Why did you pick this program?
My research yielded various results that helped me decide what I want to do. Firstly, I chose Ubelong because I was fascinated with the credentials of its Co-Founders and with the diverse choices of projects Ubelong offered. Secondly, I chose the environmental program because I wanted to expand my comfort zone beyond the realms of previously worked areas in childcare. Finally, I chose Mexico because it’s a city with rich cultural and geological appeal.
What is the most important thing you learned abroad?
One of the key aspects of traveling abroad is continuous learning process of people management. You constantly interact and learn from fellow volunteers, program officers and other travelers at the hostel. Additionally, my engagement with the project staff helped me gain useful insights on the general fabric of Mexican economy. Needless to say, I also learned to be self-reliant and independent and an effective conversationalist.
What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?
My favorite part of the trip was variety of experience I gained at the environmental project I chose.
The non-profit I worked with at Merida focused on urban reforestation. As I have a finance background, I was fortunate to work both on the field and in the office. I did not speak any Spanish, which I believe was an important requirement to converse with the staff (Foster) on the field. I worked with Foster in the nursery who taught me not only fieldwork, but also Spanish. The language barrier did not stop us from developing a fun relationship at work through sign languages and monosyllable Spanglish. The highlight was the hip-hop music that played in the background while conducting arduous and exhausting physical labor.
In the office, I worked on preparing cost benefit analysis and on brainstorming ideas to raise funds. Each alternate day I shuttled between the scorching heat in the Nursery and air conditioning in the office. Some of the luxuries, I now value more.I continue to support the cause of raising fund offline, as I feel passionate towards the urban reforestation and consider it essential to healthy living in the urban areas.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
I would highly suggest seeking as much information as possible on the available choices of projects. It is essential to make an informed decision. The work in the nursery is very exhausting and therefore, one should have proper arrangement for intake of required nutrients and water to gain back the salts and energy lost. It is essential to carry ant and mosquito repellent spray and some loose clothes for nursery to avoid heat rashes. I would also recommend disregarding the street food first few weeks of travel.
Tell us about Merida.
I suggest that it is high time that we stop defining Mexico under stereotype perceptions. Merida is a very safe city and the hostel is located in the heart of the city. People are very respectful and welcome you with smiles and cordial demeanor, an element I happily adopted from them.
Merida is rich for its Yucatan culture and therefore a visit to Mayan ruins is a must. The city itself has many tourist attractions such as a San Ildefonso Cathedral that was built in the year 1561. Located at various places and close enough to the city are the most famous tourist spot called Cinotes such as Tulum and Holbox, a place one must visit and take a dip.
The city has many good restaurants and bars. The time may run out but things to do in Mexico won't.