Name: Alejandra De Maar
Hometown: Brownsville, Texas
Nationality: United States
Languages spoken: English, Spanish
University: The University of Texas at San Antonio
Volunteer Abroad: Advancing Women Rights in Rabat, Morocco
Duration: 4 weeks
Start month: May 2018
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I was looking for something to do this summer that was more than a traditional internship or a traditional study abroad trip. I heard about UBELONG from a friend who did a teaching project in South Africa, and it sounded like an incredible and unique experience. Also, I’m trying to visit 30 countries before I turn 30, and I thought this would be a good chance to cross one off my list while doing something more meaningful than just traveling.
What impact did you make on your volunteer project?
The bulk of what I did in my volunteer placement was translate letters, monthly activity reports, budget spreadsheets and other documents from French to English and Spanish so my organization could communicate with embassies, other NGOs, and our American and Canadian partners. I helped my boss ensure that our NGO would continue to receive its funding from the University of Maryland by revising all his English communications with the head of the Gibran Chair for Values and Peace.
How did you grow personally during your volunteer trip?
Ultimately, the career field in which I want to work will require me to travel and work with people who speak different languages. This was the first trip I have ever been on without my family and the first volunteer/internship trip I have ever done that wasn’t through a school program, so it was like a litmus test for me to decide if my chosen path is a viable one. Managing to thoroughly enjoy myself both at my volunteer placement and in my free time for a month in a country where I speak neither of the two official languages proved to me that I am capable of succeeding in working in international human rights.
This trip gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to connect with people from other countries despite language barriers and cultural differences and to navigate parts of the world whose languages I do not speak. I made great friends with other volunteers, with my host family, and with the students from Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa who also worked at my volunteer placement.
It was also a humbling experience. Living in the United States, we are taught that the rest of the world depends almost entirely on us and it can give you a false sense of superiority. I have never been a very patriotic person, but I think I also fell victim to that idea, at least in part. Once you leave the US, you quickly realize how little the rest of the world thinks of us and it gives you a much more global perspective. I think this trip in particular made me see that more clearly than the other trips I’ve taken because I spent my entire time in Morocco living like a local instead of traveling through it like a tourist.
In a sentence or less, how would you sum up your volunteer experience?
My experience in Morocco made me realize that the world is a lot smaller and a lot kinder place than I thought before.