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My UnBELIZEable Trip!   (published in Belize)

May 19, 2018 by   Comments(0)

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My name is Denise, and I am currently an undergraduate student in Umass Amherst majoring in Public Health and Economics. I've wanted to write this blogpost for a while now - in order to document my Spring break volunteer trip to Belize - and after an extremely hectic Spring semester, I finally found the time to do so! 


Why Belize?

To be quite honest, I didn't really know much about the Central American country before I arrived in Belize. For me, I simply wanted to go abroad for a Public Health expedition and I so happened to come across Projects Abroad after doing my own research about non-profit volunteer organizations. What drew me to the organization was the opportunity to engage in community service work which perfectly aligns with my own passion. And among the several countries in which Projects Abroad does Public Health work in, I decided to embark on a trip to Belize, for reasons being that it's a troupical country (I love going to the beach), English is one of its official languages, and it is also relatively close to the United States (plane fares are cheap!).

My Arrival

Reality finally hit that I was on a CARRIBBEAN ISLAND (one of my life-long dreams) when I felt the humid air seeping through my skin, and when I saw coconut trees swaying in my surroundings! After several hours of waiting for my connecting flight to the town of San Pedro, I eventually boarded the miniscule Tropic Air airvan, which only fit about 7-10 passengers max. Although it was only a 15-minute plane ride from the capital city to the beach town, every minute was worth it. The view of the Carribbean Sea from a thousand feet altitude was absolutely spectacular. I became captivated by the crystal clear blue ocean water that divided the country into several islands. 


Upon my arrival in San Pedro, I was quite surprised by how tourist-ey and developed the town was. Honestly, I thought I'd be in a rural area with no forms of industrialization. Perhaps I'm ignorant and uncultured for even thinking that way, but at least I know better. San Pedro is densely populated, because of its incredibly tiny land mass with a booming tourist industry. EVERYTHING is so close together, and it took me just two days to feel confident in navigating the town. Streets are filled with vendors, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, bakeries, botique shops, and many more local businesses. Another aspect which I admired about Belize was the country's diversity. Just when I thought Worcester, Massachusetts (my hometown) was diverse, the variety of ethnicities in Belize was even more impressive. I was picked up at the local airport in San Pedro by the Projects Abroad volunteer coordinator, Ashti, who brought me to a Mexican restaurant to meet with the Public Health volunteer supervisor, Diomne, as well as the other volunteers. Although Ashti is ethnically Kriyol and spoke Belizean Kriyol,  and Diomne was a mestiza who fluently spoke in Spanish, they still both knew how to communicate with one another in Kriyol and English so eloquently. To me, that's certainly one of the most unique qualities of Belizeans, their ability to accept and appreciate one another, despite their ethnic, and sometimes cultural differences. 


My Accomodation 



Me and the rest of the public health volunteers were accomodated by a lovely host family who welcomed us into their home with open arms, and made me feel as if I truly belonged in the house.  Our host family's house was situtated in the district of San Mateo, which was about a 15 minute bike ride from the Projects Abroad office. Their home is constructed in a way that it was open air, and had no concrete walls, except for the bedrooms and the kitchen. Since the house is situated by the river, I could never escape the smell of fresh water. In fact, it was only a 3 minute walk from the beach! Nonetheless, our host family provided us with everything that we needed. My bed in Belize was arguably larger and more comortable than my own bed here in the U.S. The bathroom was well-equipped and had clean water running. And since San Pedro is a pretty industrialized town, there were small grocery stores and bakeries in walking distance from the home. I will never forget the cultural immerson that I experienced during my stay with my host family. We had a host mom, Miss Karina, who ecstatically discussed with us the history of Belize's diversified population, and the typical lifestyle of Belizeans. We also had a host grandmother, Miss Karina's mom, who prepared delicious local meals for us everyday during the duration of our stay.

