“Once you learn how others live life, you may learn how you should be living yours.”


UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Tyler O’Brien
Age: 18
Hometown: Boxford, Massachusetts
Nationality: United States
Languages spoken: English and Spanish (intermediate)
University: University of Massachusetts Amherst
Degree: Mechanical Engineering
Past travel experience: Newbie
Volunteer Abroad: Caring for Disadvantaged Youth in Cartago, Costa Rica
Duration: 4 weeks
Start month: May 2015
Claim to fame: Tyler worked as a sleep away summer camp counselor over the past couple of years.

Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
For a while now, I have had three big goals. I want to travel, learn Spanish, and make a difference in the lives of children. When I realized that this is one of my last summers I have before I really should get an internship, I decided that now could be one of the last times in my life where I would have the opportunity to accomplish all of my goals. So I tried to come up with an idea of something I could do to try to kill three birds with one stone, and my solution was to volunteer with children in a Spanish speaking country. From there, I just used google, which brought me to four potential groups which I could volunteer with. I immediately signed up for all of them, and was accepted to all of them. But after more research, I decided that UBELONG was the closest to what I actually wanted, and soon after committed to UBELONG.

What was your impact on your volunteer project?
To set the scene, my job was working at a day care for zero to five year olds within an orphanage for a month. The children in the day care were either in the orphanage or from families of disadvantage backgrounds. Knowing this, I knew that I was not going to be able to make a profound impact on their lives, simply because I was not there too long and I knew that the kids would probably forget me in a couple of years.

This being known, I had two goals in mind. The first is that I wanted to make the lives of the ladies that worked there, called nonas, as easy as I could because they were working for an amazing cause. My second goal was to just make sure that the kids could have as much fun as I could possibly get them to have. The majority of these kids would be facing many challenges in their future, and the least I could do is work to give them a fun childhood. And I cannot say that I completed my goals, because my goals are something that could never be completed, as you cannot finish them. But every day I worked to get closer and closer to what I set out to do, and I know that the kids and the staff appreciated what I was able to do.

What advice would you tell a future volunteer? 
What I would tell to future volunteers is to really just embrace the culture. You may find that there are times that you feel uncomfortable, but just do it anyway. Be a part culture. For instance, in the day care, there was nap time, and all of the nonas would lay down next to the zero to five year olds and would pat their back as they went to sleep, and when I got there, they expected me to do the same. The first two weeks, I refused to do that, because it made me uncomfortable and it is something that would never happen in the US. But I was finally talked into doing it because all of the kids were begging for me to lay down next to them. The nonas had me lay down next to a girl named Lisseth, and as I was patting the back of the four year old orphan, it dawned on me the impact I was making.

Many of the kids had never really been exposed to adult males, and I realized that they had started to view me as a father figure. I will admit, when that occurred, I did start to tear up a little, because until then, I had never fully realized how much I had and who I had in my life. Nor did I ever realized how much I could affect someone, be affected by someone, or legitimately love someone who shared no blood connection with me. If I had not chosen to embrace the culture, I never would have learned to appreciate myself, others, and life as much as I do now. So if you do end up volunteering, do what I made myself do, do things that make you uncomfortable, be a part of the culture, and live like one of the natives because once you learn how others live life, you may learn how you should be living yours.

Tell me about somebody you met who impressed you?
There was not a particular person I met that impressed me, but rather a group of people. The nonas at the day care were some of the most nice, dedicated, caring, and giving people I have ever met. They themselves did not have much, yet they gave it all to these kids that they were not even related to. Working with them inspired me to be better version of myself, and really do all that I can, while I can.

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Related post:
Meet Katie, a University of Alabama undergrad, who volunteered with UBELONG in Cartago, Costa Rica at an elderly center.