Name: Amanda Saha
Nationality: United States
University: University of Florida
Degree: Agriculture Communication
Occupation: Director, Career & Academic Enrichment at the University of Kentucky
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (beginner)
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Forest Conservation in Merida, Mexico
Duration: 1 week
Start month: January 2015
Claim to fame: Amanda is a passionate and dedicated leader at the University of Kentucky. She is a big believer in international volunteering and learning, and the success of the UBELONG alternative breaks trip she helped lead to Mexico is testament to her extraordinary capacity. We’re glad to have her in the UBELONG community!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I decided to make a commitment to become a UBELONG Volunteer for reasons that are probably different than most. I have volunteered at several different points in my life. However, the most memorable experience came when I served as an advisor for an alternative spring break trip to Costa Rica earlier in my career. There was something about that place, the students, and the people that has never really left me. I think of it so fondly and so very often that in my new professional role at the University of Kentucky, I wanted to provide the same sort of experience for UK students. We often hear from potential employers that are UK students are glued to their Kentucky roots and don’t want to leave Kentucky.
International travel is a way to push students’ limits and provide them the opportunity to see a world outside of Kentucky. We know that if students are willing to participate in some sort of educational experience abroad, they are more willing to consider moving away for careers and professional schools. Our students needed this and so did I. My motivation was also very personal. It had been years since I had left the country and felt I needed the trip personally and professionally. Serving others abroad is such an eye opening experience. Participating in an immersion experience that allows you to be a part of something big, something impactful, is hard to compete with. UBELONG provided the perfect way to offer this challenge to our students. There is so much good to do in the world, we are just getting started.
What were your major challenges?
Challenges were few for me. Traveling with a group of ten students had its ups and downs but I would do it again and again. I am not a Spanish speaker. That was a particular challenge that I plan on being more proactive to overcome before my next trip to Merida. Even though we only spent 7 days in Merida, adjusting to life after such a rich service experience can be tough. Returning to the US culture focused on time and productivity was a challenge. It was hard to leave that place, and my new friends. I think of them often.
What is your favorite memory?
I am going to have to share two memories. One of my favorite encounters in Mexico, occurred in a walk back to the hostel from our project. It was day two of our service experience. Four students and I were doing our best to hurry back for lunch. A man on the street stopped us and was curious as to where we were going in such a hurry. We spent 2-3 minutes with the man telling him of our purpose and I kept thinking to myself, “we must go, we must go”. We made it back to enjoy lunch and it was then that I contemplated a bit about the opportunity I had missed to engage and learn. In that moment with the man on the street, I was not focused on him or the moment, I was focused more on our next steps for the day. That missed opportunity changed the course of the trip for me. Going forward, I focused more on the people and the place versus the agenda. I remember that man so clearly, his smile and his hospitality. Everything was more vivid from that point on.
On the final day of our service project, the students built a community demonstration garden for Kanan Kab. The students worked so hard in the conception, design, and execution of this effort. From drawing up a plan, to collecting old tires and moving the heaviest logs on the planet to the garden site, to moving countless carts of soil. It was heart-warming to watch the students and hear them explain the concept to our hosts. They were proud of their project and I was so proud of them. That was the day we said good bye to our friend Foster and Adrian as well. It tugged at my heart to see the students taking photos with them and offering hugs. That is when I knew we had accomplished what we had set out to do. For me, the service experience was amazing but watching the transformation in the students was indescribable. I don’t think we could have done that without UBELONG partnership.
In a sentence or less, how would you describe the locals you met?
The locals I met were warm, friendly, and generous.