My Public Health Placement


My stay in San Pedro was just as exciting and life-changing as serving the people in the town. On my first day, our Public Health volunteer coordinator thoroughly went over the schedule for the week, the details in regards to each project we were expected to partake on, as well as the skills that were necessary for us to have in order to be successful in our assignments. They also gave us a brief tour of the town which helped me become more familiar of the many restaurants, stores, and countless other attractions which were available in the vibrant beach town of San Pedro. And once we started engaging in outreach work, we hit the ground running and never stopped since. One of the first projects that me and my fellow Public health volunteers worked on was the mobile clinic where we measured the blood pressure, blood sugar, and the body mass index of community locals in underserved communities in the town, while also providing them with advice on healthy lifestyles, especially if their vitals are above or below the norm. We would set up tables, chairs, and our medical equipments in certain places within the community, and we'd literally ask anyone who passes by to have their vitals checked! And 80% of the time they'd say "yes," because 1) it's FREE 2) this is the easiest access that they could have for healthcare.


One of my favorite assignments is definitely visiting local schools and educating students on various issues. We went to a primary school and created an interactive presentation with goals of combating false myths about lice, and then we proceeded to conduct lice checks on the students. The students were beyond engaged and the most rewarding part was seeing them encourage their peers to participate in the activities we created. Towards the end of the week, we visited the only high school in the town and gave a presentation about college access and awareness. In preparation for the presentation, me and my fellow volunteers made a poster board which contained details about how to best prepare for college, the benefits of a college education, and how it could positively impact the community. During the beginning of the presentation, only half of the high school students in the room were genuinely interested in pursuing higher education, but after the end of the presentation, I witnessed the influence that we made upon them and I know that more than half of them would want to earn a college degree.


There were only four of us on the Public Health team during that week, and so the small group size was undeniably conducive to our learning process, because our volunteer supervisor, Diome, was able to provide us with the utmost support that we needed. She was our guiding hand throughout the whole trip, as she remained by our side through trainings, our projects, and within the office when we'd plan out our presentations. When we couldn't figure out where a particular restaurant is, she'd willingly walk with us no matter the distance. Diomne was amazing and our team coordination wouldn't have ran so smoothly if it wasn't for her.

My Overall Experience


During our last day, we were asked about our highlights and our challenges throughout the trip. And in fairness, I never encountered a challenge. The trip was full of nothing but unforgettable highlights. Who would've thought that I'd love getting up at 8 in the morning, and working from 9 to 5 with pure excitement everyday. Why? because everyday was a different story, a different assignment, and most importantly, a different lesson to digest. Just a little fun fact, the town of San Pedro doesn't permit the usage of vehicles (unless it's a taxi), therefore, people get around solely through bicycles, motorcyles, or a golf cart. The streets are fairly narrow, so it totally makes sense to have that rule in place. I'll always remember the 8 am 15-minute bike rides from our host family's home all the way to the office at the town center. The streets were bustling with golf carts and people just trying to get to places. There was one time where we literally biked across the island, for almost an hour, since we had a greenhouse project on one end of San Pedro, while our host family's house is at the other side of it. I must say that due to all the biking, I can easily navigate the town of San Pedro.

The food was exquisite. We were given a $10 USD voucher everyday for lunch, and we were allowed to use it on a choice of 6 local food shops. Due to the richness in culture, the food varied in taste - from a range of Carribean-style chicken, to spicy Hispanic dishes, to authentic Garifuna food! The best part about these restaurants was that they were located by the beach, thus giving me a chance to sulk in the beauty of such paradise.

The nightlife was quite decent. San Pedro isn't the mainland so it had only 2-3 clubs in the town that didn't open until midnight; and about a handful of bars/lounges that people could go to before clubs open. Well, since we had work to do everyday, and a curfew in place, we never had the chance to actually party (we're responsible human-beings). However, the lounges that were open were very enjoyable. They would blast either reggae music or dancehall throughout the night, while hosting original activities such as crab racing and the "chicken drop." These were such massive tourist attractions that I almost felt as if I was in Texas, due to the number of Texans in San Pedro.

The beach was extraordinarily beautiful. Projects Abroad sponsored a two-hour excursion for us on our last day, where all of us volunteers were treated to a private snorkeling trip in the Belize Barrier Reef. And I was looking forward to doing so because Belize has the third largest barrier reef in the world! It was a once in a lifetime experience to swim with sea turtles, nurse sharks, school of fishes, sting rays, and many other sea creatures!! Belize puts in the effort and proper security measures to ensure that their natural wonders are protected and conserved. I HIGHLY HIGHLY suggest travelling to Belize to experience this for yourself, for a relatively cheap price, too. 

