Elizabeth Wang, Senior Marketing Product Manager at Google, sought both a different way to travel and a meaningful way to give back to the global community. After reviewing several organizations online, Elizabeth selected Global Volunteers’ Vietnam service program. She served in Hanoi at Blind-Link, a non-profit organization which trains visually impaired adults in massage therapy and the English language, with the help of Global Volunteers. The staff at Blind-Link drew on Elizabeth’s business and marketing background to learn new strategies.
Before embarking upon on her international service program, Elizabeth described her reasons for serving: “I travel a lot professionally and personally. Every place I visit, I feel both appreciative of what I have and want to give back to local communities or individuals. I never know the right way to give back though. I’m looking forward to this program because I can form a personal connection with locals and hopefully help with positive changes and lasting impact.”
Once in Vietnam, Elizabeth expounded on her search for the “right way to give back”: “I was inspired to serve with Global Volunteers here in Vietnam because I wanted to find a way to give back. I’ve traveled a lot for work and personally. Over the years, I’ve realized how fortunate and lucky I am, and I want to find the right way to give back. I chose Vietnam because I’ve heard great things about the people, the culture, the food, and this is a great way to learn about the community and give back.”
“I often live in my own bubble, in my day to day, and I just focus on that. But you can’t live like that. You need to think about the community, and think about community outside the U.S. Think about your global impact.”
– Elizabeth Wang
Elizabeth spent her time in service at Blind-Link, one of Global Volunteers’ community partners in Hanoi. Blind-Link is a nonprofit organization that trains people with visual impairments in massage therapy, a field where the English language is crucial due to the volume of foreign clients. Blind-Link operates in partnership with the Omamori Spa chain in Hanoi. In September the staff at Blind-Link requested the volunteers’ assistance in teaching the students dialogues in English that will increase their ability to converse with clients at the Omamori Spas. Although sometimes they don’t realize it at first, the special talent of native speakers of English is their perfect pronunciation and their willingness to help students practice difficult sounds, enunciation, and intonation in English. This is true for volunteers who don’t have any prior teaching experience. The patience shown by volunteers goes a long way in helping language learners improve upon their conversational English.
Elizabeth described her work one morning with a group of receptionists who were learning English: “We warmed up with Simon Says. I was surprised they didn’t know their body parts, so we worked on that, too. We managed to get through the call script together, focusing further on numbers. Then, we role played so they can loosen up and start to think on the fly. The teaching assistant was the customer, and the receptionists in training were the receptionist. This takes a lot time because everyone has to wait their turn, but it seems to bring a sense of relief to not always have 1:1 attention with the teacher. It was great to see them help each other, too.”
The staff at Blind-Link were eager to draw on Elizabeth’s business background to aid them in their marketing initiatives. Elizabeth worked with Huong Nguyen, the founder of the Omamori Spas, and their Marketing Director on marketing emails and aligning their positioning. Elizabeth shared knowledge on geotargeting and Google trends to help the Omamori Spas market themselves more effectively. Huong also asked Elizabeth for assistance in copy editing their Google My Business listings and creating a Google ad. This is what Global Volunteers’ work is all about – putting the skills of volunteers at the disposition of our community partners. The staff at Blind-Link were thrilled to learn so much from Elizabeth, and advance their projects with her help.
In a journal entry, Elizabeth described her joy in working with one receptionist in particular: “The last receptionist was so bright! She wanted to talk through the script and rewrite it with me. We learned new words, talked about how I would identify target customers, and exchanged ideas on how to grow foot traffic in their new location. She shared more about her family and aspirations while I showed her photos of my trips and our recent Google Travel YouTube commercials.”
Taking some time to reflect on her time in Hanoi, Elizabeth talked about some of the students she got to know while working at Blind-Link: “One of the moments that really touched me – a moment I will never forget – was when was Huong, the founder of Omamori Spa, was talking about one of the therapists. He lived at home in a village far from Hanoi for 37 years. He didn’t interact with anybody. He had a very slouched posture and was very quiet, even afraid of interacting with others. When she told me this, I was very surprised because I worked with him in the morning and he was friendly and chatty. We taught him, “See you tomorrow.” He was sitting upright! I think that speaks to the wonders of what we have here with Global Volunteers and what the founder has done with Omamori Spa.” She added enthusiastically, “I think it’s a great opportunity for these people who have been in villages far away to have a future, and to have friends.”
While in Vietnam, Elizabeth said of her first international volunteer trip: “This was such an eye-opening and rewarding experience. You get to meet such inspiring people – the other volunteers, the staff here, the Global Volunteers staff. And we’re all trying to make a difference in our own way, and it’s great to be part of that. And we should do it more often.”
“This was such an eye-opening and rewarding experience. You get to meet such inspiring people – the other volunteers, the staff here, the Global Volunteers staff. And we’re all trying to make a difference in our own way, and it’s great to be part of that. And we should do it more often.”
– Elizabeth Wang
Thinking back on how she wanted to join a meaningful cause, Elizabeth said, “I think if you’re interested in joining Global Volunteers, you should think about what you want to get out of it and also what you’re willing to put in. This isn’t a tour group where you just sit back, relax, and absorb. You get out what you put it into it. If you want to leave a lasting impact for a greater cause, this is for you.”
She continued, “During the service program with Global Volunteers, I learned so much about the community and about myself. For me, I realized I don’t value teachers enough. I don’t do this enough. I often live in my own bubble, in my day to day, and I just focus on that. But you can’t live like that. You need to think about the community, and think about community outside the U.S. Think about your global impact.”
In her team journal entry near the end of her time in Vietnam, Elizabeth wrote: “I’ve always wanted to travel and live abroad, understand and connect with people outside of my California bubble. I hike to see the world’s natural beauty. What’s missing is the people. This trip will change how I travel for the rest of my life.”
“I’ve always wanted to travel and live abroad, understand and connect with people outside of my California bubble. I hike to see the world’s natural beauty. What’s missing is the people. This trip will change how I travel for the rest of my life.”
– Elizabeth Wang