Name: Akali Barnes
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada
Nationality: United States
University: University of Washington
Degree: Medical Anthropology & Global Health
Languages spoken: English, Japanese (fluent)
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Assisting Community Development Organizations in Hanoi, Vietnam
Duration: 12 weeks
Start month: April 2017
Claim to fame: In the fall of 2015, Akali traveled to New Zealand on a study abroad experience from her University’s Nursing department. The program’s main focus was on the health disparities between the Maori population and the European population in New Zealand. Wonderful to have you on board 🙂
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I chose UBELONG because they offered a variety of projects in different locations throughout the world. After reading most of the reviews by past UBELONGers, I felt it was right to become one myself. I have traveled abroad before but never have I traveled to volunteer. The UBELONG organization seemed to have a reputation for making volunteers comfortable even though they are away from home. I am very thankful for that. In the end, I have wonderful memories with me.
What was your impact on your volunteer project?
I went to Hanoi to volunteer in a local NGO. As a foreigner, I believe the biggest impact was culture exchange of ideas when setting up projects. The staff were always happy to be able to practice their English skills with me and other volunteers. It was a great feeling to be able to help them improve their English. My advisor in the organization would read from a book about the environment and she had a hard time saying the word “results,” it took almost 2 months but she can finally say it now (I hope)! I almost cried tears of joy!
What were your major challenges?
Major challenge would definitely be the language barrier. My Vietnamese was very limited so I blame myself for that. But it did allow some pretty funny experiences throughout my 3 months in Vietnam to occur. It was like playing the game of charades everywhere I went!
Some volunteers in the house also did not speak English as well. For many, it was their second language. The only way to solve this was to be patient and to get to know them better by using google translate and also learning their language (little by little).
In a sentence or less, how would you describe the locals you met?
I am very thankful for the opportunity to have meet them. They were always smiling; it was very contagious!