- Study Abroad
- Volunteer Abroad
- Teach Abroad
- Intern Abroad
- High School
- Gap Year
Programs and Reviews
The Cross-Cultural Solutions Volunteer Abroad experience allows students and travelers to gain valuable experience overseas while working side by side with local individuals and communities to make an impact.
Since 1995, over 30,000 people have volunteered with Cross-Cultural Solutions, providing meaningful and sustainable volunteer services to international communities, and contributing responsibly to local economies.
Volunteers gain valuable experience working in areas such as education, healthcare, and social services. Visit the Cross-Cultural Solutions website to learn more about how we're changing everything.
What is your role at Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS)? Can you tell us a bit about your role and what inspired you to join CCS?
Kelly: I'm the Director of our Program Enrollment Department at CCS. I manage our team of Program Advisors, a team of amazing CCS alumni, who come to work every day to inspire potential volunteers to follow their dream of volunteering abroad. We focus on educating people about the field of short-term international volunteering, as well as the impact that CCS has, in the communities in ten countries around the world, where we work alongside local initiatives.
I was inspired to join CCS as a staff member, because I have done a lot of personal travel to many countries around the world, but the times that stand-out the most to me, aren't walking the Great Wall of China, or swimming with whale sharks in the Philippines or visiting the fairy chimneys in Turkey, but rather the connections that I made with members of the local communities that I was traveling through. CCS makes these connections, especially accessible for volunteers, and combines them with education about the local culture, so it's a really well-rounded experience, where cross-cultural understanding flows in both directions between the volunteers and the communities that they are serving.
What has been your most memorable experience as a volunteer abroad?
Kelly: When I volunteered with CCS in Lima, Peru, there were so many memorable experiences, and I remember them all like it was just yesterday, but I would say that the one memory that really stands out to me is the welcome and good-bye that our group of volunteers received at the elder care center. When we first arrived, we were all nervous, while the abuelos and abuelas looked on at us in the front of the room. All it took was hearing the joy in their voices as they sang a song to welcome us, and so many hugs and kisses. You could see this wasn't fake or disingenuous, but they were literally so happy to have us spend time with them, even if it was only for a week, until a new group of volunteers arrived.
At the end of this very moving week, where we did home-visits, got to know the director at the center, after being on the receiving end of so many hugs/kisses, we were all crying as the center honored our contributions and each and every abuelo/abuela came up to us one by one to hug us and thank us in Spanish. Many of them were even crying themselves. I really learned that I needed to be more open to making these types of connections in my own community back home, and it may sound trite, but it really reinforced that idea that we have much to learn from our older generations.
You've got some great tips on fundraising and saving up for a volunteer trip abroad. Can you share a couple with us?
Kelly: Absolutely! After traveling or being abroad, many members of my personal circle of friends, family, and community members, often approach me and ask how I can afford to be going on these grand life adventures. I'm definitely not independently wealthy, nor do I have a golden ticket, but I think the key is really making it a priority in your life. It's as simple as deciding that you are going to make this dream a reality. Start with cutting small things that you don't need out of your life. I stopped buying coffee out, started having game nights with friends instead of going out to fancy dinner or movies, and quit my costly gym membership. I sold all of the things I owned that weren't serving an immediate purpose. I didn't go shopping for a brand new summer wardrobe. It doesn't have to be all sacrifice though!
Fundraising is a great way to get your community involved in your goal. All of those folks who wish they could get abroad to volunteer, but maybe have other time constraints or responsibilities that make it not possible at this time, would be more than happy to see you serving, even if they can't. I think when prospective volunteers get creative it's a really powerful motivator for those who might fund their big adventure. We've had volunteers who ice skated a certain distance, those who didn't shave their beard for months, and some who have even made a fundraising campaign with lawn ornaments. The sky's the limit!
What trends do you see in terms of volunteer enrollment and which trends do you expect to see in the next 5/10 years?
