Name: Shellee Peck
Hometown: Ephrata, Pennsylvania
Nationality: United States
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (beginner)
Past travel experience: Avid
Volunteer Abroad: Caring for Children with Disabilities in Hanoi, Vietnam
Duration: 4 weeks
Start month: October 2017
Claim to fame: Shellee is a second time UBELONG Volunteer, having first traveled to Vietnam with us in 2015. Wonderful to have you back on board, Shellee!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I wanted to contribute to people in a meaningful way while experiencing the culture up close. The United States has had a complicated relationship with Vietnam and I felt compelled to understand the people of Vietnam instead of just accepting what I may have read.
What did you find most rewarding from you volunteer experience?
My entire experience was life changing, even at 53. The culture is vibrant and getting lost in the streets of the Old Quarter was always an enriching experience. My experiences with the children and the teachers at my projects were amazing! Previously I was concerned about communication with the teacher and the students when I did not speak Vietnamese and they spoke little to no English. I learned to communicate beyond words. The children loved my singing and the individual attention that I was able to provide to them. They knew that they mattered to me and that was so incredible! I also learned to follow along with the teacher while she instructed in Vietnamese, and then I repeated the instructions with the student I was working with. It worked out quite well.
Another very rewarding part of my experience was living in the Volunteer House. I absolutely loved the community feeling in the house. Spending time with other volunteers from all over the world was personally enriching. I thoroughly enjoyed traveling on weekends with fellow volunteers and exploring the vibrant and bustling city of Hanoi. I learned to be fearless in crossing the street in Hanoi, which now carries over into my life at home.
What three pieces of advice would you give to a future UBELONG Volunteer?
1) Go with an open mind and an open heart. Expect that you will be changed by your experience. Embrace the cultural celebrations. I was fortunate to be in Hanoi during The Full Moon Festival and it provided a window into Vietnamese Culture.
2) Use your time on days off and weekends to explore the country you are volunteering in. Talk to people while you are out there exploring. My conversations with travellers were personally enriching and life expanding.
3) Understand that everything is likely very different in your host country than it is at home. Lean into the challenge of adjusting and thriving in your host country. The pay off will be a fantastic experience!
In a sentence or less, what is your best packing advice?
Packing? I would say to pack what you think that you absolutely need, and then remove half of it. Remember that you can purchase clothing items in your host country, which supports the local economy, and whatever you bring with you must haul with you. And, I feel that it is a good idea to bring one “comfort” item from home, for the occasional days when you may be missing your friends and family.