Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with UBELONG in Vietnam?
Spencer: My decision to go to Vietnam was made around this time last year. I was chatting with a good friend of mine, and he mentioned that he would be going to Spain to volunteer with a renewable energy company. As he started to explain it further, I became more and more intrigued. I found myself yearning for a unique summer internship experience that would match that of my good friend. I started to do a little research on the topic and found a host of great places I could go.
When I was at a crossroads of companies to go abroad with, the name UBELONG came up. I looked into them more and more and their projects in Hanoi started to look extremely attractive. They offered a project that suited my needs and Hanoi seemed to offer a host of great entertainment. After weighting all the pros and cons of Hanoi, I was certain that this was the city I would be traveling to. I emailed UBELONG's founder and he extinguished any trepidation that I had up to that point. He was thorough in all his explanations of what I would be doing and what to expect when I arrived. This was very reassuring for I knew very little about the city further than what I read on the internet. His commitment to my enjoyment of my experience was unwavering even after I arrived. Any situation that I felt was not to my satisfaction was resolved immediately. Many of the other volunteers were very surprised with the promptness of UBELONG compared to their sending organizations. In my opinion, UBELONG is the gold standard when volunteering abroad.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Spencer: My day to day activities varied depending on the day, but my average day was a refreshing mix of exciting bus rides, intriguing work, and fantastic street food. I would start the day with a bowl of pho (Vietnamese soup) from a restaurant right outside my dorm style apartment. I would then stroll to the bus stop and wait side by side with locals for the bus to arrive. When I finally got to my office, I would cool off and prepare for the day. I would be sent a list of documents that needed editing from different people within the organization.
After I finished that task, I would read business literature and write short summaries to help my co-workers make recommendations to possible social entrepreneurs. Between these two main tasks, I would make time to enjoy local street food with my coworkers. The food was fantastic and an aspect of my trip that I still miss to this day. In the evening, I would sit with my fellow volunteers and enjoy an ice chilled beer as we discussed our days and different life experiences. When I had time off, I travel to different regions of the country with other volunteers. I found these trips to be the highlights of my whole experience. Vietnam is a very scenic country and offers experiences that range from hiking in the jungle to sitting on a beach sipping a fruit cocktail.
How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?
Spencer: My trip to Vietnam has had a substantial impact on my life - and one that has inspired me to teach English in China upon my graduation in May. I found myself seeing life through a much broader looking glass. Making it clear that getting a regular desk job was not an option quite yet. There is so much more of this world I want to experience and learn about. Teaching English in China will both benefit me professionally as well as metaphysically. My experience in Vietnam showed me these beauties, and made it impossible to ignore this desire.
At my young age, I was afforded an opportunity that most people don’t have. Growing up in a country like the United States allows its citizens options few people have. Most people allow these opportunities to fall by the wayside, which is disappointing. If I had one piece of advice for students, I would encourage them to explore the option of using a volunteer related job experience as an alternative to a typical summer internship program. The reward will be much greater than any monetary return they will receive otherwise.