Kelly: A really important and powerful new trend is emerging: the volunteering family. We're seeing more and more family interest, which is amazing, because the CCS experience is a transformative one to share with those you love most. Often families return feeling like they have newfound respect for each other, and have found themselves in shock or awe at how much they learned about their relatives that they had never seen in daily life. A lot of parents return feeling like they've taught their children lessons about giving back, but also about the importance of cultural exchange, and are excited to have been able to provide their children with such global life-lessons.
What is the most inspiring story you've heard from a CCS volunteer?
Kelly: One of the best stories I've ever heard was from a returned Tanzania volunteer. Ten years ago, he volunteered in TZ at a school, where he became really close to one male student, in particular. He worked really hard with this student throughout his few months in the school. They became fast friends, and then inseparable. When the volunteer had to return home, both were crushed. The former volunteer kept in touch with the student off and on throughout the years. Recently, this former volunteer decided to return to TZ with CCS, a decade after his first trip. He arranged to meet up with the student, who was now grown with a family of his own.
The volunteer was so ecstatic to see that the English, that he and other volunteers after him, had taught the student had helped land him a great job within the tourism industry in TZ. The former student was so grateful that he treated this volunteer to a weekend away at the hotel that he now managed. The former student told the volunteer that his mother would always remind him to take actions in his life that would make this specific volunteer proud. I just find that story of impact fascinating. This type of tale is exactly what the CCS impact is all about; being a link in the chain to effect positive change.
What is your role at Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS)? What do you most enjoy about it?
Julie: I am a Program Advisor at Cross Cultural Solutions and part of a team that is the first point of contact for anyone inquiring about volunteer opportunities. I help provide information and support volunteers as they begin the initial process of enrolling with Cross Cultural Solutions. My favorite part about what I do is experiencing that life changing moment when someone makes the decision to go abroad and volunteer! Having experienced that myself each time I have made the decision to actually do it, I know it is a very energizing and exciting moment for someone to decide to go ahead and fulfill a dream. I enjoy every part of talking to people daily who share the same passion I do for volunteering abroad and cultural learning!
What has been your favorite volunteer abroad experience so far?
Julie: It's so hard to choose just one! They are all special in their own way because of the unique culture, the people I volunteered with, and the point I've been at in my own life at the time I volunteered. My most recent experience was in India so, right now, that is my favorite. I also find the experience special because I was able to spend over 3 weeks in India, which is the longest I've been able to volunteer for and I felt more connected! I experienced so much of the local cultural from drinking Chai every day to dressing up in saris. I really connected with the woman I was teaching English and computer skills to as part of my volunteer assignment. I was also able to travel to Amritsar to see the Golden Temple and to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, which was on my bucket list. I always learn so much about myself when I volunteer in another culture.
Tell us about a local person you met during that volunteer experience.
Julie: One person I met during my experience in India is a lovely woman named Usha. Usha was a student at the women's center and part of my conversational English group. At first, she was very hesitant to talk and answer questions. I tried to engage her in conversation and was not sure what exactly she needed or wanted from my lessons. One day I brought a special reading just for Usha and worked one on one. I asked her a question and called her by her name. She was so surprised and happy that I remembered her name that we instantly had a bond. I was able to watch her personality come out over the three weeks I was with her and found that she was a very educated and intelligent woman. We were able to talk about her goals and limitations. It was no surprise that we discovered that we had similar dreams and aspirations. We still stay in contact today!
What makes volunteering with CCS so unique?
Julie: I have found this experience to be so unique for me because I had sought a way for many years to volunteer objectively in another culture - that is with no religious or political push - and learn about local culture while giving back. This experience has allowed me to combine everything I love, from traveling to cultural learning and feel good about what I am doing! It is rare for a volunteer organization to defer to the local community to express their needs, and provide volunteers to support and foster cultural learning. This is the big picture for me because then I can take this home and educate others about different cultures so we can all have a better understanding of the world. In doing so, we realize that we are not so different, we all face similar challenges and share the same dreams!
