes to the social media and coverage of the women and children. I am starting to post only pictures such as this one to continue the social media platform use yet protect the women and children from exposure.

Our Super Woman staff person, Pi Nonglek, with a volunteer from France.

Our Super Woman staff person, Pi Nonglek, with a volunteer from France.


Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a prominent temple in Thailand. This past weekend, a couple of friends and I woke up at 5am to motorbike to the top of the mountain to see the sunrise. This temple has 1,000s of guests weekly, and we loved being there at a time when there was less than 10 people (besides the monks).

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

I’m learning so much here (like how to crack an egg with one hand woahhh she bad), and I am so grateful for this opportunity. Also- I get to see my family in 48 days, woohoooo!


I found a (Thai-style) hot dog. It  was amazing.


Being proactive! in a ~reactive~ environment.

Hello again! 

So I am a volunteer for the Wildflower Home, yet the tradeoff of work that I am completing for the foundation fits more of the description of a full-time employee. I knew this would be the case before arriving in Thailand, and I think the ability to provide this free service to the home while not having to worry about my financial capability is one of the greatest things about the Lumos Award. 

I mentioned in my last post that I was feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work needed to be done at the home. Within the last two weeks, the overwhelming feeling has only increased as I have seen more and more potential issues/needs/expenses/lost opportunities/etc. Before I go on, let me again say how much I respect and commend the leadership of the Wildflower Home. With few resources, low-end budgets, and barely any recognition or help from the government, they have been able to do so much for many, many women and children that are from all over Southeast Asia. They have kept long, fruitful partnerships and friendships with people that support the home in many ways. I receive requests to volunteer from a least one person a day, and the strong desire of so many to help the home is due to the good nature behind it. And they have never turned away any woman that is seeking help. 

There are many elements to Thai culture that have created it to be a very reactive culture, in my opinion. The hierarchy that exists among the people; the disapproval of questioning your elder; the collectivist pride that looks at Western culture as too individualistic (they’re not wrong). In the short time span that I have lived and worked here, I have begun to notice how the culture does not prioritize structure, time, or conducting work in a proactive mindset. I have been affirmed by many people that this theory is not wrong. And as someone who’s usually in a proactive mindset (I would say to most facets of my life), this is where I am having trouble. During a check up meeting today where I asked the director if there were any ways I could improve, I was told that I have been too critical of the home and need to focus more on being with the mothers and the children. Before today, I would spend time with them at different points of the day or go hang out with the children in the daycare to take a break from the office.  But now I have been asked to dedicate more time of my day out of the office and away from grant writing. I accepted the critique and asked if there were specific things that would be beneficial for me to do. “There are many things. But know that you will learn more from being with them than they will with you.”

I wouldn’t fight that notion. After being a Young Life leader for 3 1/2 years in college, I can confidently say that pursuing relationships with those that live a different lifestyle from me (and come from a different background) has proven to be more eye-opening and beneficial to me than I could have ever imagined. On one hand, I am thankful that time with the women and children is now fixed larger into my schedule. On the other, I am nervous about the long list of things that are asked of me to get done. If I am being 100% honest, I feel that I am in a tough position because I have been brought in to help with planning/producing of funds for a large year of growth for the home. Yet, my questions, concerns, and work pace has created an underlying tension that will only be permanent if I do not change. If the cultural norm is working reactively, then I must dial it back a bit while also getting stuff done that will bring in more money and more staff for the home. No pressure!

I have been reminded of some advice that I would tell my Young Life team back in Nashville. “Remember that you are not here because you have something to prove; you are here because you have something to give.” We recently had some volunteers who’s expectations were not met after the month that they spent helping the home. After signing up for a women’s empowerment program, they felt that helping in the daycare, cleaning dishes, and teaching English for an hour a day was not parallel to the job-description they signed onto. In all honesty, seeing their frustrations both frustrated and humbled me. Seeing them come into the role with expectations and maybe a desire to receive that feel-good “I made an impact!” glory did not allow them to see that by helping the mission of the Wildflower Home in the small (yet mighty!) ways they were empowering women. And by recognizing that in conversations with them, I understood and was humbled by my own expectations that I brought. As the grant writer and administrative volunteer for the home, I want to get. stuff. done! I want to make. moves! My fear right now is that this slight change in my work priorities is going to change the whole route for the rest of my time here. But, I have to keep swallowing my own advice and remember I will help the Wildflower Home improve if I give my all to whatever task they ask of me, not just the ones that I have set out here to do. When talking about the negative traits a volunteer can bring into an organization, my friend Alyson said something that I hope will stick with all of us. What is your heart posture? Are you closed off to some things because they do not match your expectations, or are you open to helping in the smallest of ways because you know no matter what you are helping the organization move towards it’s mission to create an impact?

