Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with UBELONG in Cambodia?
Lacey: My senior year of high school I traveled to Guatemala and volunteered there, but I was there for only one week and did a lot of physical work. I wanted a volunteer experience where I could communicate and be more involved with the culture and people.
I wanted to be able to have my own free time to explore and learn as well. UBELONG offered just that. They offered so many places to travel to, so many projects to choose from, and you got to choose your length of stay, all very important factors. The application process was easy to understand and fast as well. Ubelong had everything I wanted and was the perfect fit for my first time traveling across the world by myself.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Lacey: The project I picked was caring for orphans. So Monday through Friday I woke up at about 6:00am, showered and got ready, then had breakfast with many of the other volunteers, at about 7:00am I left with my volunteer partner and roommate Sofia. It took about 30 minutes to get to the volunteer site. They we would arrive and pile into the school van and make our rounds to go pick up most of the children.
We got back with the children and started off the day with some songs and dances. After we would go to our assigned classroom and give the children showers, change their clothes (so we could wash theirs) and brush their teeth. Next would be the first lesson of the day in Khmer which would be about 45 minutes, then snack time with the kids, after a lesson in english and then it would be lunch.
After would be the kids' nap time. We would put them down, then it would be our lunch and break time. Most of the volunteers would just go to a cafe next door and eat and talk with each other. After we would give the kids showers again and change them back into their own clothes, have one more lesson, snack and end the day with play time. We would get back to the volunteer home at 4-430 and then have the rest of the night free. Sometimes I would go walk the city, eat out, or hang by the riverfront, other nights I would just stay in and read on the patio of the volunteer home.
Was it difficult to navigate around language barriers?
Lacey: In some certain cases, it could be a little challenging, but I expected that. Ubelong had an orientation for us volunteers and covered this category. They provided us with a sheet of common Khmer words and phrases and went over each of them with us. We practiced saying them and writing them as well.
Ubelong workers also went over some strategies we could use if we didn’t remember or have our sheet with us. The first couple of days were difficult but after that you came to know the basic commonly-used terms. Plus there were a lot of people who speak English. The one thing that never changed was that the children were learning English, so it was really hard to communicate with them on a personal level. But other then that it got easier as the days went on.
What made this volunteer abroad experience unique and special?
Lacey: Well, at 19 years old and traveling for a month overseas it was already inherently quite special. But I never realized all the things I would get out of this trip. I created two amazing relationships with two of the women I met there. One of them I am actually visiting in Portugal next year.
I have benefited from getting to experience travel as a tourist and as a volunteer. I got to travel around the country and see what I wanted but also to help someone in need. I gained so much while giving. I am so grateful for the things I have and for what my country offers me. I don't waste my time or money for that matter. I am constantly reminding my friends and family how much they mean to me as well.
The Cambodians really impacted me by how happy they were every single day and how close they were as families. I took that home with me. I also had the opportunity to become close with one of the four year old girls in my class, Slepat. So my very last day I bought us matching friendship bracelets and wear mine everyday. This way I am constantly reminded oh how special our bond was.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Lacey: This experience has impacted my future personally by becoming a part of my desire to continue traveling. I have already planned my next two trips within the next 8 months. You can learn so much from traveling, being in a whole new world, a different culture, with so many people who have so many different life stories and wisdom.
You can get educated by the people living there, by the volunteers, by the children, by everyone you come in contact with. I personally gained a whole new outlook on how I want to live my life and how I view others living theirs. This experience helped my professionally because my job offers the opportunity to work internationally and this volunteer experience gave me a chance to see how I would like that and gave me a chance to stand out from the others.