Name: Rachel Kryska
Hometown: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Nationality: United States
Languages spoken: English, French (advanced), Spanish (beginner)
University: Vanderbilt University
Bachelors: Special Education
Past travel experience: Avid
Volunteer Abroad: Caring for children with disabilities in Cusco, Peru
Duration: 7 weeks
Start month: May 2017
Claim to fame: Rachel is studying special education because she is passionate about helping individuals with disabilities. Being involved in things that she is passionate about means that she wants to be there. Welcome to the UBELONG Family, Rachel!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I decided to become a UBELONG Volunteer because I wanted to spend the summer volunteering. I wanted to do something different than what I have done in the past. I thought that volunteering abroad would be a good way to make a difference and push myself to do something new. In addition, I am studying special education and wanted to see how individuals with disabilities are treated and viewed in other countries. My sister volunteered with UBELONG four or five years ago so I knew that UBELONG was a good organization to volunteer with and would provide the support needed in the field.
What did you find most rewarding from your volunteer experience?
I found the relationships and connections that I made in my projects and the increases I made in my ability to work around language barriers the most rewarding. I was in the caring for children with disabilities project; initially I was in a school for children with disabilities working with elementary aged students with hearing impairments or who were deaf. However, the teachers started striking in Cusco so when the school closed for that I switched to an orphanage for children with disabilities. At the school I had to work around several language barriers since the students only spoke Spanish and sign language, which I only knew a little of at the time. However, I was still able to connect with students through what I did know and through just working with them and helping them. Smiles and gestures and just playing with them during free time helped create connections with the students that I’m not sure could have even been improved by speaking more. In addition, I also connected with the teachers in the classroom during my time helping. We were able to work around the language barrier since she spoke some English and with my limited Spanish. Working in the school around these barriers challenged me but also showed me that communicating through language is only one way to communicate and connect, and that gestures and smiles can be just as powerful.
I also made meaningful connections with the therapist and the kids at the orphanage. I also had to work around language barriers there but it was not quite as daunting since I had worked around them at the school. With the kids at the orphanage just being there to help them and working with them to do their therapy created a lasting connection. I loved seeing their smiles in the morning and when you played with them. These relationships I created throughout my volunteering will stay with me forever, and I have learned even better ways to work around language barriers through my volunteering with UBELONG.
What advice would you give to a future UBELONG Volunteer?
The advice that I would give to future UBELONG Volunteers is that don’t worry, everything is going to work out, and not to be shy. I was nervous to go to another country by myself where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t know what to expect. The first week I was there was a little crazy because of protests but I still got to go to my project and the local team made me feel safe. Even with the craziness of switching projects and going back to the school for a week just to go back to the orphanage because of the strikes I still felt like I was making a difference. I was initially nervous to switch to a new project but once I got there I knew that I was still going to be making a difference and enjoy my time volunteering.
In addition, I went to volunteer without knowing anyone else going which I was nervous about, but when I got there everyone was really nice and welcoming. I made friends with the other volunteers quickly, and realized that a lot of other volunteers also came in not knowing anyone. It is okay and normal to be nervous, but don’t worry too much, everything is going to work out and you will have an amazing time!
Also, don’t be shy! Talk to locals, whether it’s people working at your location or it’s people in stores and restaurants. One of the best ways to learn about another culture is to spend time learning about it from the people who live there. By learning about how other people live and sharing what life is like for you where you live you are helping improve the world as well by creating understanding of other cultures. In addition, talking to the people who work where you are volunteering will help you make life-long connections.