Before we move on, I just want to clarify that I am not saying my worst trait in the workplace is that “I care too much.” No, no…no. What seems to be happening here is that I am caring too much about things that my organization would rather not focus on, at least for now. I also want to note that the other volunteers that I have come across while working together at the Wildflower Home have been helpful, kind people. I mention their time with the Wildflower home only to point out the way I began to understand my own expectations.

On a different note.....!

  • Random tidbit: a lime to Thai people is like Windex to Mr. “Gus” Portokalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. They are the favored natural remedy to most things, and since my health has been a rollercoaster of ups/downs since arriving the fruit has never been so prominent in my life.
  • October is a month full of donor visits and communications assignments. I have loved the amount of contact I am getting with people as a representative of the Wildflower Home. It has improved my public speaking skills and made me feel like a solid member of WFH team, even though I am just a volunteer.
  • I got locked out of my apartment and was stranded on my balcony for a solid 20ish minutes, alrightttt!

And photos!


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Sometimes I will be working and someone will just come and place a baby on my lap. And then sometimes I’ll steal one away and pretend to be working.


All of my friends!


Another friend!


Caught practicing my Thai skills with this man. Was I doing well? Hard to say..


Some more friends!!


Lunch at Huay Tung Tao Lake


Thailand’s okay!


Thank you for reading and thank you for caring! Hope you’re doing well.



9 to 5 – Dolly Parton

Hello fam and friends!

I can’t believe that I have been in Thailand for almost 6 weeks. The time has flown by, and if it is any indication of how fast the rest of my time here will go then I better book my plane tickets for home sooner than later. I haven’t been doing a good job on following schedule with my blog posts and I promise to get better on that. I have really enjoyed my time here in Chiang Mai; however, not everything has been easy, breezy, and beautiful (Covergirl). Since I last wrote many changes and transitions have come into play, and I feel a little all over the place thinking of things I could write about in this post. It’ll probably be best for you and I both if I categorize my writing into three main point: the good, the hard, and the laugh-worthy. 


The view on my commute to work!

Things that have been hard…

  • I am thankful to be working with the Wildflower Home. The foundation is doing and has been doing wonderful things for women and children that are from all over Thailand. My volunteering placement has also happened at a really cool time where I am able to see a lot of growth happening with the foundation. What has been hard is that there is a lot to do. I didn’t expect to be as overwhelmed with my work as I have been these past few weeks, and I don’t expect to completely lose that overwhelmed feeling. Navigating communication barriers and showing loyalty to those I work under has been a constant hardship. Thailand is a free country yet cultural hierarchy and the disapproval of asking “why” create paralyzation in a workplace . Because I have newer eyes in the work place, I am seeing things and procedures that I question or suggest could be done in a different way. I’ve learned that more time is needed before I can ask questions without being seen as offensive to the traditional procedures. As for my grant-writing, I have about four different project proposals for the WFH that I am working on.

Some of the children all sitting around a mothers cell phone and watching a video on the ABC’s.


The mothers got each others backs.


