Name: Susan Jiang
Hometown: Rockville, Maryland
Nationality: United States
Languages spoken: English, Mandarin
University: Cornell University
Degree: Applied Economics and Management
Past travel experience: Avid
Volunteer Abroad: Teaching English in Hanoi, Vietnam
Duration: 2 weeks
Start month: February 2016
Claim to fame: Susan has traveled to 24 countries across five continents. Susan proved to be a wonderful UBELONG Volunteer – UBELONGers are a cut above the rest!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I wanted to volunteer abroad during the time between graduating from Cornell University in January and starting my full-time job in July. I heard about UBELONG through a friend from school who had participated in a UBELONG volunteer trip to Peru. During that time, I was also taking an entrepreneurship class and realized that the UBELONG founder is an Cornell alum. When it came time to decide which organization to volunteer abroad through, UBELONG was a no brainer.
I specifically wanted to volunteer in Vietnam because I wanted to live in a country I was unfamiliar with so that I can learn about the rich history and culture. I chose to teach English because I believe English was one of my best human capital attributes to offer.
What is your favorite memory?
I believe I gained as much from my experience volunteering as an English assistant at a primary school as from interacting with my fellow volunteers in the volunteer house. I was fortunate enough to have about 12 volunteers living with me from all around the world (Germany, UK, Canada, Denmark, Australia, Japan, Norway, Sweden).
My favorite memories has to be the dinners. At around 6pm sharp every evening, all the volunteers rush to the kitchen to grab dinner (very good Vietnamese food!) and crowd around the dining room table and living room couches. We would all take turns sharing funny stories from our day volunteering as well as teaching each other things from Vietnamese culture we found surprising. Through this way, we were also able to learn things from our respective countries; I learned how to passively say “yes” and “no” in Swedish, geography of Germany, amongst others. The volunteer house became this unique hodge-podge of culture, with the foreign Vietnamese culture acting as the glue.
What advice would you tell a future volunteer?
Volunteers cannot change the world in such a short time, but can make an impact. Many times, the projects have established guidelines and procedures. As volunteers, our job is to lend a hand where it is needed. However, don’t be afraid to jump in and suggest changes or improvements where you see needed – some things can be done more efficiently/ faster. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo!
In a sentence or less, best advice for fitting in with the local culture?
Learn important phrases in the local language and don’t be afraid to speak it!
We had Vietnamese lessons, so I was able to learn the basic numbers and how to ask how much something costs so that when I went shopping or told my students how old I was, I was able to speak in Vietnamese. They loved it!