Name: Lijia Wang
Hometown: San Ramon, California
Nationality: United States
University: Emory University
Degree: Psychology And Visual Arts
Languages spoken: English, Chinese (advanced) and Spanish (intermediate)
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Caring for Disadvantaged Youth in Merida, Mexico
Duration: 2 weeks
Start month: August 2016
Claim to fame: Lijia started the Shines Club, a cross-school organization dedicated to mentoring and helping children from disadvantaged neighborhoods. Great work and thank you for your UBELONG service,Lijia!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
Although I primarily joined so that I could chaperone and give my younger brother this experience, I have always been so passionate about volunteering in underserved communities and working with children. I also love traveling, but I prefer to explore cultures as a productive and positive addition to the community, rather than as a tourist. I love being able to truly immerse myself in new environments and gaining something other than photographs for the experience, especially when I can make local friends and help people along the way.
What was your impact on your volunteer project?
Although it seemed like our particular project was all fun and games (my brother and I were in charge of recreational activities in the development center), it was important to remember that we were contributing to these people’s lives by giving the children a productive place to learn English for free, allowing their parents to focus on their daily jobs. They had a safe place to exercise, play, and learn during the summer with other children their own age. The English skills they learned could benefit them in their futures, and they also could look up to us as positive role models. As the pioneers of the recreational activities division, we gave the children more motivation to come to class every day and leave their TV screens behind.
What advice would you tell a future UBELONG Volunteer?
Keep an open mind and actively seek out places you can contribute. Don’t just wait for people to tell you what to do. Make plans and find places where you can help. And don’t forget to have fun! You’re in an entirely different world with so much to offer and fantastic varieties of people to meet. Get to know the volunteer house staff, fellow volunteers, fellow travelers, locals of every class outside your volunteer placement, and the people in your placement, especially the children. Find time in between work to explore the best food and most unique parts and arts of the location. Don’t be afraid to be adventurous. If you’re working with children, don’t worry if you don’t always know exactly what you’re doing or if you don’t speak the language. They are always more than happy to improvise! If you go to Merida, go to the grutas de Calcehtok, take advantage of the free cooking class and salsa dancing offered at the hostel, and definitely dive in a cenote or two!
Tell me about somebody you met who impressed you?
While in Mexico, so many different people impressed me. There was a young boy who was barely 10 (I think his name was Marco), and he was working as a motorcycle-carriage driver to carry people to cenotes and give tours for extremely low prices. He was so young and already working despite also going to school, and he had a great sense of fun while he showed us the cenote. He enjoyed his job, but he was one of the few kids who had dreams to go to college and become a veterinarian. Our students were also so enthusiastic, welcoming, and eager to learn; and although we didn’t pry, we suspected that they might lead similar working lifestyles. They were able to have fun with whatever they could get their hands on for hours and hours. It never became boring, and during our water balloon fight, they figured out how to reuse the balloons. Also, the UBELONG team and other volunteers inspired me with their commitment to try new things, help each other out, and make a difference in the world.