Why did you pick this program?
Alex: I studied finance and accounting at NU and had a very strong interest in microfinance after studying Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank. Microfinance is essentially a self-sustainable model of lending to the poor to encourage economic empowerment.
Asia Volunteer Network offered programs in Cambodia which I had always heard was a beautiful country. They helped connect me with an NGO that had an emerging microfinance program that was a perfect fit for my skills. AVN is a non-profit and run by local Cambodians, which were also big selling points for me.
What do you wish someone had told you before you went abroad?
Alex: I wish I had known how cheap Southeast Asia is (relative to the US) because I would have planned on staying longer. I was actually saving money by traveling there (even if you include the cost of the flight) because the cost of living is so low. A typical meal is about $2 in Cambodia and some hostels run as low as $4 per night.
What was the hardest part about going abroad?
Alex: This was my first time traveling solo so at first I was a little hesitant to just go up to strangers and tag along in whatever they were doing. Little did I know how easy it is to meet people in hostels. I almost compare staying in a cool hostel to the first day of college - everyone wants to meet everyone else and make new friends. After just going out there and doing it I made countless new friends from all over the world, some of which I will stay in touch with for a long time.
What made this experience unique and special?
Alex: This was an amazing experience because I felt that I became truly immersed in the culture as a result of my volunteering. Many people get stuck in the typical tourist sites and don't really get a true sense of what life is like for the locals. I worked everyday with a group of really kind Cambodians who made sure I tried all the foods, learned the language, and understood what it was they went through. We ate lunch on the floor together everyday and they were very open about discussing their beliefs and perceived cultural differences.
What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?
Alex: If you have the time to do it, even if you have to go alone, then go! I think most of my friends are too worried about having a big group of people to go with and eventually their plans unravel because one person drops out.