Name: Niamh Haran
Hometown: London, United Kingdom
Nationality: United Kingdom
Languages spoken: English, German (beginner)
University: Woodhouse College
Volunteer Abroad: Teaching English in Hanoi, Vietnam
Duration: 4 weeks
Start month: March 2018
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I decided to become an UBELONG Volunteer because I decided to take a gap year before I attended University. With the prospect of studying an English Literature degree, I felt I wanted to volunteer abroad to teach English as a foreign language in this year. It was really important for me to do something extremely different, independent and important this year, a project that had a purpose, particularly as I have a passion for English. Volunteering through the company provided me with a purpose this year, and it provided with something to work towards which I found extremely useful.
I also wanted to learn how to develop further independently and become more perceptive as an individual which the programme allowed me to as I knew I would be going alone, and would therefore have to make friends and connections with people abroad as an adult. Going so far away from home to Hanoi, Vietnam, was critical, because it aided my confidence. I think doing a teaching project was also something I wanted to pursue and experience in order to acquire and develop some of my skills in terms of communication, patience and organisation. I wanted to meet some new people from different countries in the hope of forming some new and exciting friendships.
What did you take from the experience?
The experience has given me a lot of confidence in myself. On the first night when I was led into the volunteer house to my top bunk, it all seemed a bit surreal, it was hot, humid and quite late, but as soon as my roommate helped me put on my mosquito net and we started chatting, I instantly felt more comfortable as everyone was so friendly. I think I have definitely become more perceptive after having this experience. Through teaching some of the young students and listening to their ideas in class, their will to learn, and most importantly the tightness of their school community, I felt really content and thankful that I got to experience it myself and be part of it, particularly the community feel.
Also, spending evenings chatting to all the other volunteers on the balcony after dinner, or on the rooftop, talking about our days at work, but also our lives at home, I felt I really got to see a completely different side of things. Having interesting discussions about various topics such as world politics, to religion, to the differences we noticed in Hanoi than back home, it was very eye-opening and quite fascinating. I also think I took a certain level of happiness back home with me which came from the love for what I was doing, the students and teachers I taught and their support, the support from the staff and the other volunteers. I had the opportunity to do a food tasting video and I attended a workshop on gender which was very interesting and educational.
I am happy to say I have made some amazing friends that I will keep in contact with, and I will definitely volunteer again with UBELONG, potentially in Vietnam, because it went too quickly! The experience was even better than I thought it could have been so I’m thankful I got to be a small part of it.
What advice would you tell a future volunteer?
I would tell a future volunteer to definitely try and be organised whilst they are there – this is useful when it comes to teaching or enduring whatever project you are doing effectively, as well as making use of your free time to socialise and interact with other volunteers. I would also say just don’t be scared or worried. Things can be difficult at times but there’s always people around you who can help you overcome that.
For example, I couldn’t think of what to teach the kids one of the days as they were quite an intelligent class but getting the balance between the work being too difficult to understand and communicate with them, or just too simple and therefore not effective, was difficult. To overcome this I spoke to a friend who was teaching in another school, and she helped me plan a lesson, giving me ideas on what she had found effective. Basically, just go, enjoy, have fun, but make sure you are volunteering because you want to, the days can be long and its tiring – but the outcome, little or not, is always worth it.
In a sentence or less, best packing advice?
Bring comfortable clothes, and less than you think…there are washing machines!! Nobody cares what you look like, you just want to be comfortable for the day in long baggy clothing!