Name: Thomas Barnett-Young
Hometown: Ithaca, New York
Nationality: United States and United Kingdom
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (beginner), Chinese (beginner)
University: Connecticut College
Past travel experience: Avid
Volunteer Abroad: Advancing Community Rights in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Duration: 5 weeks
Start month: February 2017
Claim to fame: Thomas organized hiking, skiing, and rafting trips as the Vice President of his school’s Outdoors Club. Welcome to the UBELONG Family 🙂
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I decided to become a UBELONG volunteer to make a small, but positive difference in the world. I had a gap year between undergraduate and graduate school, and I knew I wanted to volunteer abroad. I had a family member who had volunteered with UBELONG in the past, and they recommended it to me. Looking at UBELONG’s website, it became clear that I had found a safe and affordable option for volunteering.
What did you take from the experience?
During my time in Cambodia I learned a lot about the country’s dark past, and its current struggles. The volunteer house, and my volunteer placement, were both located in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city. During the week I explored the city and got a taste for Cambodian daily life, and on the weekends I was able to explore the surrounding areas. Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, and Mondulkiri were all vastly different from Phnom Penh. In Siem Reap I saw Angkor Wat, in Sihanoukville I explored pristine beaches, and in Mondulkiri I got up front and personal with elephants. Each was a nice experience that complemented the day-to-day experiences I was having in Phnom Penh.
What advice would you tell a future volunteer?
The volunteer house I stayed at in Phnom Penh had a guidebook of sorts, with advice for future residents written by departing ones. I would echo some of the advice I read in that book, which applies to many UBELONG locations, I would think. First and foremost, stay active, wherever you are the time will go by quickly and you will wish you could’ve done more. Secondly, I would say make sure you are getting to know the other volunteers in your house, they tend to be about as diverse a group of people as you will ever find. Lastly, I would say to be open to new experiences. One weekend, I was invited by my coworkers to travel to remote parts of the country to visit rural villages and establish connections with local people who might be able to support the NGO’s mission. I’m glad I went because I saw a side to Cambodia that is tough to see without that kind of immersion.
In a sentence or less, how would you sum up your experience?
I met lots of interesting people and learned a lot – glad I went.