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 →

Some tips for the Lumos Award

Prospective Lumos travelors!

Since my Lumos project is finished, here are some tips that will (hopefully) help you in some way.


  • Go for it! This opportunity is incredible. I met people from all over the world who couldn’t get over that not only was my university paying for my time in Thailand, but they were interested in hearing about how I was doing and what I was learning. If you are worried about the time or distance then be realistic with what you can handle. There’s no award for having the “most interesting Lumos trip.” What matters is that you are doing something that will stretch you, equip you, and motivate you.
  • Talk to past Lumos Travelers! Most people are willing to share their experience with the award. I definitely am – so feel free to email me at
  • Does your proposed project make sense with your overall goals in life and your future career? How has your past experience equipped you for this journey you are hoping to embark on? These things should correlate.
  • Reach out to as many people as possible that can help you with your project proposal. Hit your organization, or those engaged with your project, with all of the questions you can think of (tip – if they aren’t interested in getting back to you or they are giving you vague information.. do not trust them! Put your work and livelihood in the company of people who will do the extra work on the front end to provide you information. Trust me – this will not only bring you relief and clarity but also the Lumos committee and your family). Ask questions about these important topics:
        • The area you will be working in and living in
        • Housing norms
        • Safety of the work and the location
        • Transportation: personal and organization-affiliated
        • Who are your co-workers and beneficiares?
        • The visa you will need + the process that accompanies it
        • Random expenses
        • Types of sicknesses foreigners usually get
        • Appropriate clothing for the culture and the organization
        • Cultural values and common behaviors
  • Does your new place of work have past interns/employees/volunteers that were in a similar position as you will be? Ask for their contact information. Ask for tips and information on the setting, work culture, position, etc. I was almost locked into an opportunity to work in India that was exciting to me. That all changed when a woman who had been interviewing me requested a Skype call early in the morning in order to tell me not to come. Although she and the director were honest about their need for my help, they were not honest about the downward slope the organization was going through. As she decided to leave the organization, she wanted to make sure I knew everything that was going on (which gave clarity to some of the vague responses I had received).
  • Include an emergency fund in your budget. Like me, you may get sick at least twice a month and become a regular at your local hospital. My emergency fund was a practical lifesaver.
  • Give your project proposal to your friends, family, professors, Jimmy Johns cashier, etc. Then ask them to grill you with questions. Have them look at your budget and project description through the eyes of the Lumos committee. Why does this project make sense? Can you handle this? Is this project worth investing in? The more you do this, the more you will notice the strengths and weaknesses in your overall proposal.
  • Get connected (“for free! With edu-ca-tion-con-nec-tion”). If someone says that they have a friend/foe/cousin/etc. that is in the same area you are heading to then reach out to them! Unless you are seeking absolute solitude, it will be assuring to have meetings lined up (and to have people in the area know that you are around).
  • Lastly, when it comes to packing, make sure you are bringing pieces of yourself. For example, I love wearing hoops. And I wear them a lot. But when I envisioned my time in Thailand, I pictured myself in different clothing and rarely wearing any makeup or doing my hair. So I brought one big backpack and left out some of the pieces I wear all of the time, like my jewelry. And guess what? I get to Thailand, and so many women are wearing dang hoops! I had to buy a lot of new clothing that didn’t fully feel like me, and sometimes I wanted to just do my hair nicely, put on some of my favorite clothes, and bepop around town. Of course, this is a minor bummer in the scheme of things. But you are (likely) going to a new place with new people. No one knows who you were before this experience, and you’ll feel that when you have to provide explanantions about why you are the way that you are today. So if hoops feel like you, bring em Mama! Chacos feel like you? Bring them, you whole foods brand granola! Been a closet fan of Nickelback but then your home country turned on them? BRING THE PHOTOGRAPH!

You are awesome and you can handle this trip! Know that you are important and there is purpose in all things.

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