Why did you decide to enroll with UBELONG in Peru?
Vanessa: As a medical student who had just finished her first year, I wanted to do something different for my last summer off. Having never been to South America or volunteered abroad, I was eager for such an experience.
I heard about UBELONG from another student at my school who raved about her project with UBELONG the year before. I knew it was only fitting that I check them out too.So after doing extensive research online about different projects and companies out there, UBELONG was the only one that fit my needs the best.
They were the only ones I found to have a project I was passionate about in a location I was eager to travel to. And they turned out to even exceed those expectations.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
- 8:00am – wake up
- 8:15am - breakfast (bread, coffee and either eggs, pancakes or a fruit salad)
- 9:00am – 12pm – volunteer at the shelter (the activities ranged from cooking and cake-making lessons to dance parties and teaching English)
- 12:00pm-1:00pm – walk through San Pedro market and bask in the aroma of all the products and food sold there
- 1:30pm – Lunch (it varied, but it was very delicious)
- 2:00pm – 4:00pm – volunteer at “The Meeting Place” (their milkshakes and waffles are out of this world)
- 4:00pm – 7:00pm – explore either Cusco or surrounding areas; sometimes I went running at the high altitudes to increase my cardiac output
- 7:00pm – 9:00pm – go to dinner (or eat in) and taste so many different kinds of foods in the area
- 9:00pm – later – hang out with other volunteers/friends
If you could go back and do something differently, what would it be?
Vanessa: If I could go back and do something different, it would be to familiarize myself more fully with the area to which I’m traveling. Arriving in Peru, I realized how much I didn’t know about the country historically and only learned while there.
Even though it’s always great to learn about a country while within it’s borders, it would have been nice to have known more about the Inca history or that one of my favorite foods, quinoa, is indigenous to Peru.
There is definitely something to be said about having a planned—though flexible to leave room for the unexpected—itinerary to make sure to explore much more of the country while I’m there and to fully immerse myself in the history of the country.
What was the most interesting cultural difference you encountered?
Vanessa: Not being able to flush away the toilet paper. It was such a small aspect of our lives while in Peru, but quite a difficult habit to break.
Another big difference I encountered was the lack of central (or no) heating. It took a bit of adjusting as well, especially when temperatures dropped at night and I found myself sleeping in my winter coat, under 5 layers of wool blankets, but was still cold.
Tell me about one person you met.
Vanessa: She was another volunteer, just 18 and traveling all over South America for a few months before starting university in the fall. We worked at the shelter together and even though she was a good 7 years younger than me, she possessed a maturity and enthusiasm that was captivating and beyond her years.
I admired her initiative to make something of her travels by volunteering at the shelter rather than simply party her way through the X amount of months she was in South America.
And don’t get me started on her cooking; she made it her mission to fully immerse herself in the culture. Every day after work, we’d walk through San Pedro and buy groceries for that night’s meal, always keeping the dishes culturally diverse.