Name: Monica Salazar
Nationality: United States
University: New Mexico State University
Degree: Animal Science Master
Occupation: Teaching Assistant
Languages spoken: English and Spanish (fluent)
Past travel experience: Intermediate
Volunteer Abroad: Assisting at an After-School Center in Delhi, India
Duration: 4 weeks
Start month: May 2015
Claim to fame: Monica volunteered in Belize, working with two veterinarians over the summer of 2011.
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I decided to become a UBELONG Volunteer because I was looking to experience the Indian culture. A mentor recommended I look into UBELONG. Although I am interested in Animal Science, I also very much enjoy teaching. I chose UBELONG over other opportunities because of its affordability and the ability to feel useful and teach something that the students might consider helpful.
What were your major challenges?
The major challenge I experienced was a culture shock. Absolutely everything felt different. From the traffic, to the way people interact, to the food, to what I felt like was a major wealth gap in society. I had trouble understanding how society functioned and the best description of my initial reaction was that Delhi was a curious beauty. I exchanged e-mails with my UBELONG Mentor throughout my experience in India in which she guided my understanding of the country and as a result of the world.
What did you take from your experience?
As a result of my experience and my UBELONG mentor’s guidance throughout it, I took a new way of seeing the world. I took home the kindness of so many, the beauty of the architecture, and friends of a lifetime. An example of the kindness I experienced from a complete stranger was when I was walking into the Agra Fort. A woman noticed my saree was wrapped wrong so she pulled me aside and fixed it. I also became very fond of a woman, Molly, at the NGO I was working at. Molly treated everyone like family and I felt like she tried to understand me and my customs and why things felt different to me and why I was having to try to understand them. I felt like I made an impact at the Gender Resource Center: I could see the students trying, engaging in class. On my last day, one of my students thanked me on behalf of the class for being an inspiration to them. I cannot describe how it felt to hear those words, but I can say volunteering there was a pleasure.
What advice would you tell a future volunteer?
My advice to a future volunteer is to give India a chance. One or two weeks in a single city aren’t enough for you to decide how you feel about an entire country rich in culture. Everything is so different. You need to give yourself a chance to understand even just a little bit before you decide if you like Delhi or India. It took me two weeks to truly start enjoying everything I knew nothing about and it seemed like the feeling was mutual with the other volunteers.