My volunteer experience in Italy was life changing. Thanks to united planet, I was able to meet some of the most interesting and influencing people in my life. Even though it has been 2 years since my time there, I still keep in contact with some of my friends from Italy. I've always believed that travel stimulates growth, and UP gave me the greatest opportunity. My contacts were caring and head office was supportive and responsive. I would definitely recommend this experience to those who are missing out.
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For me the idea of traveling to Tanzania was like the equivalent of going to the Moon. I didn't know what I would find there or what the experience would even feel like. There was no way for me to prepare for such an exploration, no past event I could reflect on. All I knew was that I had to go because there is more than just the world that I am living in, and that was what I was dying to see.
United Planet was my support team that guided me to Tanzania and then safely back to the place where I am from. I could write millions of words about the details of my adventure but I would rather just boil it down to its essence and let you go explore the details on your own. Trust me, that is something you want to do.
In a way you could say that my trip to Africa now dictates my every move, my every thought. I went there over 5 years ago and this has never been more true then now. No matter what life offers us, we must try and experience it with joy and to exist without failing to see the power in every moment. That is what the animals, the people and the landscapes of Africa taught me.
There are other worlds than the one you know. Sometimes it is hard to step outside the one you are accustomed to but believe me, it is worth getting out of your comfort zone. United Planet is someone you can lean on for the strength you need to explore the unknown.
I went to Cusco, Peru through United Planet for eight weeks after I graduated college. I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences of my life. I think traveling will always be my favorite thing to do, but I also think a program can either hinder or enhance your experience. I am so glad I chose to go through United Planet, which is why I have decided to write a review. I feel so strongly about how well they planned and conducted the whole experience.
Upon arriving in Cusco, I was greeted at the airport by my host family. My host family was amazing!! I cannot say enough nice things about them. I thought I was so lucky, but other volunteers and I would tease that we had the best family, so it seemed like everyone felt the same as I did! My entire stay at their home I felt comfortable and cared for. We had three home cooked meals everyday. I am a vegetarian and United Planet made the effort to place me in a home where they were willing to provide those style meals for me. I was so grateful and it was never an issue.
I worked for 5 weeks at a womens shelter. Those girls challenged me everyday and although some days I felt discouraged or saddened by their situations, I learned SO much from them and feel they felt the same way about me. I made some great connections with the girls and it was through this program that I learned how much I enjoyed tutoring English, which is something I am currently pursuing at home. The last three weeks I spent volunteering at an Animal Sanctuary. This had not been my original plan but there were some openings for volunteers at the site and United Planet allowed me to switch over. I loved working here! We were outside all day. I gave tours to English tourists and helped the owners with their English. We painted, cleaned, cared for the animals and cleaned trash out of the river. It was a great experience.
I also took Spanish classes while I was there as part of the program. These classes far and above exceeded my expectations. The classes consisted of myself and one or two other students and the professor. This setup allowed for a great deal of personal attention and encouraged us to speak much more than a typical class at home. I could not believe how much my Spanish improved after only eight weeks!
There were also weekly cultural activities throughout my time. I loved these because I felt like it was a great way to learn about the culture and meet other volunteers. The cultural activities were also at the school which became a great hub for meeting other volunteers. We took cooking classes, a Quechua language class, origami, and salsa dancing. I loved it! We also went on three amazing excursions. We took a weekend trip to Macchu Picchu which was absolutely amazing. I still cannot believe that I was able to have that experience. We stayed overnight in Aguas Calientes and then hiked Macchu Picchu the next day. There was a group of about 8-10 of us which made it a really fun trip. We also went horseback riding for an excursion and white water rafting. White water rafting was one of the best days of my life! We spent the whole day out there and it was beautiful. We wore wet suits and jumped off a boulder into the river. After we finished for the day we were served a huge, delicious lunch and even got to go ziplining!
I can honestly say everything about my trip went smoothly and I would definitely travel through United Planet again. The only issue I encountered throughout my stay was that I got sick, which is obviously completely out of United Planets control. However, when this happened I called the in-country coordinator and she actually came and picked me up and personally took me to the doctor and waited the entire time with me. And then checked in on me for the next few days until I was better. I also received an email from the coordinators in the Boston offices checking in on me to see how I was feeling. I just thought this was above and beyond what anyone had to do for me and I don't think I would get that through another program. I am so grateful for my time in Peru. I met so many wonderful people and still keep in touch with my host family and several volunteers. I highly, highly recommend traveling and volunteering through United Planet.
I find it difficult to express in words the amazing experience I had volunteering with United Planet in Peru. I took a short, 10 day trip, and had the time of my life. Everything about the program met or exceeded my expectations, and I can confidently say that I made an impact in the local community there.
