“These three months in Merida were honestly the best three months for me.”


UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Sam Chen
Age: 18
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada
Nationality: United States and Taiwan
University: UnCollege
Languages spoken: Mandarin and English, Spanish (beginner)
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer abroad: Urban Reforestation in Merida, Mexico
Duration: 10 weeks
Start month: October 2016
Claim to fame: Sam loves traveling and volunteering! Over the past three years he traveled to numerous places such as Myanmar, Costa Rica, Honk Kong and China.

Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
There are a few reasons on why I joined UBELONG community. One of the main reason is that I am currently in gap year program called UNCOLLEGE, and one of the five voyage destination is Mexico, where they work with UBELONG. I had the choice of going to Indonesia, India, Brazil, Tanzania or Mexico, and the fact that I will get to work with UBELONG in Mexico heavily affected my final decision, because I believed that in UBELONG I will get to meet new interesting people, have new experiences, and most importantly, make real impact.

What was your impact on your volunteer project?
While I was in Merida, I volunteered at the Urban Reforestation project. For the project we worked at a nursery at a park in the south, where we helped to grow the nursery. The south of Merida is the poor part of the city, whereas the central and north are the wealthier area. Since the area is a rough area, the par plays the role as the “safe place” for the residence. In the nursery, we grow plants to put out in the park, as well as giving them to residences. I think that the biggest impact we made is creating a community. While we’re working, we see kids coming here and play football with friends; some come and just hang out with friends, and others come on Saturday to learn more about growing plants. I believe what UBELONG do here is very helpful and appreciated by the community.

What were your major challenges?
I have encounter a few major challenges while I was volunteering. One of them is breaking the barrier between me and the locals. When I first arrived, I have this wall between me and the local, and it took me sometime for me to take it down and start really enjoying the surrounding. Another challenges I’ve faced is getting used to the job I need to do in the project. At the beginning I didn’t like the repetitive task such as changing plants. However, after I took down the barrier I began to see the value of my work and started liking it.

What is your favorite memory?
It is quite hard for me to pick one favorite moment, since the three months in Merida was honestly the best three months for me so far. I’ve met new people, who I am still in touch with and planning on visiting them one by one. I had experience that I probably would have never done. I went to Chichén Itzá, jumped from a high cliff into a cenote, talk to random strangers trying to learn Spanish, and I even traveled around with some volunteers around after my project has ended. The best memory however, is when I see all the plants that we have changed, the seeds that I have planted, and the smile on the kids face.

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