  • The amount of waste that is everywhere and the large plastic consumption is hard to see. In the last few years I have become more interested in living a more conscious and considerate lifestyle when it comes to my money (the way you use your money is a vote towards the world you want to create!) and the way I treat the earth. Plastic is used excessively in Thailand. For example, if you order a piece of cake there is a large chance that they will have put a layer of plastic around the outside before you eat it. **Do they know that no amount of plastic will stop me from absolutely demolishing that piece of cake?** Plastic bottles can be seen everywhere as the natural drinking water in the country is not deemed as useable. If you are interested in learning more about the plastic consumption (dare I say critically) used in the country, I would recommend the article connected to the link below that has some good information on it .
  • I was able to get my Thai license! This is good for a number of reasons, yet the process to get the license was unnecessarily difficult. Before coming to Thailand, I had expressed to a few close friends that I was interested to gain a little perspective on how it was to feel as a part of a minority in a country. I am not ignorant of the big factors that are still present with me; I continue to have stronger privilege here than most. Yet during the process to receive my license I was openly discriminated against and understood several attempts to either turn me away or bribe money out of me. And surprisingly, it was all from women! Multiple women made up lies and told me over and over “I don’t speak English. You cannot have license.” That statement was not fully true, as it is legal for people with the Visa I hold to receive a license after going through the right procedure. It took four days to complete the process, and I left the department of transportation pretty upset because of how exhausted and frustrated I felt. I also left feeling pretty convicted of how self-righteous my mindset was throughout the whole process. I remember reading the Lumos blog of my friend Madison Barefield who went through the something similar regarding her VISA. I was also humbled by the situation, and understood her when she wrote:

    As an American, a white, middle class, educated, straight, able bodied American, I have not been denied much in my life, especially when I have followed all the rules and done everything “right”.  This is one of the most poignant moments for me realizing that this happens to so many individuals.  People wanting to immigrate here to the states, or even simply visit their loved ones.  Arbitrary reasoning and unnecessarily difficult procedures are routine in the visa process to enter the United States as well.  And in that moment, I realized this is how most individuals feel: hopeless, powerless, frustrated, defeated.  It was quite a sobering moment.  South Africa owes me nothing, though I went in with the mindset of an easy visa process because why wouldn’t they give me visa? I followed the directions, I think I am pretty nice, I had good reason to to go, I have good intentions, I am not a criminal (the FBI even said so).”


    One of the roads I practiced driving on. You can’t really tell, but there was a large drop on both sides of the pavement. Rice would be everywhere if I fell!


    I eat rice usually twice a day. Probably not from this field but I’d like to think so.

    Things that have been good!

  • I moved into an apartment in the city! Although I enjoyed living on the WFH property, it was hard for me to leave the property for security reasons. This made me feel a little too secluded at times, and I was not able to see or do much in Chiang Mai apart from working. Living on the property also created an unhealthy work-life balance. The move into an apartment was easy and I was lucky to have my friends help me with the whole process. I didn’t expect to move out here and live on my own, but I am loving it!

My new apartment!

  • I’m learning more about politics. Listening to NPR podcast updates and The Daily podcast has been a great way for me to prioritize following along with the news from the United States. One of my goals when I came to Thailand was to really implement time towards learning about politics and our country’s current situation. I’ve always had a strong interest in learning about the social issues that dwell in our country (and in others), but I have not pushed myself to go further in understanding the political system we live under.

One of the mothers learning English.

  • I bought a motorbike!!  I look like a fallen member of the blue man group riding around on my blue bike with a blue helmet, but it’s super fun and I have been able to see much more of the city because of it.IMG_9122
  • The Wildflower Home is in the process of building a new home for the mothers and children on the property! It’s been fun having the property be so busy and full of kind people, and I feel lucky to be here in such a time of growth for the home. By next summer, the Wildflower Home will be able to take care twice as many women and children as they can now.
  • I love learning Thai. The language is difficult and I mess up a lot, but my teacher is extremely kind, encouraging, and patient with me. The language has 5 tones, and if you pronounce a word incorrectly it can give your sentence a whole different meaning. My teacher thinks I am doing well enough to start reading and writing Thai, but I’m not sure I have the mental capacity to include that during the 9 months  here I have left. So I will continue to practice speaking and writing Thai phonetically, Here is a chart to show you how complex the vocality of the language is.
  • Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 1.54.28 PMLastly, I am excited to say that we have received a small grant recently that will go towards a solar panel unit to heat water in the new home for the mothers! Yahoo!!

Things that have made me laugh.

