Name: Melissa Courtney
Hometown: Cumberland, Maryland
Nationality: United States
University: East Tennessee State University
Degree: Studio Art Photography
Languages spoken: English, French (intermediate)
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Advancing Women’s Rights in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Duration: 7 weeks
Start month: November 2017
Claim to fame: Melissa is the first woman to be elected for two consecutive terms as Panhellenic Council President at East Tennessee State University. Very impressive, Melissa!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
Volunteering has always been something close to my heart. I had volunteered many times within the United States, but I knew I wanted to pursue an international volunteering opportunity. I was in a transitional period of my life having finished my undergraduate degree. I had been looking for jobs and graduate school programs, but nothing seemed to be the right fit for me. I decided to do some research online about international volunteer programs and came across UBELONG. I knew I wanted to work for a program that supported women’s rights and empowerment. I saw there was a program in Phnom Penh that fit all my criteria. I was so excited, I filled out the application the same day!
As it relates to the UBELONG Local Team and in-country support: How was it?
The local team was wonderful! Mey and Sreng were very caring and helpful in anything that I needed. If I had questions about daily life they were always happy to give advice. They aided in any communications with my NGO and even helped arrange weekend trips. The house supervisor Mr. D went with me to the hospital in the middle of the night when I had an allergic reaction because none of the other volunteers were awake and he did not want me to have to go alone. Overall, everyone was very supportive and kind.
What three pieces of advice would you give to a future UBELONG Volunteer?
- Take initiative. When you travel alone to a new place you must be your own advocate. From building friendships with locals and other volunteers to finding you niche at your assigned work place, you must put yourself out there. I promise you will get as much out of an experience as you are willing to give! So, give freely and give often. You won’t regret it!
- Positivity breeds positivity. I have never felt so surrounded by such positivity as I did on the duration of my two months volunteering. Attitude is everything. You are doing amazing work in an amazing place with amazing people! Keep this in your mind and try to see positive side in any situation.
- Take time to travel. Go and see other parts of the country you are visiting! Most jobs are only Monday-Friday so take advantage of having weekends off to visit somewhere. It’s very affordable. It can also put better perspective on the work that you are doing and how it is influencing different people.
In a sentence or less, what is your best packing advice?
Pack light! I was so worried about what to bring that I over packed for my trip. Realistically, I wore the same few outfits over and over. You will also probably buy things while you are there so make sure you will have enough space in whatever luggage you bring to take things back with you. So many volunteers at the end of their stay were deciding what they could sacrifice to leave behind so they could fit everything into their packs to take home.