“I felt I was part of the community.”


UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Hadleigh Rhodes
Age: 21
Hometown: Fairfax, Virginia
Nationality: United States
University: University of Colorado
Degree: Education
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (intermediate) and American Sign Language (advanced)
Past travel experience: Newbie
Volunteer Abroad: Kindergarten Teaching in Cusco, Peru
Duration: 10 weeks
Start month: June 2015
Claim to fame: Hadleigh is fluent in ASL (American Sign Language). UBELONGers are a cut above!

Why did you decide to become a UBELONG volunteer?
Looking back on my journey with UBELONG, I instantly knew that I wanted to make something out of my summer. I had met a friend of a friend who had volunteered with UBELONG for a whole year before going to college and it changed her life. 2015 wasn’t the best year for me, and I wanted to step out of my comfort zone completely. I wanted to be unsure and curious of what my next adventure would be. Teaching has always been a passion of mine, and I wanted to use the skills that I had required from other experiences and put them into action. I was looking for an authentic opportunity to get to know the locals, talk with my students and their families, and create forever friendships.

What was your impact on your volunteer project?
Teaching kindergarten in Peru was the best decision for me. I loved the excitement of showing up to my project and not knowing exactly what I would do. Learning to go with the flow and being able to “hang” with any situation really helped me as a person. I became super close with the teachers I worked with, as well as the kids and their families. I felt a part of their community, and felt completely valued. I believe I taught my students that living with gratitude and being kind to one another is the most important thing. Towards the end of my time in Cuzco, I taught the children various lessons in English. It was so exciting to hear them fearlessly speak a foreign language with complete confidence and joy. It brought tears to my eyes.

What were your major challenges?
One of the biggest challenges for me was embracing that fact that my Spanish was not proficient. For about a week and a half people would speak to me fast and as if I could totally understand them. I should have done more studying before hand, and I suggest that for any upcoming UBELONGers! I definitely did a lot of smiling and head nodding until I felt comfortable to speak back. After two weeks though, my Spanish had improved dramatically and it was funny to think back to where I had felt so uncomfortable and out of my comfort zone.

What is your favorite memory?
My favorite memory was on the first day of my project. I stepped onto my project site and immediately was handed a child who had had an accident in his pants, and the teacher wanted me to help change him, which really wasn’t that big of a deal, but then she proceeded to ask me to put his wet clothes on the thin metal roof with a broom. Getting up there on a ladder in front of the whole Kindergarten class was quite the way to bond and introduce myself!

One of my other favorite memories was my last night in Cuzco. The famous fountain in the center of Plaza de Armas had been covered for Inti Raymi, and on my last night they uncovered the fountain and turned it on, it was amazing. I then had felt as if Cuzco was sending me off the right way, after such an amazing life changing trip. I then went to karaoke with my teachers and their families and sang the night away. It was the perfect way to end my trip.

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Meet Jessica Lee, an Institute of Design in Chicago Masters student, volunteered with UBELONG at the Social Entrepreneurship project in Hanoi, Vietnam.