  • On her last day, a volunteer who helped at the Wildflower Home for three weeks asked Sister Anurak if she was religious. Sister then proceeded to say “Oh yes, I am Catholic………(minutes later)……Did you not know that I am a nun?” The Sisters here wear a mixture of formal and informal clothing so I could understand how you wouldn’t predict each Sister was a nun upon viewing them........ But... they are referred to as Sisters? 
  • The women in charge here remind me to appreciate the smallest things that bring joy. If we split a packet of Oreos, there is a 100% chance that I will be asked/reminded “Wow, this is nice. It’s nice, right?........... Wow, so good!” They squeal when I make them coffee and say “Oh thank you! SO gooood!” It’s the best thing to watch them get so excited. One of these days I’ll have to find a non-creepy way to get a recording of it . 
  • The women love to see how much spice I like in my food. Sometimes they try to protect me from food that they have made that is too spicy for me (but their babies eat it just fine). There have been a few instances where I’ve tried to prove them wrong and have ended up looking like a tomato with sweat dripping down my face.

Here are some more photos of my time here in Thailand:


We celebrated Mother’s Day by having a Thai-style barbecue! Raw meats and vegetables on the blue plate are cooked in the broth and heated surface on the round silver plate. The food was amazing, but so spicy! This was one of the nights that ended with me laying on the ground in complete disbelief of how hot my mouth was.


Some of the women here are wonderful seamstresses and sewers. They make bags that are shipped all over the world.


One of my favorite meals, noodle soup!


Another favorite, Tom Som soup!


For about 30 minutes I became the owner of a stray puppy. I named him Somtum, which is papaya salad in Thailand that is SO good, and I loved him very much. Turns out he has an owner but I pray and pray that I will see Somtum again!!!


Love of my life.


Making soap with the women.


We hiked up a monk’s trail named Wat Pha Lat. Many monks hike up the trail everyday starting at 5am.  It  would not have been polite for me to take a picture of them, but the monks almost look stoic when they are praying and meditating.


Wat Pha Lat


Wat Pha Lat

Stage SIX A

The new home being built for the mothers and children should be completed by May, 2019.



One of my favorite spots on the Wildflower Home property – in the garden.


Eating ice cream with two other volunteers, April and Celine, and Sister Anurak and Sister Lena. Here we are all smiling, but in reality we were all so hot and tired on this particular Monday that we all just sat in silence eating our ice cream. It was awesome. And well-needed.


Screen Shot 2018-09-20 at 2.46.42 PM

Eating hard boiled quail eggs. Geng mahk (very good)!

That’s all I’ve got for this update. Thank you for reading, and I hope you are doing well wherever you are! More photos and updates to come.

xoxo, Natalie

Update: I’m doing just fine!

 Friends and family! I am alive and well!! 

I have officially been in Chiang Mai for 13 days, and it has been a complete rollercoaster of emotions. The first two days of my transition were incredibly difficult. I arrived to the Wildflower Home with a heavy heart as I began to feel the shock of understanding how far away from home I was. This was expected, yet it was hard for me to receive the warm welcome from the residents of the Wildflower Home. I arrived around noon last Thursday to the home and spent the day at the compound settling in to my room and napping. With the help of a nap and a good nights rest I, thankfully, have not suffered from any jet lag. Khop khun pra jaaw (thank God!!).  Here are some pictures of the Wildflower Home!


Here is the home where the office, kitchen, children’s play area and sewing room are all located! It is a beautiful building and creates a serene environment for all that takes place within in it!


This is the path that leads to the volunteer home where I am staying. It is a beautiful walk but at night it can be truly terrifying. The women that live at the Wildflower Home are spread out in many different small buildings across the property. Two mothers and six children live in the house with me!

IMG_8731 2

This is the home where I live. It is located next to the farm on the property, so I usually wake up between 5:30-6:30am when the animals start crowing/screaming/singing/mooing/yodeling/ cackling/whatever they do. 


The staircase up to my room. You can’t really tell from this photo, but the width of the staircase is quite small! 


My room! Behind the curtain is a small bathroom. 


The other side of my room!


The homes that the Sisters live in. Surprise! I live in a convent! The Wildflower Home is a continuation of The Sisters of the Good Shepherd founded by Saint Mary Euphrasia Pelletier in Angers, France in 1835. Although I am not Catholic and I am not here to further their religious mission, I am excited to learn more about Catholicism and Buddhism (over 90% of the country claim to have Buddhist faith)!