The people were so hospitable. If you ever need some sort of validation, go to Belize, because everyday, people everywhere will greet you with a genuine smile along with some terms of endearment. It might be a shock for you and it's easy to take offense, but it's simply a part of the kind nature of their culture. Otherwise, people will always assist you if you have any questions about where a particular place might be. If you want to start a conversation with them, they'll gladly talk to you about their lives, the country, their cultural background, and whatever else comes to mind! Ask a Belizean a substantial question and they'll proudly answer you with a story. In essence, Belizeans will give you their time of day, because in their way of living, time is not to be rushed. Instead, they bask in each moment with a serene attitude.

Belize was  beyond unBELIZEable! (don't judge my puns). I came into this trip with so much thoughts of fear. I feared about not knowing how to navigate the town. I feared about not liking my placement. I feared about not having the energy to wake up early in the morning, as those of you who know me understand that I am BY NO MEANS  a morning person at all. And largely, I feared about not getting along with my fellow volunteers. AND I WAS PROVEN SO WRONG IN EVERY SINGLE DOUBT I HAD. I loved every minute that I spent in San Pedro, with the BEST support I could ever receive from staff members, from my host family, and most importantly, from other volunteers who I will cherish for a lifetime.

Thank you San Pedro, you are truly where I longed to be, LA ISLA BONITA. 

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My UnBELIZEable Trip!
My UnBELIZEable Trip!

I got 99 Problems and Money is 1!   (published in Belize)

November 24, 2017 by   Comments(0)

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It's almost the end of the year, and we are roughly a month away from 2018! I could hardly wait to go to Belize. Although I was born and raised in the Philippines and moved to Worcester, Massachusetts at the age of 9, this will be my first time going "abroad" or be away from home. The trip is absolutely costly, majority of which go towards the flight and to the organization itself because projects wouldn't be possible without the financial support from outside sources. Because essentially, what's the point of volunteering/interning when you have nowhere to volunteer in? Projects Abroad provides that opportunity but being able to start projects in a country, AND having paid staff who overlooks these projects, is unquestionably not free.


Well... here's what I ended up doing: 


(The above photo is a screenshot of my Fundraising Page on Facebook.) 

I was looking over my budget and realized that I would simply run short. However, it doesn't hurt to reach out to family, friends, co-workers, loved ones, who will support you through your endeavors. Hence why I humbly began a fundraising page on Facebook. It's a great platform for fundraising (minus the fees and taxes which I totally  despise). A fundraising page on Facebook is basically equal to an events page because you get to invite people whom are already on your friends list. You could also promote it by sharing the page on your newsfeed as much as you'd like, AND update your supporters every now and then. It's awesome! So I highly suggest utilizing Facebook because it maximizes the reach of social media. 

So anyways, as of today, I am approximately 3 weeks away from the deadline of dues, and in less than TWO weeks I've raised about 45% of my total goal, almost halfway there! I am so overwhelmed by the love and support!!! There are immensely kind people everywhere and it never hurts to ask for assistance, for as long as you remain grateful! 

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I got 99 Problems and Money is 1!
I got 99 Problems and Money is 1!

Things to Do in San Pedro, Belize!   (published in Belize)

October 7, 2016 by   Comments(0)

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Belize is commonly known as the "jewel" for its sheer untouched beauty. Even Madonna fell in love with Belize - ever heard her song "La Isla Bonita"? That song is all about San Pedro!!

Volunteers should definintely take advantage that they are working and living in the #1 Destination in all of Central America, according to TripAdvisor awards. 

Here are the top activities to do while in San Pedro:

1) Snorkel Hol Chaan Marine Reserve and swim with sharks and rays at Shark Ray Alley. You can book with one of the many tour companies on the island, or grab a few other volunteers and get a private boat charter for almost the same price! 

2) Have a beach bbq! Many private charter guides will take you on a sandy beach and bbq lobster, fish, shrimp, or chicken on a grill right in front of you. 

3) Visit the neighbouring island of Caye Caulker for an extremely GO SLOW, RELAXED weekend. Play corn hole on the beach or relax at the Split. 

