Alumni Spotlight: Jennifer Velez

Jenny is a full time education advisor and part time traveler. She graduated from college in 2015 with an Urban Studies major and studied Spanish. Her first travel experience was in 2014 in college, traveling to the opposite side of the country and fell in love with people and new places. Since that year, she has visited Iceland, Colombia, Argentina and several new cities.

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Why did you choose this program?

I have always wanted to go to Argentina. I never knew when or how but I remember I wanted to explore, but this time with a meaning. I came across this program and did more research and found out it's reputable, credited and had childcare. I have always worked with children so I wanted to make sure that if I give back, it will be something meaningful. It turned out to be a life changing experience.

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

Volunteer HQ assisted in almost everything. They helped prepare me what to expect from the program and the local area. They communicated very well from answering every one of my questions and to even trying to help me prepare with travel insurance, looking at flights and learning from their experience.

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

My biggest advice for those that are looking to go abroad is to go in without expectations. The little expectations you come into the program, the more successful and exciting it all becomes. There were many of us, including myself, who came with no expectations. I knew I was going to be eating, sleeping and talking differently than what I am used to. Those must be understood when you come into a program. What I learned is that the less expectations you go in, the more unexpected things happen to you! And be open minded. Go for every little opportunity.

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

Monday through Friday was similar in terms of volunteering in your program. There was a set schedule (for a few hours). Volunteering, breakfast and dinner were always set. However, you didn't have to eat if you didn't want to, you just have to let local staff know. However, the were so many unexpected plans for traveling every day. Some days you will go into the city, or meet a sweet family and join them for Sunday brunch and activities. Or you will buy an airplane ticket to explore another city, like Buenos Aires.

There were Zumba classes during the program, which was also welcomed and enjoyed for late night activities during the program.

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

I didn't have a big fear, but more of just being open to everything. I wanted to really learn from others. I've always been independent and going abroad alone didn't feel alone. I was open to socializing with others, learn about other people and cultures and just go above my comfort zone. I think that's the most important thing: don't stay in your comfort zone because then you will fear the unknown.

Don't fear, go for it.

What was the best part of your trip?

I think my favorite story of all of this is that I ended up adopting a local homeless dog who followed us to our volunteer placement for 30 minutes in Saldan, Argentina. This dog stole my heart and jumped on me, crying. I fell in love and couldn't stop thinking about how this dog will be living in the street. I did everything possible to get her over to go back home with me in the states and the local team learned so much. They helped in every way that they can and I can finally say she is with me. Safe and sound and adapting to a stable, secured home filled with love.

I absolutely loved my abroad experience and never thought I'd bring a dog back home with me. But I did and that's what I mean about going in with no expectations. You just never know!