“These challenges forced me to be flexible, adaptive and creative.”


UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Romina Potter
Age: 20
Hometown: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Nationality: United States and Italy
University: University of Michigan
Degree: Psychology
Languages spoken: English, Italian (advanced) and Spanish (intermediate)
Past travel experience: Avid
Volunteer Abroad: Teaching English in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Duration: 4 weeks
Start month: May 2016
Claim to fame: In 2012 and 2013, Romina volunteered at an archaeological site in the center of Rome, Italy. She helped dig soil under the scorching Roman sun to find, clean and classify ancient artifacts. Great job Romina!

Why did you decide to volunteer with UBELONG again?
I wanted to learn more about myself and the world in a very foreign country. I have traveled extensively but hadn’t been to Asia yet, so it was easy for me to choose Cambodia, a country that I learned a lot about in middle school, and had already started planning this second UBELONG trip when I got back from Merida, Mexico last year. I had a month before my internship started at home this summer and I wanted to make the most of my time in a meaningful way. I enjoyed the opportunity to work with the local population in Mexico and volunteer my time in a way that could help others, so I was happy to do it again in Cambodia. However, this wouldn’t have happened if UBELONG wasn’t as supportive, extensive, affordable, and flexible as they are with their programs.

What were your major challenges?
I struggled keeping up with my student’s energy level. It was sometimes hard to interact with them when they couldn’t focus because of all their energy and it was hard to be patient and smile when it got to be too much. There was one day where another volunteer and I tried leading an afternoon class but no one would sit down, write or be quiet. We resorted to playing a game to control the chaos but the games got too chaotic too. The staff let us send the kids home early but I felt that meant we didn’t do a good job. But these things happen once in a while. Having patience was was a big challenge as well–not that I wasn’t patient–I just realized it was an essential characteristic to overcome challenges. I think that incorporates how I felt with the language barrier when I couldn’t communicate instructions clearly or when I couldn’t keep order in the classroom. Having patience in the situations meant being emphatic to my class and staying calm. It meant carefully planning lessons and activities but being open to change. These challenges forced me to be flexible, adaptive and creative.

What is your favorite memory?
My favorite memory was when I first played the Macarena and Cha Cha Slide from my speakers at the end of the day. It was embarrassing at first because the kids just watched as the other volunteer and I tried to show them the dances, but as they started to mimic us, they loved it. My students loved the organized dances and it was so fun to watch them laugh and really get into it. We once played the Macarena for 10 minutes straight they were having so much fun too and they kept asking me to repeat the songs! It felt like a special moment because we shared something from home with them and they’ll remember it.

What did you take from the experience?
After planning and conducting all the lessons myself, I have a whole new appreciation for teachers. I was exhausted at the end of the day and always wondered how I was going to approach the following day with the energy and enthusiasm I knew I needed to be the best teacher for my students. The time, passion and patience that a good teacher puts into their work is something I never truly appreciated in the past. In addition, the family and staff that ran the school were so incredibly kind and generous, and I will never forget how it felt to be so appreciated by them as well.

Related post:
Read Romina’s first UBELONG Volunteer Interview after she worked at the Teaching English project in Merida, Mexico.