Hello everyone. We have an amazing story from one of our exchange participants who went to Vietnam for a Global Volunteering project. Let’s hear it from Upeksha Gunathilake from Royal Institute Colombo.
“Great. This is it. This is how I’m going to die.” Standing behind a long queue at the Ho Chi Minh airport in Vietnam after a five-hour long flight, this was all I could think. I only stopped occasionally to kick myself for my sudden wave of gutsiness that got me applying to overseas volunteering through AIESEC Sri Lanka.
Given my minor cerebral palsy condition, standing in long queues was not by any means a pleasant experience. Added to that was the fact that I had never gone anywhere without my family. I was nervous, excited, irritated, and very genuinely freaked out to the point that I, literally, became sick. It gives me no small amount of pleasure to state that the misfortunes (mostly a product of my overthinking brain) ended there.
My buddy picked me up and took me to the English teaching center in which I would stay and teach for the next six weeks. My first few memories of the center were two volunteers, a Filipino girl, and an Indian boy, leading me in through a shower of ‘hi’s. Unpacking took an unnecessarily long time since I fell into a long chatter with my roommate.
A few days later, I attended the AIESEC’s inauguration meeting for new volunteers. Also, I met volunteers from many other projects as well during the meeting. Sharing Konda-kawum with them was a sure-fire method of making new friends. (Who can resist Konda-kewum right?) The AIESECers taught us some basic Vietnamese and the dos and don’ts when traveling around. Two bus rides later, I was back in my room, after my dinner on authentic Vietnamese food on which I am now decently educated.
Over the next few weeks, I fell into a happy routine, traveling during the day, and teaching at night. (The center was an after-school institution.) The more experienced volunteers showed me the cheapest places to buy great food and the safest ways to travel around.
During my Volunteering session with AIESEC, I attended two Global Villages. One for which I squeezed myself into a saree for the first time. I spent a generous amount of time explaining to the kids why I was wrapped in layers and layers of sparkly cloth. Over the six weeks, my roommates changed several times. Towards the end of my six weeks, a Chinese girl moved in. I merrily named her ‘Grandma’ since I was the youngest of the volunteers and she was the oldest. Besides she certainly acted her part. To this day, she remains my good friend, despite the fact that I once accidentally locked us out of our room, leaving us stranded for the night.
Teaching my dear students during my volunteer with AIESEC was the most wonderful experience, possibly in my life. Of course, there were times when they were a bit difficult, but which student isn’t? I sang songs with the little ones, read through textbooks
with the older students, and supported the center in assessing both the students and their teaching methods. I was moved to tears when, on my last day, my students presented me with little handmade things as a token of their thanks. Also, a few of them walked with me to my room, dropping me off with hopes of seeing me soon.
As I returned home, my bookworm-self was feeling much like Bilbo Baggins, a homey little person who went on a great, perspective-altering adventure. Memories of the past six weeks of volunteering with AIESEC played through my head in a fondly jumbled heap; the new things I learned, the places I traveled, the exciting food I tried, the people I met, and teaching my students. I dozed off happily with the realization that I could quote J. R. R. Tolkien from The Hobbit since I now had my very own “there & back again”.