4) Visit a Mayan Ruin! Take a short flight or boat ride to the city whereby a guide will pick you up and drive two hours into the West side fo Belize. You can visit Xunantunich, go cave tubing, or zip lining! From beach to jungle in one day. 

5) Watch an outdoor movie at the Truck Stop - our favourite place to do weekly volunteer workshops! 


We hope you enjoy all of our suggestions, but to be honest we have NO DOUBT that you will love Belize!!!!! 

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Things to Do in San Pedro, Belize!
Things to Do in San Pedro, Belize!

Independence Day and Diving   (published in Belize)

September 22, 2016 by   Comments(1)

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Today is the 35th anniversary of Belize' independence from Great Britain. They are taking their celebration seriously, at least here in Placencia. We have a good time on and around the 4th of July at home, but I think maybe because Belize is so young (in the official sense), Independence Day is still a Big Deal. I'm taking notes. We could use a little of their vivacity.

Last night, the celebrations started with a little music at the pier, but it was pretty quiet after dinner. The real party started around 10 PM at Street Feet, the local night club. I rolled out of bed to watch the midnight fireworks from the kitchen window (yay!), but the rest of town apparently partied all night until they left around 5:30 AM , at which point they had an impromptu parade through town! After a few hours of sleep, the real parade was to convene at the Placencia airstrip maybe 5 km north of the point where Projects Abroad is located. Too hot for me, though. I slept in and was confident it would take several hours for the parade to get down here. The gossip at Dawn's Grill 'n' Go was that the parade would get there at 3ish. That is a long time of parading. We grabbed our swimming gear and cameras just after 3 and started walking north, and sure enough, the parade was approaching the Tipsy Tuna by 3:30. Most of the participants were still managing to dance, too, despite the heat. I jumped in the sea at the next available opportunity. I am guessing the revelers did the same when they reached the pier and the end of the parade route.

Some kind of mini plague has taken out Celso, our conservation manager and dive master; Jon, and me, so our final trip to Little Water Caye has been postponed until Friday. Tomorrow we're going to do some work at the local school, which I am looking forward to after moping around and coughing for days. After that, we pack up for what I hope is a shortened 3 day dive trip rather than going until Monday, as honestly, I am not good at being smelly and salty for that long in one go. I need to toughen up. Also the sand flies are not nice and Deep Woods Off has minimal effect. Tomorrow I hope to hit up the pharmacy when it is actually open and see if they have the elusive and legendary Sand Fly Bye Bye.

I think I mentioned the basics of Little Water Caye previously, with the ranger station/house, the dive "shop," and the caretaker house. There is also Princess, the resident dog. She must still be a puppy, because she's cute but insists on chewing your limbs at all opportunities. The station is on stilts with the kitchen and 3 hammocks below and bunks and common room above. It has solar panels, so we could use the laptop and projector to study corals during the day. And we could use fans, thank goodness. Celso said the power would go out during the night, most likely, as we only have 4 batteries, but we got lucky and my fan stayed on through the morning. A ranger from S.E.A. (the Southern Environmental Association) is living there at all times, and they patrol the surrounding water and cayes. They somehow have cell phone reception even though they don't have running water, so at least they don't go crazy.

Last Thursday, we did a swimming skills test in the morning and dive skills in the afternoon, pretty tiring. Friday morning, it stormed for quite a while, but cleared up right before our scheduled morning dive. Sort of. It rained on the way out and the waves were big, conditions I was not used to after lessons at the sheltered Laughing Bird Caye. So I admit I was pretty scared and took a while to get in the water and suited up. Thankfully the light was pretty good by the time we descended. Once you get under the waves, it's calm enough. We saw nurse sharks, Jon spotted a big green eel (I'm okay with missing that one), and I think I spotted a barracuda. But really, the smallest fish can be the most flashy. I stared eye to eye at some tiny googly iridescent thing for while by the anchor kine as Jon and Celso went off to spear some lionfish(!) after our second dive of the day. I'm a little bit too soft to spear a living thing, I guess, but mostly I had no intention of carrying around a spear while scuba diving, safety tip or not.

