“When I looked at the UBELONG website, I was really inspired.”


UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Simon Gigli
Age: 20
Hometown: Washington DC
Nationality: United States
University: Wesleyan University
Degree: Undecided
Languages spoken: English, Italian, Spanish, French
Past travel experience: Avid
Volunteer Abroad: Teaching English in Cusco, Peru
Duration: 12 weeks
Start month: September 2012
Claim to fame: Great juggler!

Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
When I was thinking of ideas for my gap year, I was looking for a wonderful program that was affordable. I had always loved travelling so much, and food and people, and volunteering was also close to my heart. When I looked at the UBELONG website, I was really inspired. I thought that they had a love for the world and for people that I also held so dear when I travelled. They had great ideas about how volunteering could help communities and empower local leaders, who are already combatting issues, for sustainable change. And I thought they embodied something which I had just begun to understand through my travels, which is a belief in how travelling and volunteering is so much fun and instills the soul with a love for others, yourself, and the planet that affects who you are and that is immensely powerful and important with today’s booming growth and globalization. I admired them so much and wanted to be part of their efforts.

What is your favorite memory?
My favorite memory was when I was helping one of the students who had been having some difficulty with math and was struggling with a problem. I remember the problem was funny so we were laughing and my Spanish was bumbling so we were laughing more, but at the end we went through the problem together. He was asking questions and I was having my knowledge on the subject tested. Then the next problem, which was similar, he did on his own and he told me the answer he had gotten and I said “perfecto!” and I remember his face flushed with happiness. I was so happy that I had helped him and I hope that my friendship and presence will help inspire him to overcome the difficulties he has to face.

What advice would you tell a future volunteer?
Try and really open your heart and mind. It’s such a great feeling and it’s crucial because issues are so complicated and cultures so complex that having fixed views will prevent accurate involvement and us from becoming our best selves.

In a sentence or less, best advice for fitting in with the local culture?
Laugh and smile!

Related post:
Meet Bing Bing Qian, a project manager at HSBC who volunteered with UBELONG in Vang Vieng, Laos on the Teaching English project.