UBELONG Volunteer with the local NGO staff in Hanoi, Vietnam.

“It’s interesting to learn things on paper and then watch them play out in real life.”

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UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Megan Lee
Age: 21
Hometown: San Dimas, California
Nationality: United States
Languages spoken: English, French (advanced)
University: University of California, Berkeley
Volunteer Abroad: Assisting Community Development Organizations in Hanoi, Vietnam
Duration: 8 weeks
Start month: June 2018

Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?

Catherine Pham, an alumna of the Global Poverty and Practice program at UC Berkeley, told me about her safe and secure volunteer experience with UBELONG in Vietnam. UBELONG was the organization that seemed the most cost-efficient and trustworthy.

 

Being half Vietnamese, I was drawn to choose Vietnam to work in for my Global Poverty and Practice (GPP) minor program at UC Berkeley. I wanted to learn more about the country of my mother’s roots. I feel that volunteering is the most intimate way to learn about a community or place. You can visit all the museums and see all the beautiful mountains, but can you really know a place without knowing the people? When you meet faces and experience a culture in person – that is a learning experience that you can’t get through any documentary, class, or Instagram photo.

 

What impact did you make on your volunteer project?

I think the idea of making an impact during a very short volunteer experience abroad is a grand notion. Although I felt that I made an impact with a few people here or there in forming bonds with them, they impacted me in the same way or even more so. I came to volunteer with the intention to learn, not with the goal of being impactful in a foreign country about which I know nearly nothing. I couldn’t hope to make any more impact than I’d make volunteering in my home country, USA.

 

That being said, at the NGO where I worked, they had me do various administrative tasks like editing translated documents, doing research to fill out grant proposals and reviewing kids’ science projects. A lot of the time, they sadly did not have a task for me and I felt like I was just taking up space. But in that time I was still able to learn about the culture of NGOs in Vietnam!

 

UBELONG Volunteer with her NGO colleagues at a conference in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Megan at a conference with her NGO colleagues, in Hanoi!

 

How did you grow personally during your volunteer trip?

The GPP program really emphasizes action in combo with reflection. I wanted to volunteer in Vietnam to do the work while reflecting on what I learned in school, and building my perspectives about the world. My main focus was observing how NGOs work under an authoritarian government. It’s interesting to learn things on paper and then watch them play out in real life. There are so many parts of a story that are left out in academic learning settings. I wanted immersion – more complete, real stories. I encourage those of you who embark on volunteer trips to do prior, in-depth research about political context, ethics of volunteering as a privileged foreigner, or your placement organization. I felt that I was able to gain the most in that way while also respecting the people and community I was entering.

 

I also grew in more specific ways. Being in a foreign country by myself for 2 months at 21 years old was something I’d never done before. I grew out of being homesick for a few weeks, being completely out of my comfort zone, and forming friendships with people from all over the world, France, Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Ireland, and others, in the volunteer house.

 

In a sentence or less, how would you sum up your volunteer experience? 

Too much to put into words.

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Related post:
10 quotes from UBELONG Volunteers about how volunteering abroad will change your life.

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