“What I learned in Cambodia is the respect for a culture so different from the Western one.”


UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Costanza Landini
Age: 22
Hometown: Lucca, Italy
Nationality: Italy
University: Bocconi University
Degree: Economics and Business
Languages Spoken: Italian, English (fluent), French (advanced), German (intermediate)
Past travel experience: Avid
Volunteer abroad: Strengthening NGO Capacity in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Duration: 4 weeks
Start month: December 2016
Claim to fame: When Costanza was 14, she decided to interview illegal immigrants in her hometown in Italy, to ask them about their origins, their journey to Italy and their hopes and dreams. Welcome to the UBELONG Community, Costanza!

Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I chose UBELONG to organize and support my volunteering experience for its reliability, professionalism, and commitment. I felt welcomed in a great community and that was what I needed. In addition, I share my personal values with those of the organization: make an impact on people’s life, learn and respect new cultures, be curious and open-minded.

What were your major challenges?
During my 4-week volunteering project, I encountered two types of challenges.

  • First, I found life in Phnom Penh quite hard for the first couple of days I was there. The city is busy, noisy, messy, and quite polluted. When I arrived there, I felt overwhelmed by people, sounds, smells, buildings, colors…by everything! Then, I learnt how to observe, how to understand the whole messiness of the city and I got used to it. I started to like it, to be part of it. In fact, I began to eat street food, to smile to people, to answer no thanks in Khmer to tuktuk’s drivers, to stare at the beauty of buildings, to negotiate prices at the Russian Market.
  • The second challenge met is more related to the poverty level I saw in Cambodia. It is obvious to think that it is precisely because Cambodia is poor and developing that people want to volunteer there. This is great! Yet, being in contact with misery, especially that of the countryside, hurts and I had to learn how to manage my feelings and thoughts about it. In particular, the meeting and interview with two women who have been victims of gender-based violence was both interesting and touching. They were right in front of me and they were talking about the physical and sexual abuses they were victims of for 20 years. As soon as the director of my NGO translated from Khmer to English the said atrocities, I felt almost desperate and shocked for the cruelty of certain human beings. That was the hardest part of my volunteer work.

What did you take from the experience?
Overall, I had an incredible experience. I do not want to be excessively philosophical but what I learnt in Cambodia is the respect for a culture which is so different from the Western one, the appreciation of beauty in any of its forms; I also learnt to be more patient, braver, opener, and to take initiative at the working place. More practically, I learned a lot about NGOs and fundraising proposals, which is extremely helpful for my field of studies. In a nutshell, I want to take everything I saw, lived, and ate from this experience. I want to preserve the spirit of solidarity, widespread among all the volunteers I met.

In a sentence or less, what did you think about the food?
Cambodian food was delicious and the choice was really wide. I ate the best pineapple and passion fruit of my life in Cambodia. In addition, street food is not only tasty but very cheap as well. That’s why I highly suggest to be as curious as possible and understand Khmer’s culture though food as well.

Related post:
Meet Inga Sophie Jansen, a young professional from Germany, who volunteered with UBELONG at the advancing women’s rights project in Cambodia.