Lionfish are cool looking if not pretty, but they are an invasive species from the Pacific and they are decimating the local species' population by sucking up the juvenile fish by the ton. They also breed constantly, so divers, including tourists, do their part to help by spearing them on sight. Sometimes they feed the lionfish to nearby nurse sharks. The idea is to get the sharks to like the taste of lionfish to introduce a predator to the situation. However, some nurse sharks have instead come to rely on the lionfish buffet and just follow scuba divers around waiting for a handout. Folks are also hoping people will get a taste for lionfish and are starting to serve them in restaurants. However, around here, I've only seen Rumfish y Vino with lionfish on the menu (in crudo form), so I haven't tried it yet. I'll report back if I ever get to eat some.

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Independence Day and Diving
Independence Day and Diving

A Week (and Change) Down   (published in Belize)

September 17, 2016 by   Comments(0)

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We've been in Belize a bit over a week now, and the work days have been busy. We arrived Thursday afternoon in time for lunch. Linda was kind enough to pick us up from the tiny airport (the size of a school portable, for those from Montague) and show us around town a bit before dropping us at the office. Grecia, another coordinator, took us to lunch and after showing us around a bit more, we landed at the Tipsy Tuna. :) Many restaurants here are closed for the low tourist season, but Tipsy has been a fun place to hang out.

I'll talk more about the town later, as I don't have long on this computer with a proper keyboard! We're staying in little cabanas that are still under construction(!), but they're near the point where the public pier and the Projects Abroad office is located. The PA office is a spare room in the local fisherman's co-op.

On Friday, we took a boat down to Monkey River, about 40 minutes' ride south of Placencia. They're experiencing massive erosion and we worked with some of the local men to fill and place concrete sandbags around some of the houses that are most in danger. They've lost hundreds of feet of land, including their football field. One of the houses we tried to shore up has already lost at least one of its cement support pillars. I hope the sandbags help slow down the erosion enough to come up with a bigger, more permanent solution...because it will take many, many more sandbags to make a breakwater big enough and strong enough to halt the problem.

Between the Monkey River boat trip and dive outings, we've seen 2 types of dolphins and a pair of manatees.

This weekend was the celebration of the Battle of St. George's Caye, so we mostly wandered around the village and swam while enjoying music at the pier and watching the weigh-ins of a big fishing contest. More to come on that later if I can upload photos.

Monday we started scuba training in the PA office, going through the entire PADI manual and videos. Tuesday and Wednesday, we went out with our dive instructor, Warren, to do the real thing. It was tough for me. I love to swim, but getting used to the regulator was a slow process, and I was very anxious about doing the safety dive skills such as practicing mask removal and clearing. I get scared when I can't see! I did manage to acquire my SCUBA diver certification by the end of Wednesday, rather than the open water certification, so today we joined the team out on Little Water Caye for more diving.

Little Water Caye is an island about an hour away from Placencia. It's small, with a ranger station, a dive shop, and a caretaker's cottage. (I'm not really sure what the caretaker does! Maybe maintenance on the solar panels and water system?)

Various cayes have ranger stations staffed by S.E.A. (Southern Environmental Assocation), which is the Belizean organization that Projects Abroad's conservation project works with.

And...out of time. Photos and more info about the dives to come!

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A Week (and Change) Down
A Week (and Change) Down
new album


Danielle 625 days ago

It can't possibly be 9:30 PM.   (published in Belize)

September 7, 2016 by   Comments(0)

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Thank goodness we don't have an early flight tomorrow or I'd really be panicking right now.


This isn't my first rodeo (traveling abroad) and it's not even my first attempt at A) packing light for an extended trip while B) being prepared for outdoorsy things. However, Japan and New Zealand are about as safe as can be, health-wise. Prepping for this Belize conservation trip, I find myself with a much heavier suitcase than usual. It all fits though, so far--as if I'm really done packing, ho ho--so I'm feeling pretty good about this.


Abbreviated packing list of the more unusual gear:

1. Impregnated mosquito net - I'm on a budget, so instead of buying a pre-treated net from REI or Amazon like a reasonable person, I bought a cheaper, well reviewed non-treated net and a big bottle of Sawyer's permethrin spray. That stuff is serious business. I wore gloves and a facemask. I only hope I actually covered the whole net, because it was not easy to lay it out on the ol' balcony. Also you can't really tell when a mosquito net is wet. BONUS: Since I went this route, I also was able to treat what I call my trekking gear: my lone long sleeved shirt and long pants, and a bandana. I would love to not get the Zika virus while I'm trying to find howler monkeys and jaguars in the jungle.

