“You are traveling away from home for a reason, try new things!”


UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Tina Secora
Age: 20
Hometown: De Pere, Wisconsin
Nationality: United States
University: University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Degree: Psychology
Languages spoken: English and Spanish (intermediate)
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Caring for Disadvantaged Youth in Cartago, Costa Rica
Duration: 5 weeks
Start month: June 2015
Claim to fame: Tina is very active on campus, and back home in the United States she has even volunteered with the American Cancer Society. Tina was a joy to have on our projects, and we’re thankful for her hard-work, talent and kindness. Thanks Tina, we’re thrilled to have you in the UBELONG Family!

Why did you become a UBELONG Volunteer?
My decision to become a UBELONG volunteer was a pretty random one. I was originally planning to go to England with my school. A few months before I was scheduled to go, the trip got cancelled. I still really wanted to travel out of the country but I wasn’t sure what to do or where to go. My cousin mentioned that she was going through UBELONG and it got me curious. UBELONG has great ratings, and many different countries to go to. Because of all of the great things everyone said, I thought why not? I do not regret my decision!

What is your favorite memory?
My favorite memory was one from the orphanage I worked at. There are around 20 kids at this home, and most of them take a while to warm up to you. It almost seems as if they are testing you to see how long you will be staying. There was one particular girl who I thought really didn’t like me, I tried everything! She wouldn’t let me play with her, or push her on the swings, or anything. Then after a few days, for the first time, she let me push her on the swings! It was a really great moment for me because I felt like I was doing something important. I knew it was probably difficult for these kids to see volunteers come and go all of the time, and it was magical to see how they warmed up to me. This was when I started to feel like I was really making a difference. I could see that these kids just really wanted and needed attention, and it was so great to be able to give it to them. Every day the kids got better and better and I knew that they appreciated me being there.

What did you take from this experience?
There are so many things that I have taken away from this exhilarating experience. I learned to appreciate different ways of living. Because of the fact that I haven’t traveled outside of the country aside from family vacations, I had no idea what I was going into. I ended up getting a great family and having a wonderful experience. I realized that different doesn’t always mean worse! Being from the United States, I always thought other countries were living in worse conditions than me. This was definitely not the case. Cartago was beautiful, and a fantastic place to spend my five weeks in Costa Rica. I now have a little bit more knowledge of what life is like outside of the US. It was fun to take the bus every day, because at home I drive everywhere! I got to just walk around the city which was also something I don’t get to do at home. It was great to see just how much people in Costa Rica enjoy life. The people that I met were so upbeat and positive that it made me understand why everyone says “Pura Vida”!

What would you tell a future volunteer?
I would tell a future volunteer to embrace the differences. You are traveling away from home for a reason, try new things! In the beginning I was so nervous, I wanted to find everything that I could that was similar to what I did back at home. I wanted to be back in my comfort zone. Once I got more comfortable, though, I realized that to have the full experience I really needed to branch out. I tried whatever food my host family gave me, no matter how terrifying it looked. I went places that I never would have thought to go. Doing these new things that I would never think to do at home were what made my trip extremely memorable. The main thing is just to welcome new experiences and go with the flow.

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Related post:
Meet Katie, a University of Alabama undergrad, who volunteered with UBELONG in Cartago, Costa Rica at an elderly center.