I have travelled a lot in my life and could share various memories, but one of my favorite memories is my trip to Peru in 2010. I was excited and nervous at the same time to travel to Latin America for the first time. I had four weeks of Spanish classes in Cusco and four weeks of volunteering in Arequipa as well as some time to travel around afterwards. I loved it, from working with the girls at my project to not being able to leave Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes, the little village before Machu Picchu) for a week and flying out in helicopters to exploring Peru, its culture and traditions.
Staff Spotlight: Martina Kaser
What is your favorite travel memory?
Which destination is most underrated? Conversely, which is most overrated?
In my opinion Mexico is often underrated. It’s supposed to be really dangerous, everyone is worried about safety and drug trafficking. And yes, of course, there are a lot of dangerous places I recommend not to go to, but Mexico is a huge country and has a lot to offer – breathtaking beaches, rich Mayan culture, cenotes and natural parks to only name a few. I think Latin America in general is often underrated concerning safety. However, I can’t think about a destination that’s most overrated.
What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?
I believe the biggest factor in being a successful company is the staff; motivated, experienced, responsible and passionate people who care about the company and want to make it grow as well as love their job. Furthermore, good leaders who know how to manage employees are important.
How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?
I have changed and grown a lot since working for UBELONG. I learned a lot about people, different cultures, communication, marketing, client service, conflict management and leadership. I have grown from different challenges like being part and leading one of the largest and most respected volunteer programs in Peru, building up our Mexico program from the ground, starting to work as a UBELONG Program Officer & Mentor as well as helping plan and joining the Mexico expedition (during an expedition you travel to global hotspots and come face to face with the world's most pressing social and environmental issues). Furthermore, I’m about to head to Asia with a high school team from Vermont to work in our projects in Laos.
I learn something new every day and believe in bringing people together across borders to collaborate for the common good.
What unique qualities does your company possess?
UBELONG has a unique team - our employees, partners in the field, hosting communities, the range of individuals and corporations that work with us, an exciting global community. We have recognized professionals, our programs are built on practical knowledge gained through years of international experience. We are flexible, we offer programs across many areas and for different time frames. We are affordable and want to make a positive difference the local communities, volunteers and the world.
Describe a time when you felt especially proud to be part of your current team.
I feel proud to be part of the UBELONG Team every day. We support and motivate each other, do great work and grow together every day. However, I felt especially proud to be part of the team when we started the program in Mexico 2014. It was amazing to be part of it and to have seen the program grow over the last two years. Furthermore, another really special moment was the first expedition in Mexico in November 2014 about immigration. We went to different communities around Merida (state of Yucatan) and interviewed people who for example crossed the border to the United States illegally years ago and others who have their children and/or husbands there. We took pictures of each of them and presented the stories and pictures to the public in Merida as well as in 2015 in an exhibition in New York City.
What is the best story you've heard from a return student?
There are lots of stories to tell :) One of the best stories was from a UBELONGer who volunteered at the Center for disabled children In Cusco. He loved his project. One day he asked the kids how old they are, they did answer and also asked him for his age. He said 32, and all the kids started to laugh like crazy and afterwards only called him "abuelito" (grandpa). They had the time of their life, and a simply thing like calling the volunteer "abuelito" made them laugh every day.