Eugene Ang is a dynamic Georgetown University undergraduate from Singapore. He enjoys complementing his major in International Relations by travelling extensively and learning about different environments and cultures first-hand. Over his summer break, he wanted to contribute to conservation work in the Galápagos and thus joined the Forest Conservation and Sustainable Farming project for three weeks as part of the Volunteer Abroad in the Galápagos.
He proved to be a wonderful UBELONG Volunteer who was eager to contribute, learn and share. We are thrilled to introduce him to you here.
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG volunteer?
I had a very definite aim during the summer break after my first year in college, which was to travel. After all, I was an international student studying in the United States. Hence, living in the United States provided an excellent opportunity for me to travel to places that I would never have considered if I had stayed home. One of the places I had always wanted to visit was the Galápagos Islands, because of my fascination with the theory of evolution and with nature in general.
Nevertheless, I wanted to travel in a different and more engaging way. I figured that instead of simply taking from the place, I could also give back a little too. As such, I began searching for volunteering opportunities to the Galápagos Islands. While UBELONG was not the first organization which I found that offered such volunteering opportunities there, I chose to be a UBELONG Volunteer because I thought that its vision, mission and principles were the most aligned with the act of volunteering—to help others. A number of volunteer organizations that I found online seemed to operate more as a commercial venture, with volunteer programs that are simply not affordable especially for students and budget travellers. In retrospect, I certainly did not regret becoming a UBELONG Volunteer: I got the support I needed and had an experience that I would never forget.
What were your major challenges?
One challenge I encountered right at the start was getting used to the heavy physical workload in my initial days as a volunteer. Having had a sedentary lifestyle as a student in the preceding months, the many hours I spent wielding a machete or carrying wooden planks led to blisters and aches. Nevertheless, within a week, my body got used to the work and I especially began to enjoy using my machete to cut down those pesky “mora.”
Another more significant challenge that I experienced was the language barrier. As I was not proficient in Spanish, I find that I could not communicate and engage with the local staff to a level that I wanted. However, they were not only very friendly, but also very proactive. Many of them took the initiative to converse with the volunteers, despite knowing that there will be a communication barrier. I found their willingness to transcend these difficulties very inspiring.