The first week of being here has been predominately focused around getting me settled, mentally and legally. I have been to the malls around Chiang Mai almost every day because the immigration offices or important resources are located within them. I have seen and done a lot throughout my nine days here, and I am grateful to say I have found friends to do things with on the weekends! Here are some pictures of them!


Since being here, I have written and organized documents for the future WFH volunteers, including “letters of invitation” so they can be granted a VISA to enter into Thailand. For this week, I will begin my position as the grant writer for the Wildflower Home!  I am excited to really apply the knowledge I acquired from learning about grant writing (and social entrepreneurship in general) during my time at Belmont. I think the beginning process will be tricky because there are financial documents that I will need to locate around the office and in the computers. I also will be creating a timeline of grant deadlines so I can be on track with applying or reapplying to the foundations and/or sole funders.

I am really, really excited that I get to be here for 10 months. The transition part isn’t over – I am still homesick at times and I am constantly wishing that the ones that I love could be here experiencing this with me. But I feel grateful to say that this time away from my community and away from the culture I know/love enables me to see how much of my life is truly meaningful. That may be an unexpected ending to the sentence you just read, but I mean it! Life, in all facets, is meaningful and purposeful. And although it does not take opportunities like the one I am on to recognize this, I am thankful that this opportunity is constantly reminding me of this belief. 

I will write soon! Kob kun ka (thank you)!! Thai language tutoring starts this week.



See you soon, Thailand!

Hello all!

Hope you are doing well. I am back in Georgia helping my parents  move out of their home and settle into a place in Atlanta (little guys just graduated from college and are going out into the big world!).  I moved back home from Nashville a week ago today, and I leave for Thailand in exactly two weeks from today. It’s a wild time of change for us all, and I have only been able to grasp this transition in small moments every so often.  Being home and visiting all of the places/people that shaped me as a young girl has been encouraging and motivating in the days leading up to my departure. I keep seeing flashes of my younger self (as corny as that sounds) and the dreams that I had heading into college. My time at Belmont was much more formative than I ever could have envisioned; all aspects of life were heightened in the past four years. Or maybe I became more capable of recognizing them (I should do a quick lil shoutout to the Enneagram, Cristi Williams, Hillsboro Young Life and Midtown Fellowship Church – 12 South location). Regardless, I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last four years, especially in the last two.

I came to Belmont knowing about the Lumos Travel Award, and to this day I cannot get over how wonderful of an opportunity it is for Belmont students. Throughout college, unexpected things happened – good and bad – that made the direction towards this trip sort of fuzzy, and at times I wondered if applying for the Lumos Award was something I should move towards. In the end, I am thankful for how things played out.  It’s cool to see that the “big-girl dream” of mine to live in another country for a longer period of time has come true, despite obstacles or times of uncertainty. To have the time to serve the organizations and help them with their mission makes my heart feel full. I cannot wait to be a friend to these girls at both organizations!

I want to say a quick thank you to some of the people who may be reading this, because they helped in some way during the application process for the Lumos Award:

– Iris Chiang, Lauren Deklava, Ishpreet Batra, and Madison Barefield: For the meetings, random questions texted to you, and wisdom you granted me.. THANK YOU! Your patience and time devoted to helping me was an incredible and undeserved gift! 

– Thandi and the Lumos Committee:  Thank you for believing in my project proposal and taking a chance on me! You have given me a great example of giving others kindness and love through assistance. 

– My family:  Thank you, thank you for reading over my application constantly for about two months last year. I don’t think I’ve seen a google doc filled with more highlights, questions, and corrections. You guys keep me humble. And you are my biggest blessing.

– Big Red and my friends: I love you! Thank you for encouraging and celebrating me!!

I’m pretty much ready to leave for Thailand except for wanting to be with my friends and family for a little longer. I’ve bought everything I need, may need, and just don’t need at all for this trip. This Thursday I’ll have my last vaccine done and my sweet mom is coming in case I need a good slap in the face to prevent me from passing out (shoutout to  Maty for coming with me last time and standing ready). We are going to get ice cream afterwards. These days are bittersweet, but more sweet than bitter.

I’ll be settled in Thailand the next time I write a post. Bye y’all! See y’all! Love y’all!