Name: Dario Potter
Hometown: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Nationality: United States and Italy
University: University of Michigan
Degree: Aerospace Engineering
Languages spoken: English, Italian (advanced) and Spanish (intermediate)
Past travel experience: Avid
Volunteer abroad: Assisting at a Sports Center in Cusco, Peru
Duration: 6 weeks
Start month: July 2016
Claim to fame: Three summers ago, Dario volunteered at an archaeological site in Rome where he came together with people from different backgrounds to work together on the same project. Initially, the eight hour work days under the beating sun and the language barrier with other volunteers from around the world made the project exhausting. The physical labor and the heat didn’t become any easier to deal with, but Dario was always willing to work more if it meant making progress for the team. A perfect example of what volunteering is about!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
My decision to become a UBELONG Volunteer was fueled by the hopes of experiencing a new culture while connecting and giving back to the community. UBELONG goes beyond travelling as it allows you to interact closely with people who live in the city and truly experience the culture. Cusco is a unique city in the world, rich with history and culture, and filled with the warm locals that maintain the city’s charm. Personally, I worked in a local school as a Gym teacher with elementary school children. Although proficiency with Spanish proved to be essential toward communication, other teachers, students, and their parents were excited both to learn about your culture and teach you about their own. In school, there was constant exposure to the patriotism, respect, and traditions that have been passed down through generations, manifesting itself through the numerous celebrations, rallies, and marches that occurred on a weekly basis. Experiencing a culture in this way is not possible without close interactions made possible because of UBELONG.
What was your impact on your volunteer project?
My impact on my volunteer project was helping to teach younger students the importance of lessons learned in the classroom. Especially with younger students, gym class accentuates both physical and personal development. Through fun activities, the kids also learn how to be stronger and more coordinated, as well as how to listen to directions and follow the rules. By bringing energy and enthusiasm to class, the kids were excited to come play every day and work towards their goals. As a teacher, seeing kids practice and improve week by week makes me confident that they learn larger lessons about how important sport is to their personal development.
What were your major challenges?
The largest challenges associated with teaching were the language barrier and maintaining order with a large group of young students. In Cusco Region, Quechua is still the dominant language outside of larger cities. Although almost all inhabitants now speak Spanish, many students coming from families who recently moved to the cities still learn Spanish as a second language. Upon arrival, I had not spoken any Spanish in two years, making the transition slightly rocky from a communication standpoint. Understanding the requests of teachers and administrators proved to be less than trivial, and speaking with students with Quechua as their first language was very difficult. However, as time went on, both students and myself adapted to the language barrier and were able to communicate thoughts and ideas that could contribute to our activities. Naturally, this helped the classroom to run smoother, but maintaining control of a elementary school gym class will always be a major challenge. However, this type of challenge can be expected anywhere in the world, so the most important thing is to still have as much fun with class as your students are!
What is your favorite memory?
UBELONG is a special program because outside of one’s placement, volunteers have freedom to explore the region however they like. Nearby Cusco, there is so much to see and do that it’s impossible to go everywhere, but by living with a large group volunteers it’s easy to find other similar interests. Personally, I spent my favorite memory from the trip was backpacking along the Salkantay route, a 40 mile stretch connecting the nearby city of Mollepata to the Hydroelectric plant at the base of Machu Picchu. The scenery was beautiful, the wonder of the world had its charm, and passing through the small villages along the way was a unique experience. From trying local dishes, to staying up past dinner to talk with people living in the village, to exploring the coffee production of the region, the experience was unforgettable.