“The most rewarding thing was to put a smile on those children’s faces.”


UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Blerim Cukovic
Age: 21
Hometown: Staten Island, New York
Nationality: United States
Occupation: CSI Ambassador at Cuny College of Staten Island
Languages spoken: English, Albanian (Fluent) and Serbo-Croatian (Beginner)
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Light Painting and Renovation in Cartago, Costa Rica
Duration: 2 weeks
Start month: January 2017
Claim to fame: Blerim worked as a Vice-President of Student Government, Chief Financial Officer of Campus Activities Board, Board of Director member of CSI Auxiliary, and served on numerous committees at Cuny College of Staten Island. Welcome to UBELONG!

Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
There are plenty of things that I could’ve done besides volunteering. I could’ve just taken a break from classes, traveled with friends to the city, worked, played video games, etc. Instead, I decided to immerse myself in an experience that I’ve never had before. Hence, volunteering abroad. Many people that I knew were going to study abroad in the winter, but I wanted to step out of the classroom setting. I wanted to learn while doing something more engaging, more proactive. Instead of working hard in class to get myself the ‘A’, I wanted to work hard towards something meaningful. I wasn’t too sure at first on what that ‘meaningful’ thing might be, but I wanted to go after something more innovative. I wanted to mature in an unfamiliar immersive environment.

What did you find most rewarding from your volunteer experience?
The most rewarding thing was to put a smile on those children’s faces. These kids live at an orphanage and have been, without choice, given a difficult life to deal with. At first, it’s seems like the worst idea knowing that it’s a lose-lose situation for both the volunteer and the child. The children see volunteers enter and exit their lives, constantly. As you spend more time there, the kids smile and genuinely enjoy your company. You begin to realize, that this is a win-win for both parties because you are enjoying each other’s company. If the child or I weren’t there at that moment, we both would not have exchanged that laugh, smile, joke, victory, and interaction. When you see that a child at that age could persevere through not having their parents around, it enlightens you that you could smile your way through life’s tribulations, so long as you let those tribulations build you up, and not down. Another amazing fact is the kids play without judgement. Whether it’s a win or a loss, they will always want to play again. They are willing to go in to play the game again, just like they are willing to give life a chance. Perseverance is defined by ‘steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.’. These children apply the principle of perseverance in an awe-inspiring way towards others and most importantly, themselves.

What advice would you give to a future UBELONG Volunteer?
People, my advice to you is to go from an interested volunteer to an UBELONGer, immediately! Jump into the unknown, prepared, but without expectations. Expect anything. As they say, ‘come with an open mind’. Process, understand, and accept everything that comes in your way. If you come into your mission with that attitude, you will see a significant boost in your motivation, and experience. Your life will change because everything is new and you are stepping out of your comfort zone. You are not there to change the world or their lives, but to assist in the best of your abilities, along with culturing yourself about what is beyond the border of the place you call ‘home’. Immerse yourself in the experience as you are living a different life for the time that you are there. Be proud, that you are living the authentic life of an average person in that country. I’m proud to have lived as a Tico in the ‘Pura Vida’ lifestyle. Thank you, UBELONG!

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Related post:
Meet Alexander Obnial, a young professional from California, who volunteered with UBELONG, in the caregiving project, in Cartago, Costa Rica.