What is your role at Cross-Cultural Solutions? What do you most enjoy about it?
Taylor: I'm a Program Advisor at Cross-Cultural Solutions. I get to speak with those who are interested in volunteering abroad! I help potential volunteers decide on what program is the best fit for them by providing any details needed and by discussing the overall international volunteering experience pre-enrollment. We communicate through many forums such as in-person meetings, phone, email and live chat.
What I enjoy most is speaking with so many interesting people from all over the world who have similar passions as me. My first program was so life-changing, so I love that I can help others in their own personal journey to something great!
Where have you volunteered abroad recently?
Taylor: I most recently volunteered in Bangkok, Thailand which was always my dream destination! I worked at a school for students with disabilities which was really rewarding. I mostly taught basic English and swimming as a form of therapy. However, the most important thing was forming deeper connections with the students and providing them with individual attention, as the school was a bit understaffed.
It was amazing to see the children progress in their social interactions day after day! The staff were thankful to have us there, and they quickly began to feel like old friends. So exploring Bangkok with members of the local community, visiting their homes and meeting their families, really allowed me to have such a unique and insider prospective to a culture I love.
What was one of the most memorable moments of that experience?
Taylor: I remember seeing Wat Arun, or the Temple of Dawn on the Travel Channel when I was young; that and my interest in Buddhism is what sparked my initial interest in Thailand. So climbing up the stairs of that beautiful temple with fellow CCS volunteers and staff was something that was so memorable. At that moment, I really felt like I was finally achieving a life-long dream.
The in-country ,CCS staff are incredible and really go the extra mile for volunteers. Knowing about my interest in Buddhism, they set up a meeting with a Buddhist monk. I got to sit with him for an hour and we discussed everything from our childhoods to the meaning of life. It was an unreal moment. I felt my impact most when a teacher that I'd been volunteering with told me that over the course of my time there, I had completely changed the attitude of a young girl who was having trouble. The one-on-one attention I was able to give her, helped her find some happiness and motivated her to do well!
What are your top insights or tips for first-time volunteers?
Taylor: My top insight is to try everything! Without an open-mind, I wouldn't have tasted some of the best food ever and I certainly wouldn't have made new life-long friends. Bring a charger for your camera, but don't forget to take it all in while capturing the moments!
What role do you play in a volunteer's experience with Cross Cultural Solutions (CCS)?
Amanda: I'm a Program Advisor here at Cross-Cultural Solutions and, as is the case with all of our Program Advisors, I am a former CCS volunteer myself. On a day to day basis, I talk to individuals who call in, e-mail us, or chat with us on our website in regards to their interest in volunteering abroad. I answer any general questions they have about our programs and organization, provide them with details on each of our destinations, help them find the program that best suits their skills and interests, and walk them through the enrollment process. I also get to talk a lot about my experiences as a volunteer, to help prospective volunteers gain a clearer picture as to what the program is like!
Can you tell us about your experience volunteering with CCS in Guatemala?
Amanda: I volunteered in Guatemala this past November and I had an incredible time! I participated in a one-week program, during which I worked at a home for kids with different types of disabilities, all of whom who had been abandoned or neglected. I spent my days playing games and sports with them, leading arts and craft activities, doing puzzles, and helping with their physical therapy through exercises and stretches. The kids that I worked with were amazing, and I really value the time I spent with them. Outside of my volunteer assignment, I took part in fascinating cultural activities, all organized by CCS. I toured Guatemala City, visited a small Mayan town to learn about Mayan tradition and culture, spent an afternoon in an art museum, and even hiked a volcano! What I love most about the CCS program, is the balance of volunteer work and cultural immersion activities.
Who was the most memorable local you met when you were a volunteer in Guatemala?
