Alumni Spotlight: Tam Minh Le


Tam, a part-time vegetarian, is pursuing his Bachelors in Statistics at the University of California - Los Angeles. His hometown is San Jose (the California one). He hopes to work as a consultant doing data analysis and helping people make decisions that align with their future.

Why did you choose this program?

I knew I wanted to visit Europe for my summer break, particularly Portugal, Spain, Italy or Belgium. I don't speak well any other languages, so Italy and Spain got eliminated. The Belgium programs didn't align with my availability, so Belgium got crossed out. That left Portugal.

I didn't want to be in the middle of nowhere (wanted to explore the main cities), so the Wolf Conservation program was out of the question. I couldn't swim either, so the Environmental Scuba Diving program was a no go. Not too good with children--there goes Youth Support. I wanted to do Construction and Renovation, but the program already filled up. That left Food Rescue, something I had experience in from my previous volunteering experience in San Jose.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The IVHQ program provider took care of accommodations (food, lodging and toiletries). IVHQ also gave a free ride from the airport to the accommodation place.

I had to buy my own flight tickets, get a criminal background check, order a ride back to the airport and any other plans I had for the city (e.g. museums, food, transportation).

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Know your intent: Why are you there?

I was there to obviously volunteer and contribute; that was priority number one. I was also there to enjoy the city, Lisbon. Meaning, I packed as little as possible and did as much as possible given my budget.

I printed my own plans: Going to explore that museum at this time, that castle later and then eat at that place before heading back. This allowed me to have something to fall back on if nothing spurious happened (e.g. the day tour I signed up for or the Luminos festival).

If you're still deciding on whether or not to go overseas, I'm not going to tell you to "Go do it". That doesn't mean anything to you right now. What I will tell you is to step back for a bit, give yourself some mental and physical space, look at where you currently are and ask yourself:

If I don't take this opportunity, will I regret it?

If you feel a yes, then you know what you need to do next.
Go do it.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

For Food Rescue, you're scheduled to work 3 hours a day, alternating morning and night shifts. I did Tuesday and Thursdays at 8:30 PM to 11:30 PM; Monday, Wednesday and Friday was from 10:30 AM to 1:30 PM.

If you know you're not going to be in, you need to notify the coordinators ahead of time; the people there are counting on you.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

The biggest fear for me was communication. I was not sure how well English would fare in Lisbon. Turns out, the people there speak really good English. The first 5 people I spoke to on the street, I tried to speak Portuguese; they all responded in English.

I was also kind of worried about being lost because I don't have international data. One of the other volunteers suggested to use MAPS.ME (a free off-line real-time navigation app) and CityRails (a free app for using metro, trains). These apps helped tremendously.