Volunteering in Vietnam through UBELONG was a life-changing experience for me. For years I had wanted to participate in some sort of international volunteer work, but none of the programs that I looked at quite matched what I wanted. Some wanted a lengthy time commitment, some were too expensive, and most of them didn't have the types of projects I was looking for - which was anything health or HIV related. Raul solved that problem when he found ME and suggested that I check out his organization.
At first I was skeptical of the complete stranger suggesting that I should send him money and then fly to a foreign country, but I decided to start by looking at the website, and I became progressively more and more secure about what UBELONG was offering. Each of my concerns about other organizations were addressed quickly by the website - great flexibility for length of stay, the most affordable option for volunteering that I've found, and most importantly, a wide variety of projects, with details up front about what was expected by the organization and what could be expected by the volunteers.
I quickly found a project that I found incredibly appealing - public health volunteering in Hanoi, Vietnam. I had just applied to Master of Public Health programs for the following fall, and I was looking for an opportunity to get some experience in my new field before diving into my studies. I applied to the UBELONG program called "Promoting HIV/AIDS Awareness", but my application went in right around the time of Tet in Vietnam and UBELONG was having trouble getting through to the host organization. UBELONG responded by preemptively talking to the organization hosting the other public health project in Hanoi and finding a place for me there, and when they called me a couple days later, I was given the option to keep waiting for the HIV project or accept the one that was already happy to take me on, and I chose to do just that.
Over the next couple months, while I was making all of the necessary preparations for the trip, I was in regular contact with Raul. UBELONG has a set of several standard emails and skype conversations that they have with every volunteer, but Raul quickly responded to all of my additional emails, answering in detail every question I could think to ask. He even found time to meet with me in Washington, DC while I was there for an unrelated trip. By the time I left for Vietnam, although I was still nervous, I felt like Raul had prepared me incredibly well.
Throughout the trip, Raul was in contact with me to see how things were going. I received check-in emails from him immediately before and after my flight to Vietnam and approximately every two weeks after that. We also had a phone/Skype conversation while I was there and he has listened to all of my concerns and suggestions and has quickly made appropriate changes, as necessary. I am incredibly grateful for his work as my mentor, and his support made the experience of traveling to a completely foreign country where I didn't know the language at all much easier. I would highly recommend UBELONG to anyone else considering international volunteering (and I have suggested it for a few friends already).