Name: Michael Olan
Hometown: Missouri City, Texas
Nationality: United States
University: The University of Texas at Austin
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (beginner)
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Caring for Disadvantaged Youth in Cartago, Costa Rica
Duration: 10 weeks
Start month: July 2017
Claim to fame: At the age of ten, Michael began volunteering in various organizations from Meals on Wheels, to the Houston Humane Society. Wonderful work, welcome to UBELONG, Michael 🙂
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I decided to become an UBELONG Volunteer for the very reason you’d hope… I wanted to make an impact. A few years prior to my experience, I finished my undergraduate with a degree in psychology, however I did not feel I was able to use it immediately after school. With my heart set on alleviating people from their suffering I applied to UBELONG as they promised to put me in a position that directly correlated with my future goals, and they didn’t disappoint.
What did you find most rewarding from you volunteer experience?
The most rewarding part of my experience was being able to not only just see a culture and a country that was so much different than my own, and believe me it was, but also to work with a population that was and still is drastically underserved, and to really feel I improved their affect and outlook.
In our day-to-day lives, it’s easy to lose sight of how much we have. However, after working with a population so different to that which I was accustomed, and seeing the kids I worked with smile and cheer every morning upon my arrival, I realized that it isn’t what you have, or where you are, but how you appreciate those things that makes all the difference.
What three pieces of advice would you give to a future UBELONG Volunteer?
1) My first piece of advice is quite simple… relax. You are not going to know everything that is going to happen ahead of time, and that’s okay. Trust me it is a much more rewarding and interesting experience to just go with the flow. That’s not to say you shouldn’t plan. You absolutely should when you can. But you are in a different country, a different culture, and chances are, working in a world that is very different from your own. The best thing you can do for yourself, as well as the project is to just stay present and enjoy every moment.
2) It is also important to trust and rely on your UBELONG Team. In my case, my team (Alberto, Vilma and Diego) became like a second family for me, and that is because one, they let me know they had my back, and two, because I made the effort as well to forge a relationship. Like I said… you’re in a new country… so get to know your new friends, they don’t bite.
3) Lastly, I’d say you should set objectives, while being willing to be flexible. It’s really important that you know exactly why you’re going to this country. If you’re going to just travel primarily and volunteer on the “side,” then you’re probably not going on the right trip… However, if you have real goals in mind, those can be a guiding force that will really help you and your project progress and change together. This trip is a chance to make an impact and have fun, so enjoy it with the right mindset.
In a sentence or less, what is your best packing advice.
My best advice for packing is really pay attention to that UBELONG pre-trip list, but keep in mind… if you bring a lot… you’re probably coming home with more, so don’t over do it.