“I learned more about myself than I thought I could.”


UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Marissa Miller
Age: 19
Hometown: Jefferson, Wisconsin
Nationality: United States
University: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Degree: International Studies/Global Security
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (beginner) and Chinese (beginner)
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Caring for Disadvantaged Youth in Cartago, Costa Rica
Duration: 2 weeks
Start month: May 2016
Claim to fame: Marissa is very active on campus, and she comes from a long line of terrific UBELONG Volunteers who are students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Thank you Marissa for your incredible service, and Go Badgers!

Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
Deciding to be a UBELONG Volunteer was probably the most spontaneous decision I’ve ever made in my life. That being said, it was also one of the best decisions. I was searching the Internet for ways to spend my summer when I came across the UBELONG website. I was looking for the opportunity to do volunteer work, but constantly got caught up in voluntourism projects that were way out of my budget. What stood out about UBELONG was the pure, cultural immersion of the programs. With so many options of countries and programs, I immediately found some I knew I could connect with and really be of service to. So, I applied to be a volunteer.

What is your favorite memory?
My favorite memory was watching the students prepare a dance routine over the couple weeks I was there and getting to perform it for their family and friends. They had worked so hard at perfecting it, and the morning of the performance we helped them put on their traditional dress and make-up. Of course this was followed by pictures and strutting through the hallway as they showed off the fancy clothing, which only added to the fun as you can imagine! The smiles on their faces as they performed was priceless, and it was definitely a day I’ll never forget.

What did you take from the experience?
The adults we worked with may have been mentally disabled, but they were so much more than that. Their personalities are really what define them and getting up in the morning has never been easier when I know such happy and caring individuals are waiting to see me. Between volunteering at a local NGO and returning home to my host family, there was never a dull moment. Going to volunteer in Costa Rica was a very last-minute decision and one I was not certain of at first, but I learned more about myself than I thought I could. Being fully immersed in the culture and being accepted (even though I knew minimal Spanish!) by every person there made me feel as though I was not thousands of miles from home. Before then, the one small town in Wisconsin where I grew up was my definition of home, but I now realize I could also feel at home in other cities, even countries. Experiencing a new culture and way of living was eye-opening, but living and working in a different country showed me how beautiful the world truly is.

In a sentence or less, how would you describe the locals you met?
The locals are welcoming and appreciative. Pura vida!

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Related post:
Meet Ali from London, who volunteered with UBELONG at the Caring for the Elderly project in Cartago, Costa Rica.