“The community itself looks at you differently.”


UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Morgan Fitzgerald
Age: 19
Hometown: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Nationality: United States
University: University of Michigan
Degree: International Studies, Concentration In Global Health And The Environment, Regional Concentration In Spanish Speaking Areas
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (intermediate), and Hindi (beginner)
Past travel experience: Newbie
Volunteer Abroad: Caring for Orphans in Cusco, Peru
Duration: 3 weeks
Start month: May 2016
Claim to fame: Morgan was awarded a fellowship to do research in India, the first place she traveled to by herself. Learning to communicate non-verbally until she taught herself a bit of Hindi, learning to properly use (and clean) a squat toilet, learning which foods would make me throw up in the morning, and learning whom I could and could not trust as a single woman traveling alone were all incredibly important lessons for Morgan. A true UBELONGer!

Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I decided to become a UBELONG Volunteer because I wanted to (1) help anyone in any way I could and (2) experience working and living in a community completely different from my own. I knew that by working in a different place, I would get an experience completely different than simply vacationing. By volunteering, I knew I would make irreplaceable connections with the people both in the program and in the community, and live an experience I would never forget and would always want to recreate over and over.

What is your favorite memory?
One day, some of the boys from the orphanage were tugging on my hair and one of my earrings must have fallen out because of it, unbeknownst to me. One of the boys was crafting earrings in order to make some extra money, and I used to make jewelry in high-school, so I knew a thing or two! I taught him a few things, and, suddenly, he noticed that my earring was missing and asked what happened. When I explained it was lost somewhere in the grass, he frowned a little and kept making jewelry. The next week I saw him, and he pointed at a single earring on his platter. He had made me a new earring to replace my old one, physically molding it behind my ear to look like the other stud earrings I had! It was a seemingly small act, but, knowing the little materials he had and the little time as well, it was one that touched me an obscene amount. Moments like those are the reasons I did this program.

What did you take from the experience?
It is amazing to volunteer in a different place: you get a different experience of the community, the community itself looks at you differently (rather than as simply a tourist), and you make lasting connections to the people and place. The place you volunteer in truly becomes home. I’ve also realized, despite some cultural differences, we are all more alike than different. Language may not cross boundaries, but human connection, love, and caring always does.

How would you describe the locals you met?
So kind! Within the first two weeks of being in Cusco, my backpack was stolen during dinner. And even though that sucked, the amount of people — both locals and other UBELONG volunteers that I had just met — that stuck with me and helped throughout the entire process of trying to find my backpack were so incredibly helpful and kind and all other amazing and fantastic words that I can insert here. This continued to be true my entire trip: everyone was so curious about where I have been, what I was doing here, and where I was going. I created multiple beautiful connections that I hope to keep for the rest of my life.

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Related post:
Meet Quinn Parker, a Princeton University undergrad, who volunteered with UBELONG on the education project in Cusco, Peru.