Name: Rachel Klas
Nationality: United States
University: University of Oregon
Degree: Human Physiology
Languages spoken: English and Spanish (beginner)
Past travel experience: Avid
Volunteer Abroad: Forest Conservation and Sustainable Farming in the Galapagos, Ecuador
Duration: 4 weeks
Start month: August 2014
Claim to fame: While in college, Rachel spent a week in New Orleans where she worked with her classmates as part of a Habitat for Humanity / AmeriCorps program to rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Way to go Rachel!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I decided to become a UBELONG Volunteer for three main reasons. 1) I love to volunteer! I have been an active volunteer since high school at a local elementary school–Sierra School–in my hometown of Placerville, California. I also went on a service trip in 2010 to New Orleans, Louisiana where I worked with Habitat for Humanity to rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. For the past couple of years, I have been interested in taking my volunteer work to the next level by working with an organization, like the Peace Corps, to volunteer abroad. 2) I am a college senior and I had not gotten the chance to go abroad on my own before this trip. As a science major, studying abroad is a hard task to accomplish. Plus, I wanted to do something other than study while abroad. And 3) after researching UBELONG, I decided that it was a perfect fit for me. It gave me a chance to do volunteer work abroad, but unlike the Peace Corps, it gave me the power to choose where I was going and the length of time I would spend volunteering. It also gave me an opportunity to volunteer abroad instead of study abroad. It was a way for me to do something for the greater good, and a way to discover a part of the world I had never been to and always wanted to visit.
What is your favorite memory?
My favorite memories are when all of the volunteers and the local workers would sit around the table for hours after dinner and play cards. Throughout my month on San Cristobal, there were native Ecuadorians, Americans, Germans, British, an Australian, a Spaniard, and an Italian all living at the station and playing card games together at the dinner table. Not only was it an amazing experience to meet and work with people from all over the world, but it also made the world seem a little less daunting and more relatable. I remember sitting back and soaking up the scenery at one point. I found it incredible that people from 7 different countries all decided to travel to the Galapagos, work at this foundation, and relate to each other by doing something as trivia as playing a card game. In that moment I felt connected to the world in a different way than I ever had before.
Tell me about somebody you met who impressed you?
One of the local workers I met made a lasting impact on my life. Maximillan was kind-hearted and full of life. He always had a smile on his face and did everything he could to make the volunteers laugh. He spoke Kichwa–the native language of Ecuador–and Spanish. However, a lot of volunteers spoke English so Max made it his mission to learn English. A few friends I made at the station–Dalton, Mary Rose, and Avery–and I did our best to help Max learn. We would quiz him on easy things like colors and numbers while working during the day and help him with more complex tasks after dinner. Helping Max learn English also helped me become confident in my ability to speak Spanish.
Max also taught all the volunteers about the culture of the Galapagos, and Ecuador in general. The main topic he always stressed was the importance of family. He told us about his familial traditions and asked everyone about theirs. He told me that he considers all of the volunteers that he has worked with to be a part of his family and that we will be in his forever.
In a sentence or less, how would you describe local life?
The people of San Cristobal live life to it’s fullest potential, are welcoming to all newcomers, and have an undeniable love for their island and all of its unique nature.