UBS Horizons: a unique first year challenge

Investment banking
Spring weeks

UBS Horizons is aimed at students in their first year of a three-year degree (or second year of a four-year degree) with a strong interest in building their career at UBS and who want to give something back to the global community. UBS Horizons aims to help build valuable skills that will make the winners stand out from their peers.

If you're selected to be a Horizons winner you'll be guaranteed a place on UBS Insights, a five-day introduction to UBS and the financial services industry that takes place in London in the spring.

You'll then then spend a challenging five weeks of the summer holidays abroad on a Raleigh International programme in Borneo, Costa Rica or Tanzania, courtesy of UBS.

You'll undergo a week of training after which you'll take part in a three-week community or conservation project. Your time abroad will be topped off with a week-long adventure challenge that could involve raft-building, trekking through the rainforest, or competitive survival activities.

Upon returning, you'll be guaranteed a place on the UBS Summer Internship programme the following summer which could lead to a career at UBS.

For a taste of what you could experience and contribute while on UBS Horizons, read on.

PROJECT: To build a school in an indigenous reserve

I was part of a group that built a school in an indigenous reserve a day's trek from the nearest road.

There were no telephones and the only way to communicate with the main base in the nearest city, Turrialba, was via army-issue radios, which we spent the first week of training learning how to use, as well as practising other essential survival techniques.

Torrential rain

When we started our trek out to the reserve, we had to load up all our supplies on horseback as well as each carry a heavy bag - I think mine weighed 35 kilos!

To add to that, the weather was appalling, which slowed us down. It took us two days to get to there and it was quite challenging - especially because the bad weather wasn't something we had expected! Right from the start we were all having to look out for each other, and friendships developed quickly.

School time

Once we arrived, we had a big task ahead of us as we had three weeks to build the school from scratch. We had local maestros who were leading the build and knew where to get the wood from.

It wasn't a case of just standing around and managing the build though - I helped construct everything from the foundations to the corrugated iron roof!

Match of the day

Although Costa Rica is Spanish-speaking, the people in the village we were building the school for have their own language and they don't tend to get much contact with westerners.

We found that an excellent way to break down any communication barriers was playing football. On the day we finished the school we celebrated by playing a match, and quite a big crowd came to watch. We played on a makeshift pitch on the side of a hill and, unsurprisingly, we were comprehensively beaten!

Tough trekking

The final week of the five week expedition was spent trekking through one of Costa Rica's national parks. It was pretty tough as we had to carry everything from water to tents to communication equipment. We also had to navigate the route ourselves, with very little guidance.

I think my previous travel experience helped me a lot as I knew what I was letting myself in for, but for some of the others in the group it was extremely tough. I found myself trying to find ways to encourage these people and motivate them to keep going, and I was surprised to find it's something I turned out to be quite good at.

PROJECT: To provide clean water for a village

Our job was to dig a trench and lay a water line from a bore hole about five kilometres away directly to the village.

Before we arrived, the village was getting its supplies from a water hole in a dried-up river bed, which was full of murky grey water and very unhygienic.

Building trust

Apart from the engineering, which consisted of a guy with a piece of string who could plot very straight lines, we did everything from pick-axing, digging, and talking to the villagers to try to work out where the water trench should be dug to avoid cutting through people's farms or houses.

It was a little tricky to begin with because the villagers were suspicious about us coming in and building on their land. It took a while to earn their trust and to actually start doing anything. It wasn't until halfway through the project that the villagers began to get behind us and we really earned their respect - some of them even came and helped with the digging, which was a really nice moment.

A wedding...

One evening we were invited to a wedding reception that was taking place in the school classroom. We felt a bit awkward at first because we were all in our pyjamas about to go to bed and everyone else was dressed up, but they were insistent that we stay with them. We had dinner, danced and sang with them all night.

...and a goat

When we left, the people in the village wanted to give us a gift to say thank-you for all our efforts. In their culture, it's very rude to even politely refuse a gift. The problem was the gift was a goat, and we had a six-hour journey ahead of us. Yet if we said no, we knew it could jeopardise the future relations between the village and any volunteers, so we took the goat with us.

We had to give it away to someone in the nearest city, which felt like such a terrible thing to do because a goat is very valuable, but we had no choice. Also, sitting on a coach with a goat for an hour was an experience I don't ever want to repeat!

Emotional challenge

I found a lot of my experiences in Tanzania quite affecting, which is not something I expected. It was quite difficult seeing the conditions the people in the village were living in. Even though we volunteers were in tents, they were still bigger and better than the houses in the village.

That's why it was so important for me to really put every effort into the project and to get to know the people I was helping a bit better, despite the language barrier.

PROJECT: To conduct a biodiversity survey, build a gazebo, and help out on a tree plantation

I was part of a group that got to work on two projects, which is quite unusual.

One was an environmental project, which meant I got to go deep into the rainforest and study insects and plants for a biodiversity survey, and I also helped build a gazebo for scientists to use and planted some trees.

Fire ants

Spending five weeks in Borneo was quite a big deal for me. I'd never been travelling outside Europe before and to suddenly find myself in the heart of a rainforest was a bit of a shock!

I really wondered what I had let myself in for. The survival talks and the warnings about the fire ants, centipedes and scorpions scared me quite a lot. I even approached the project leader and said I couldn't do it, but she was really understanding and encouraged me to try.

Camp life

In fact, I was surprised at how quickly I settled in. It was nice to wake up every morning to the sound of gibbons in the trees.

That's not to say life on the campsite was luxurious - at the first campsite we had a gravity water feed system for a shower with some tarpaulin to protect our modesty, but at the second site we had to wash in the river! Toilets were holes in the ground, and you had to walk downhill to get to them. It wasn't the kind of thing you wanted to be doing at night!

Right to work

Building the gazebo was a bit of a challenge because the local man leading the project was adamant that girls shouldn't be allowed to build. It took a lot of negotiating to finally be able to help out! Eventually he came round to the idea and the other girls and I were able to do some painting and sawing, but it wasn't really as hands-on as I had first hoped.

The biodiversity survey made up for that though. I saw some really spectacular wildlife. One day, we came across a kingfisher, which we had to capture in the net to record. I got to see it really close up - it had a bright blue line down its back. When we set it free and it flew away, the blue line caught the light and it looked electric.

Chin up

One of the most important things I learnt in Borneo was that when you're working in a team and you want to get things done, you have to understand how to adapt your approach to people depending on who you're talking to, as everyone reacts differently.

I also learnt how important it is to work to keep morale up because it helps people work together as a team.

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