"I got to meet teens, I got to meet children, I got to meet families," Gomez said in an interview Friday about the trip, which she took last month with her mother and stepfather in her role as UNICEF's youngest-ever ambassador.
"It was completely life-changing and eye-opening, and when we came back we definitely had nothing to complain about."
This is Gomez's second year as spokesperson for the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF program, which the organization says is one of the longest-running youth volunteer movements in America. Last year, Gomez raised some $700,000 for the campaign; this year she hopes to bring in $1 million.
Many kids who watch Gomez play Alex Russo on the Disney Channel's "Wizards of Waverly Place" know little about Africa or the issues facing it, Gomez noted. "That's why I feel very honored to have a voice that kids listen to and take into consideration," she said. "I had people on my tour asking me where IS Ghana, and they Googled it … and because I went there, they now know where Ghana is. So it's pretty incredible."
It's a busy time for Gomez, whose series returns for a third season on Oct. 9, and who just this week released her debut album, "Kiss&Tell," with her band, The Scene.
"I can't believe I have a CD!" she said. But she added: "Acting will always be my number one. I just love acting so much. Music is more of a personal thing I like to do."
Gomez's success at Disney has led to inevitable comparisons with another teen sensation, Miley Cyrus. But Gomez says emphatically she's "not here to be the next anyone."
"I'm not here to replace anyone," she says. "I'm here doing my own thing. I'm proud to be a part of the Disney Channel family and I'm taking it day by day."