Brian Fang is a finance major and psychology minor at Baruch College in New York. Even though he is only 21, he has already traveled extensively throughout the world, including to Thailand, South Korea, China and Canada. He enjoys immersing himself in new cultures and applying his cultural awareness in his personal and professional lives. In January he spent two weeks volunteering in the “caring for malnourished children” Volunteer Abroad in Cusco with a small group of friends. We are thrilled to now introduce you to this wonderful young New Yorker.
What motivated you to seek a volunteer opportunity in Cusco?
I was looking forward to volunteering abroad for a long time. It’s something that has always interested me and I felt I had to do it before starting a career and not having the time. I looked at the Peace Corps, but though UBELONG would be a better fit because I wasn’t ready to commit so much time yet. I also liked that UBELONG was so affordable and easy to join. I also wanted to go to South America; I’ve heard so much about it and had a very favorable impression of it. It turned out my impressions were correct, I loved Peru!
From what you observed during your experience, what were the three most important characteristics of a successful international volunteer?
Don’t be afraid. I didn’t speak Spanish, but was still able to have a great experience because I wasn’t shy. I jumped right in with the kids at the project and was able to communicate with the locals just through hands and smiles. Plus, you learn Spanish quickly so by the time I left I knew a couple words to get by.
Second, if you need help then speak up. There’s always somebody there for you, whether at the project or volunteer house. It can be scary to be in a new place, but as long as you remember there are people like Martina [the UBELONG local team leader in Cusco], other volunteers and the local staff to help you, you’ll be fine.
Finally, make friends with the other UBELONG volunteers! It was a great group of people and they really enhanced my experience. We became friends and helped each lot, for example on where to go on the weekends or how to visit Machu Picchu. Plus, expanding your network is important and they’re great people to know in general.
What did you learn about yourself during your experience?
One day we worked at the clinic for abandoned children and disabled people. It helped me realize all the opportunities we have back home that we take for granted. In New York everything is there for you, whether it’s food, toys, people or anything else. However, in Cusco it’s not that way for a lot of people. We met one mentally disabled man who was 32, who had been abandoned when he was seven. His parents had no money and just couldn’t take care of him, so he was basically left in the street because the public system in Peru is so limited. It was sad and made me realize how lucky I am. At the same time, just seeing how happy he was when we came made me realize that I can make a difference in other peoples’ lives. Even if it’s just a smile or small talk for a couple minutes, it matters. Realizing that was very rewarding for me.