2. Sleeping bag liner - This is suggested for weekend trips. Why, I wondered. I'm not going camping, that's for sure. I don't even like camping up here in the Great White North where the bugs are normal-sized and squashable. The internet tells me sleeping bag liners are a good idea if you're staying in hostels. They can help protect you from bed bugs. That brings me to...

3. Bed bug repellent - Not actually on the packing list. I got this at BB&B and sprayed my luggage because I can't even...Please no bed bugs.

4. Flashlight, first aid kit, antiseptic wipes - I always bring a few bandaids, safety pins, that sort of thing. Now I'm starting to get nervous so I have a LOT of bandaids, a few gauze pads, antiseptic and baby wipes, first aid cream, cortizone cream, blister bandages, safety pins, prescription traveler's...stomach stuff, Pepto, Immodium...

5. Strong insect repellent - Blast, I can only find 25% DEET Deep Woods Off, or teeny tiny Off spritz bottles of 100% DEET. 100%? Maybe you only have to spray yourself once and that's it for the rest of your life. I will buy more bug spray in Belize when I inevitably run out of 50 SPF sunscreen.


We're staying at volunteers' flat (one apartment for the girls, another flat for the boys) in the village, so how bad could the bugs be? Maybe I'll hold off on any weekend trips into the jungle until I've gotten used to the area. Speaking of, we'll be in Placencia, in the Stann Creek District of southern Belize. The Placencia Penninsula has resorts toward the northern end and Placencia Village, where we'll be staying, is part tourism, part fishing village. It sounds like everything we'll need (restaurants, post office, supermarket, internet cafe) are within walking distance. No internet in the flat, so updates here may be sporadic!


As for what we're doing, we start off with Research Diver Skills training. I assume this is weather permitting and I am praying that we're not stuck on land the whole time creating save the reef presentations because it's the rainy season :( Once we're certified, we'll be collecting field data and working with the Southern Environmental Association (SEA). I figure there's also going to be the less glamorous work of data entry and education related stuff. But hopefully we're able to be on the water most of the time!


On the weekends off, I'm hoping to visit Xunantunich to the west, and/or maybe Nim Li Punit and Lubaantun to the south in the Toledo district. Very excited about Mayan ruins. The Cockscomb Basin jaguar preserve also sounds cool, even though I'm sure we won't actually spot a (nocturnal) jaguar. I'd settle for howler monkeys and tropical birds! And, of course, snorkeling would be awesome, if we haven't gotten our fill of marine life during the work week.


This ended up being a long post, considering I haven't left home! I'll do my best to post multiple times per week and will include photos depending on the internet and computer situation in Placencia. Here's hoping for a smooth set of flights for the next two days.

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It can't possibly be 9:30 PM.
It can't possibly be 9:30 PM.

Crazy Things People Say When You Tell Them That You’re Going to Mexico:   (published in Mexico)

January 23, 2012 by   Comments(0)

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  • HAHAHAHA! ...Oh, you're being serious?
  • Wait, did you mean to say New Mexico?
  • How did your immunizations go?
  • I’ve been to Belize. That’s in Mexico, right?
  • Don’t forget to bring bribe money.
  • Don’t drink the water.
  • Don’t touch the dogs.
  • Don't get mugged.
  • Don’t get abducted.
  • Don’t get stabbed.
  • Don’t get shot.
  • Don’t die.
  • Can you bring me some tequila?

And now a disclaimer: Just want to clarify that this post is not meant to mock Mexico, the country where I'll be volunteering, or America, the county where I'm from. It's meant to make fun of people's odd remarks, skewed perceptions and inappropriate stereotypes about different countries. I wanted to share this because I thought other ProjectAbroad volunteers would find it funny and relatable. Do you find it relatable? Tell me...

What kind of crazy things did people say to you when you told them that you were going abroad?

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Crazy Things People Say When You Tell Them That You’re Going to Mexico:
Crazy Things People Say When You Tell Them That You’re Going to Mexico: