Name: Alexis Karayanis
Hometown: Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania
Nationality: United States
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (intermediate), Japanese (beginner)
University: Penn State Scranton
Volunteer Abroad: Caring for Disadvantaged Youth in Cartago, Costa Rica
Duration: 2 weeks
Start month: June 2018
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I was randomly searching up things to do with my summer online one day, when I came across volunteering internationally. I had heard about it before but never really gave it much thought. I started to do as much research as I could about it, and the more I found out, the more intrigued I got. I found a couple different volunteer organizations, but UBELONG really stood out to me because of their great reputation, affordable program cost, and they had the type of program that caught my attention the most, which was working with disadvantaged children. I wanted to do something worthwhile with my summer. I didn’t just want to travel to another country as a tourist, but instead make an impact in some way. That is why I chose to volunteer.
What impact did you make on your volunteer project?
In my humble two weeks in Costa Rica, I know that my impact was nothing on a grand scale. I simply arrived to the soup kitchen five days a week, from 8:30 am to 12:00 pm, and helped with cooking the meals, cleaning, and of course, playing with the children. The children who came to the soup kitchen for meals did so because their families could not afford to feed them at home. We had the responsibility of making sure they were fed breakfast and lunch. The children would come before and after school, so it was very important that they had some nutrition in them so they could focus and do well in class.
Some of the children were a bit shy, so I would always urge them to play with the others. I was always very kind and tried to set a good example. Many adults do not realize how much kids look up to them and model their behavior. I hope that I was able to be a good role model for those kids and that they grow up to be happy, healthy, successful adults (and maybe future UBELONG Volunteers?) I may have not changed the world, but I believe I made a difference in the city of Cartago, and in all of those children’s and their family’s lives. As they say, even a small amount of change can make a big difference, and I believe that kindness and generosity spread.
How did you grow personally during your volunteer trip?
I could write pages on how much I grew and changed as a person in those short two weeks, and as time goes on, I am realizing more new ways in which I have changed. It was my first time travelling outside of the country, not to mention the fact that I travelled all by myself. It was possibly the most daring, independent thing I have ever done. And the result was greater than I ever could have hoped. It was eye opening to be fully immersed in a different country, culture, and language. But the people that I met were what changed me the most.
The three women that ran the soup kitchen became dear friends to me. They were the kindest, most generous, and happiest women that I have ever met. I’ve never seen anyone so happy all the time. I also became friends with one of the mothers who brought her three kids to the soup kitchen, and once again, was stunned by her kindness and generosity. Just like those women, and all the other friends that I made while I was there, I want to be more kind and give more, in every way that I can.
Since coming back home to the United States, I feel happier. I feel like a better person. I’m more patient and take my time to enjoy the little things in life. I see children and I wonder if they are being taken care of properly, and think about what I can do to help more. I feel more confident than I’ve ever been and love myself more than I ever have. I realize that there is so much to see and experience in this world, and that I have the power to do things that I never thought possible.
In a sentence or less, how would you sum up your volunteer experience?
The beaches in Costa Rica are gorgeous, and I could eat their food until the day I die, but the people I met and grew to love are the reason my trip was so unforgettable, and why I will definitely be coming back.