Name: Kaitlin Tulbert
Nationality: United States
University: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Degree: Elementary Education
Languages spoken: English and Spanish (intermediate)
Past travel experience: Avid
Volunteer Abroad: Assisting at an after-school center in Cusco, Peru
Duration: 8 weeks
Start month: June 2015
Claim to fame: Kaitlin traveled as a People to People Student Ambassador to Western Europe and China.
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I just finished 4 years of undergraduate classes for math and science education and I wanted to be able to have an applicable volunteer experience in my field abroad before I student teach in the fall. I was recommended to look at UBELONG’s programs by a good friend (also a pre-service teacher) who volunteered with UBELONG the previous summer in Ghana, and she had nothing but positive things to say about her experience volunteering. I was particularly interested in volunteering in a Spanish-speaking country to improve my own Spanish and learn from my first-hand experience in order to integrate different language strategies this fall for my ESL classroom cluster of students. Although I have traveled to China and some of Western Europe before through the People to People Student Ambassador Program, I really wanted to have an extended experience abroad to not only see a country for its “selling points”, but to see and interact with its people and culture in a positive way: as another human being – not as a tourist. My decision to come to Peru stretched me in my career and just my overall outlook on humanity and diversity. I’m so pleased that I stepped outside of my comfort zone; I grew immensely in my 8 weeks at my project and urge everyone to seriously consider volunteering abroad.
What was your impact on your volunteer project?
I volunteered at one of the after-school programs, Huchuy Yachaq, and my role shifted on a daily basis. The first couple of days I learned a lot of new Spanish vocabulary with respect to school supplies and books that the kids needed. My teacher, Senora Marleni, always complimented me on how I kept track of all of the materials and maintained a very organized library and supply desk for the kids. Some kids would ask me for book recommendations based on their reading level and their interests, and they also learned that I liked to draw and would ask for tips or sketches of simple animals to model their own drawing after. As I became more comfortable and confident with my Spanish, the children would ask me for help on their English and math assignments in particular. I guess I was the first volunteer in a while that spoke English as their first language, and the children gradually felt more and more comfortable with asking me to review concepts and questions they didn’t understand.
One day in particular, I was working with a 13 year old named Christian on his English homework focusing on the difference between could and would. I realized immediately that this is a tough thing to explain in English, let alone in Spanish. We worked together almost the entire time that day to narrow both words down to certain instances (ex: if the statement was an offer or intention, you would use would). He was so appreciative and happy at the end of the day and I was really glad that I could be helpful and explain it in a different way that he understood. Christian, along with other students, continued to ask for my help after positive learning experiences like this one.
Tell me about somebody you met who impressed you?
I took a four day weekend trip into the Amazon Rainforest, and my tour guide, Nefi, really impressed me with not only his knowledge, but his dedication and perspective on humanity and the world around us. One afternoon after a long, scorching trek through the jungle, we were cooling off in a shallow part of the river while Nefi started telling us all of his horror stories about confronting jaguars and meeting the native people that live even deeper within the jungle. It was so baffling to know that right now, today – people live just like they did thousands and thousands of years ago. This living happening concurrently with the modern, civilized age of iPhones, tablets, and mind-boggling technology is absolutely crazy to me. Even though Nefi described them as savages, wearing nothing but loin-cloths like Tarzan, he had a real appreciation for their lifestyle. The diversity of people and resources throughout the world, he said, doesn’t have to be judged or pitied – because ultimately we’re all humans and all share human qualities, feelings, and experiences despite where or how we live. He got really philosophical, it was really cool to hear him talk about all of this: to realize we all have families who we love, we all have choices (although very different), we’re all curious about what we don’t know, and we’re all appreciative despite continuing to push and search for more. I felt so privileged to have been able to meet Nefi and see the world like he does in one of the most gorgeous and untouched places on the planet. Seeing the true wonders of Earth’s existence made me realize its fragility and the importance of the Earth just as much as the importance of people: they work together. Neither will be here forever, and we need to take care of us and appreciate each other’s cultures just as much as we need to take care of the Earth that sustains us and enables us to strive for purpose further than survival.
How would you describe the locals you met?
Everyone I met was so inviting, kind, and open to answer questions or build a relationship. I did not fathom how incredible the bonds I made with the students would be and how accepting and comfortable the people at my project made me feel immediately upon my arrival. Locals really invited me into their experience and shared their life with me in a very personal and touching way. Nefi, the students, the kind restaurant owners, and vendors on the streets of Cusco all had a story to tell if you listened. I’m so appreciative that everyone shared their Cusco with me; those one-on-one moments made Cusco a very precious place in my heart as well. I know that if I ever return, I know it will feel like returning to a second home and a second family alongside the rapport of the locals and the UBELONG community.