Cedric Hodgeman chats UBELONG trip to Portugal


In addition to offering volunteer trips, UBELONG can work with you to customize trips with a social mission. If you’re interested in creating a trip like the one presented below, contact us and let’s talk!

In May, UBELONG Founder and Executive Principal Cedric Hodgeman will be leading our first customized trip to Europe with a group of students from New Mexico State University. The trip will be to Portugal and is entitled, “The Human Side of the Economic Crisis.” We recently sat down with Cedric to hear his thoughts on the trip to Portugal and other topics as well. Obrigado!

What’s the main idea behind UBELONG’s customized trips?
Our customized trips are generally 8 to 15 day trips, although trips can be shorter or longer – it’s up to the client, we are totally flexible. Clients often include companies, universities and high schools that are looking for a highly tailored trip built around their specific needs. All the trips feature small teams led by world-class UBELONG Trip Leaders.

Every client has one or more overarching goal, examples of which may include team-building, young employee training, leadership development and/or rewarding strong employee performance. UBELONG builds an itinerary around those goals, and the activities features some combination of volunteering, team-building, learning and fun.

Customized trips also have a purpose – we volunteer on local projects and advocate for change around important issues. Past trips have tackled topics such as genocide in Cambodia, climate change in Galapagos, child labor in Ghana, women’s issues in Morocco and the US embargo in Cuba.

What is your Portugal connection?
In 2011 I moved to Lisbon to be with my then-girlfriend, who is now my wife. She’s Portuguese and from Lisbon. The two years before I had been living in Washington, DC and literally working nights and days to get UBELONG going. I was ready for a change. While I’ve never been able to shake my habit of working nights and days, at least I was with my girlfriend and in Lisbon, which is one of my favorite cities in the world.

UBELONG was still in start-up mode, and my first year in Lisbon I worked part-time as a front-desk receptionist at a Lisbon hostel to make ends meet. It was a humbling experience. But I learned a lot, and the grit I picked up continues to serve me well today, even as UBELONG now has had over 4,000 people apply to join our programs, we have operations on five continents, and we have become the gold standard in international volunteering and learning.

Why did you choose Lisbon to open your European offices?
UBELONG really started to pick up in 2013, and many people joining us were from Europe, especially England and Germany.

So, opening an office in Lisbon made a lot of sense for us. From a bureaucratic standpoint, managing the Portuguese labor processes was surprisingly easy. There were additional hurdles we had to jump as an American company, but overall we found the Portuguese business climate to be very friendly.

Most importantly, the talent pool in Portugal for people who speak English, and who are also highly communicative, friendly and socially conscious, is very deep. For our first job opening we had over 200 qualified people apply.

Why did you want to do a trip to Portugal?
UBELONG has always run service-learning programs in Asia, Africa and Latin America, but never in developed countries. The social and environmental issues in some of the other countries where UBELONGers go are undoubtedly more widespread than what you find in countries like Portugal or, my country, the United States. However, there are still millions of people in developed countries who face enormous challenges in just getting through their day fed, educated, protected and employed.

In Portugal, as well as other developed countries, including the United States, the human toll of the economic crisis is real. Behind the statistics, numbers and political rhetoric are real people whose voices are too often drowned out. Their stories of struggle, but also of overcoming and succeeding, are largely untold.

The trip helps illuminate their stories and humanize policy conversations we have in Portugal and beyond. Whether we’re talking about austerity, debt loads or deficits, we can’t forget the impacts on humans – we live in the real world, not in an academic vacuum. People matter.

Did your own personal connections to Portugal also motivate you to run a trip to Portugal?
While I’m an American first and foremost, and I’m very proud of my country, Portugal has also opened up its arms up to me in incredible ways.

My wife is Portuguese and my children are dual Portuguese-American citizens. The years I spent in Portugal deeply impacted me, especially the kindness and warmth that the Portuguese showed me.

I feel I’ve lived Portugal in as close a way as any non-Portuguese could experience. In the process, I fell in love with the country and its people, and have also become very interested in the challenges and issues on the ground.

Will you ever run programs in the United States?
Yes, it’s something we are very actively considering. UBELONG trips are about engaging the world at large, and our roots in the United States makes it a natural fit for what we’re trying to do. We want the UBELONG community to engage with the United States in new ways that are rarely portrayed in the media.

In a sentence or less, why do you love UBELONG trips?
There’s no tougher but more rewarding way to travel – you’ll see what life on the ground is really like, and you’ll push yourself in ways that will positively change you forever.