Name: Gabe Hendin
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Nationality: United States
Languages spoken: English, Hebrew (advanced), Spanish (intermediate), Arabic (beginner)
Occupation: Marketing Specialist at Foley And Lardner LLP
Past travel experience: Avid
Volunteer Abroad: Advancing Community Rights in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Duration: 16 weeks
Start month: April 2016
Claim to fame: Gabe studied abroad on a one-year, travel-intensive program in ten countries (including India and Morocco) that sparked within him a love of the world. Great job Gabe, we love to have you in the UBELONG Family!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I took a gap year before going to college, in which I studied abroad on a travel-intensive program centered on the theme of coexistence. It was during this year of travel to ten countries that I fell in love with the world and simultaneously became fascinated by both its beauties and misfortunes. I have always been interested in international development and was ready to finally get my hands dirty and directly assist a developing country with its growth. I became a UBELONG Volunteer to help Cambodia shed its tragic past and work towards a brighter, sustainable future of freedom, equality, and economic security.
What did you find most rewarding from you volunteer experience?
The most rewarding part of my volunteer experience actually occurred on my final workday at the NGO I was working at. The NGO threw me a going away party and I sat around our conference table covered with delicious food as my new friends and I shared stories and expressed our gratitude towards one another. During four months of report writing and grant applications, it is easy to slip into a routine, develop a familiarity and comfort level with one’s work, and forget how impactful the contributions actually can be. I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to work for this NGO and am so happy to know that I was able to effectively assist and strengthen the organization.
In addition, I highly value the perspective I gained while in Cambodia. Before volunteering, I knew I had so much for which I should be grateful. But nothing can teach a true appreciation for these gifts as much as when they are taken away. For instance, it only took a few hours of sweltering heat and smothering humidity for me to miss the luxuries of air conditioning and potable tap water. With that said, I tried to constantly remind myself that my living conditions in Phnom Penh were extremely comfortable compared to those experienced daily by the vast majority of Cambodians. I believe it is vital to live, even if only in some degree, in someone else’s shoes. As a result, I now have a better understanding of the poverty that lingers in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge. From the temples of Angkor Wat to the rebirth of culture in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian story, while heart-rending at times, is a beautiful one, and must be told.
What three pieces of advice would you give to a future UBELONG Volunteer?
1. Bring no expectations. Cambodia (as well as numerous other countries in the developing world) does not operate with the same sense of fast-paced efficiency to which we in the Western world are often accustomed. It was very helpful for me to simply take each day as it came and not to view my daily interactions through a Western lens of strict time management. Try to adapt to the local lifestyle and pace of life.
2. Be relaxed and ready to roll with the flow. There will undoubtedly be stressful situations in which you may feel your patience slipping. Do your best to breathe and exude positivity. In these moments, it is important to save your own face, as well as to maintain respect for others. Remember that a smile can go a long way.
3. Carpe diem. Time flies while you are abroad, so take advantage of this amazing opportunity. It is easy and comfortable to sit around the volunteer house with people who speak the same language as you, but I highly encourage volunteers to take to the streets and engage with the locals. You just might learn something, have a new experience, or gain a new perspective.