Name: Damnhien Nguyen
Hometown: Huntington Beach, California
Nationality: United States
University: University of California San Diego
Degree: Human Biology and Art History
Languages spoken: English and Vietnamese (intermediate)
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Care and Teach for Children from Poor Backgrounds in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Duration: 2 weeks
Start month: July 2015
Claim to fame: Nguyen is a volunteer at Rady’s Children Hospital in San Diego. She is a playroom volunteer on the Hematology and Oncology floor.
Why did you volunteer in Cambodia with UBELONG?
I actually went through a program through my university called Alternative Breaks, which sends undergraduates to volunteer at both national and international levels. We choose our service trip based on the social issue, and I wanted to do something with caretaking. Going to Cambodia was technically a detail, but it was a detail that really left a lasting impact on me. Cambodia is a beautiful country filled with kind people and their resilience as a nation is just amazing. I never expected them to be so welcoming and endearing, it was surreal.
What was most satisfying from your volunteer trip?
The most satisfying moments for me were interacting with the local people and just learning from them. I came to Cambodia to offer help any way I could, but I feel like I took so much more than I could ever give.
Everyone was so grateful and friendly; their genuine happiness was extremely uplifting. They really made me grateful for what I had and changed my perspective on how I view my life. It was a very humbling experience. But, if I had to choose, I think the most satisfying moment for me was when the mamas and children waved bye to us from the balcony on the last day. It was really heartwarming. The best moments were when I felt like I was making someone’s day a little easier.
What was most challenging from your volunteer trip?
The most challenging for me was the language barrier. It was hard to communicate with both the young children and the mamas at the orphanage because I did not speak Khmer very well. It was also difficult knowing that I was volunteering for such a short amount of time, I wish I could have been there for longer, I feel like I could’ve made more of a difference.
What advice would you give to a future UBELONG Volunteer heading to Cambodia?
I would say to not have any expectations of your service and to be open minded overall. First, no matter what your service is, it will be eye opening and hopefully, life changing. You may feel like you are not making that much of difference there, but remember that by helping as much as you can, you are making someone’s day a little bit easier. You will be bringing back knowledge that you can hopefully share with others. Also, it is very easy to compare the ways of your native country to the ways of Cambodia, and you really shouldn’t.
It is very important to recognize cultural differences and try to understand them. My group researched a lot about Cambodia’s history and that really mentally prepared us to be culturally aware once we got there and it made us more welcoming to different customs.