Name: Alex Huang
Hometown: Taichung, Taiwan
Occupation: Translator at Gold Tech Valve Corp
Languages spoken: Mandarin, English (fluent)
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Teaching English in Vang Vieng, Laos
Duration: 1 week
Start month: February 2017
Claim to fame: Alex set up and organized the Model United Nations (MUN) conference which gave 300 students from all over Taiwan an opportunity to engage themselves in a set of meaningful debates. Welcome to UBELONG, Alex!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
As a Taiwanese high school student with a huge academic pressure, I was in need of a getaway to a foreign country during my Chinese New Year holiday, but instead of being a tourist who gives only a passing glance at some touristy spots. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and immerse myself in the local culture as well as making an impact. There’s no better way to experience a country or a culture than joining a volunteering project. After a lot of searching, I concluded that UBELONG is the best fit for me, as the organization has a great reputation and the programs are inexpensive. I applied for the English teaching program in Vang Vieng, Laos, and it turned out to be an experience of a lifetime.
What did you find most rewarding from you volunteer experience?
The whole experience was beyond what I expected, but the most rewarding thing was to see kids leaving the classroom with a huge smile on their face while they’re giving me a high five. Before I started teaching, I was worried that my class would suck since I had zero teaching experience and English is not my mother language. However, students’ willingness to participate in class swayed me and gave me confidence. Their passion for learning actually inspired me in a very positive way and have led me to reflect on my motivation in learning.
On the other hand, I am grateful to have many opportunity to interact with the locals. Everyday I play with the kids and dine with the lovely local support staff. This made my experience more complete and gave me a deeper insight into the lao culture. It taught me an important lesson: Despite many differences we have, we, as humans are all pretty related and interconnect and we all share the same aspirations of life. I feel so lucky to have found my home base in this wonderful country.
What three pieces of advice would you give to a future UBELONG Volunteer?
- Learn as much local language as you can.
During my stay in Laos, the language barrier was one of the hardest things to overcome. Some body language conversations I had with locals was fun, but when it comes to teaching, language barrier was kind of a pain to deal with. I had to be creative to make myself understood, especially with younger kids. I figured that the best way to grasp kids attention was to use some simple Lao language, as they find it funny and they could fully understand what I was trying to express. It is also a great way to show locals that you have a strong interest in understanding their culture. Definitely the best conversation starter!
- Step out of your comfort zone.
You’ll face many challenges and probably have a culture shock. The best way to deal with these situations is to give it a try. It is true that being in an unfamiliar situation or environment can be scary and distressing, but it gives you the opportunity to learn about yourself and teaches you how to adapt. From what I’ve experienced, your journey will be full of surprises, so say yes if an opportunity represents itself, you’ve got nothing to lose.
- Try to immerse yourself in the local lifestyle.
Laos is a charming slow-paced country. Believe it or not, it took me some time to get used to the laid back lifestyle as I am based in a busy city. I tried to live like a local, eat like a local and befriend locals. In the end, I learned how to have a zen attitude and found some new ways of gaining a peaceful mind. I never have thought happiness can be so simple. Now I’m back in Taiwan and I still miss the Laos lifestyle every single day. I strongly advise you to open up yourself to these foreign concepts, it’ll lead you to some new ways of thinking.