Working with the United Planet coordinators was easy and took all the stress out of planning my trip. They were responsive to my questions, and followed up with me in a timely manner. They also provided virtual trainings online for me before my trip that answered many questions that I didn't even know I had!
My host family in Cuzco was very sweet and they had two young daughters that were a joy to interact with and practice my Spanish with (and help them with their English). They provided me with three very good, authentic meals per day, but I did get the chance to experience the local restaurants and nightlife in the city as well.
Mafred, the United Planet coordinator in Peru is the owner of a Spanish school in Cuzco. Here, I got the chance to make friends with volunteers from all around the world. This was super interesting and not something I was expecting. Manfred and Niko, who worked with Manfred, were so much fun and helped me in so many ways during my time there. Oh, and the Spanish lessons were top notch too.
I had the chance to volunteer at an all girls orphanage that was just a short bus ride from my host family and the Spanish school. The conditions were pretty bad, but that's why they need volunteers, right? All of the kids were so sweet. United Planet advised us to bring along activities for them to do, so I went to the dollar store and bought a bunch of school supplies, educational workbooks, and some games. We had a blast and I could really tell that the girls enjoyed having someone there to care about them and interact with them in a meaningful way.
Along with volunteering, United Planet provides excursions to sites around your destination. I got to see all of the Inca ruins around Cuzco, museums, churches, and...oh yeah...Machu Picchu!!! Riding the train through the Andes to Aguas Calientes at the base of MP was like something out of a movie. Actually exploring MP and climbing Huana Picchu was just indescribably incredible. Easily one of the best days of my life.
I would highly recommend United Planet for anyone who is looking to travel and make a difference in the world. I plan on taking another trip this year with United Planet.
Oh, and if you do go to Peru, make sure to order Cuy. ;)
In March 2012 I had the pleasure of traveling to the beautiful and unique city of Siem Reap, Cambodia. Meng, the United Planet country coordinator in Cambodia, picked up my friend and I from the airport and drove us to the hotel we would be staying at. Everything about Siem Reap is bustling and hectic, but in a crazy-beautiful way. After a brief rush of anxiety and stress seeing the way the roadways worked, we felt beyond welcome. Meng helped us feel comfortable right away, but also everyone we met went out of their way to make us feel at home. The staff at the hotel patiently helped us with our Khmer (the local language), and we were able to help them with some English pronunciation as well. After our week and a half staying there we felt like family, and had a hard time saying goodbye!
During our United Planet trip, we spent about a week and a half volunteering as teachers at the Orphanage in Cambodia. It was quite an experience. My friend and I were assigned to two different sections and we had to "pick up" where the previous volunteer had left off in the lessons. For first-time teachers like my friend and I, this was quite a daunting task, but we definitely got the hang of it after a couple sessions. What we learned was that in Siem Reap there was not enough funding for public school students to attend full class days. Instead, they would either attend a morning or an afternoon session. The kids we taught would go to regular classroom school that day, but we were an additional resource to their English language studies. Knowing that took off a lot of the pressure we initially felt because we realized we were there to hone in on their English language lessons and help them practice practice practice...It was great to be able to work with these kids! They absolutely loved singing us Justin Bieber songs, showing us their drawings, asking us how we were, where we were from etc...they also LOVED games (who would have thought, kids loving games?) and we found ways to incorporate lessons into fun games that all ages enjoyed.
In one week I can't begin to quantify the impact we had on the kids; however, I learned that volunteering abroad is NOT about that--we were able to spend quality time helping incredibly bright and enthusiastic children learn pronunciation and basic language techniques. In a city where the economy relies almost solely on tourism, learning how to converse in English is an incredibly important skill for these kids. We hope that we were able to show them in our short time there that we both care about them and believe in them.
Overall, I'd recommend United Planet trips because you are able to immerse yourself 100% within a city. Not only are you giving back for the greater good of that place, but you are also able to see a side that many tourists never get to experience. I'd also recommend visiting Siem Reap, Cambodia, for a unique and incredible experience that you will undoubtedly never forget.
As volunteer travel becomes more and more popular throughout the world, I find it important to remember that as a volunteer, you are not there to swoop in and save the day. Maybe in some instances you will literally save someone, but for the most part, it is important to remember that you may not have quantifiable results and/or a quantifiable impact. Do not feel like you need to be able to report with numbers or figures on this important act, but rather, take from it as much as you can and try in your every day life to emulate the little acts of kindness that you were a part of. Small changes can make a big difference, like the United Planet logo says..."Individually we are on drop. Together, we are an ocean."
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