“I made it my mission to give students the extra help and hugs that the teachers did not have time to give.”


UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Kelsey Gerbec
Age: 21
Hometown: Geneva, Illinois
Nationality: United States
University: Indiana University
Degree: Math Education, Spanish, International and Comparative Education
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (intermediate)
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Elementary School Teaching in Cusco, Peru
Duration: 4 weeks
Start month: May 2016
Claim to fame: Kelsey has worked in many classrooms ranging from those with the leading technology to ones with only one piece of chalk and not enough seats for every student. Very impressive Kelsey, keep up the good work!

Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I was looking for an affordable volunteer program that would give me hands-on experience in my field of education. After a lot of research, I found that most programs were either expensive or focused too much on traveling and not enough on working. When I encountered UBELONG, I was thrilled to find an organization that emphasized selflessly living and working in a foreign country, rather than voluntourism. Also, as a Spanish minor, I was excited to be able to use my Spanish skills while volunteering.

What advice would you tell a future volunteer?
Don’t always expect a thank you. Many people volunteering abroad think they are setting out to save the world. I’ll be honest, there were moments when I thought about how great it must seem for me to give my summer to teach in a foreign country. Volunteering abroad has nothing to do with the volunteer itself and everything to do with the people in need. In reality, it’s a lot of early mornings, dirty days, and hours of work without feeling appreciated. If you think that you are volunteering to be a hero who is showered with appreciation, you will be very disappointed.

As UBELONG emphasizes, a tourist seeks to be served, but a volunteer seeks to serve. But, if you volunteer abroad expecting to give yourself selflessly to a great cause, you will feel a newfound warmth in your heart. If you volunteer abroad in hopes of lending a hand and lightening someone’s burden, you will feel as though you made a difference. If you volunteer abroad to become more a part of a community than a tourist, then you will find your place to call home. Though you may not receive a parade for everything you do, your work is valued. That hug you give to a distraught student, that heavy box of shapes you lifted off of the shelf for the teacher, and the pictures of dogs that you tape on the walls mean more than a few moments of your work. It truly is the little things that make a big impact in your project.

What were your major challenges?
One of my biggest challenges was adjusting to the culture of the classroom. Many of the teachers I worked with were very strict, and I was not used to seeing yelling towards children. After a few days, I realized that the children need to a lot of individual attention that the teachers are not able to give. I made it my mission to give students the extra help and hugs that the teachers did not have time to give.

In a sentence or less, what was your funniest moment?
One of my first grade students came up to me and said “Podemos tomar una foto de caras?”. Directly translated: “Can we take a picture of faces?” – this was her way of asking to take a selfie.

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Related post:
Meet Kaephas Kain, an IT Director from Austin, who volunteered with UBELONG at the caregiving project in Cusco, Peru.