Amanda: The most memorable community member I made a connection with while volunteering in Guatemala was Miguel, the CCS security guard at our Home-Base. A really wonderful aspect of the CCS program is the In-Country Staff, a team of community members and local professionals, who work full-time at the Home-Base to facilitate the program and support our volunteers. Miguel stayed up late every night with all of the volunteers, practicing his English while we practiced our Spanish. We would all sit around the dining room table, sipping hot chocolate, and having conversations that lasted for hours about our families, jobs, and hobbies, with our Spanish dictionaries in our hands. Even though we couldn't speak the same language, Miguel always found a way to make us laugh, and his friendship was the most treasured souvenir of my trip.
Where do you want to volunteer next?
Amanda: I am actually already enrolled in our Peru program this upcoming November and I'm so excited to start! One of my colleagues recently participated in the program and had amazing things to say about her experience. I am most looking forward to the volunteer work I'll be doing there, as we work with an amazing community within the capital city of Lima called Villa el Salvador, an official district of city that was actually nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize back in 1986 for its work on grassroots community development. I've heard that the work we're doing there is really inspirational. I'm also planning to visit Machu Picchu at the end of my trip, which I'm hoping will be an adventure of a lifetime!
What is your role at Cross Cultural Solutions (CCS)?
Ansley: I am a Program Advisor - Group Specialist at CCS. I assist individuals, university groups, and corporate groups in finding the perfect volunteer abroad experience for them.
What inspires you most on a daily basis?
Ansley: In my job, I get to relive my experiences from volunteering in Tanzania and Peru by sharing them with people who are interested in finding out more about the program. My experiences were incredible and completely life-changing. To be able to talk about it every day is amazing.
Where did you most recently volunteer abroad? What was your favorite part of the experience?
Ansley: My most recent volunteer abroad program was in Lima, Peru. My favorite moment was when I ended up cutting hair at the elder care facility where I worked. I volunteered for the task, momentarily forgetting that I had never cut hair before. After a deep breath, careful note of how close the ears were to my scissors, I just started snipping away. As it turns out, I can cut hair! That was when I really understood the value of just jumping into new experiences head first, and how CCS really offers an environment where that is easily done.
Where do you want to volunteer next?
Ansley: I'm thinking either Morocco or India for my next program. I have experienced a rural African program, an urban Latin American program; I want to experience a North African or Asian culture as well! Each country will have so much to offer as far as sights and cultural experiences, but I think the reason I continue to do CCS programs, despite the fact that I am now a confident and independent traveler, is the opportunity for community relationships. The CCS program offers a chance for volunteers to meet and make friends with people in the community like nothing I have ever seen before or since. Those bonds seem to be life-long, using social media and technology to stay connected, regardless of the distance. Having your "crew" strewn across several continents, in a smattering of countries across the world is pretty cool!
What is your role at Cross Cultural Solutions (CCS)?
Molly: I am a Program Site Specialist at CCS and specifically work with volunteers who are enrolled and traveling to Ghana & South Africa. I help to prepare volunteers for their program with regards to logistics, cultural understanding, and even some language prep! The other key part of my job is working with the in-country staff in each location (the heroes of CCS). We work together to make sure the needs of the volunteers, along with the community are being met on a day to day basis. I love my position because I get to be there for the volunteer as they get excited about their trip, hear from the staff about how everyone is doing on the ground, and I get to speak with volunteers when they return! They come back invigorated and changed, and I like to think I had a very, very small roll in that process.
What inspired you to join CCS?
Molly: After I volunteered with CCS in Tanzania, I came back to finish my last year of undergrad. My trip had made it clear to me that I wanted to get into international development and the non-profit world after I graduated. Just weeks after I had said goodbye to my alma mater, I was exploring the CCS'website for my next adventure, and saw that there was an available position. It had been a year since my Kilimanjaro experience and I was still in touch with most of my fellow volunteers, many of the incountry staff, and quite a few of the people I had met in Tanzania throughout my trip. I knew that if one program had that big of an impact on my life, I wanted to be a part of the larger organization. I applied and the rest is history...
Where did you most recently volunteer abroad? What was your favorite part of the experience?
Molly: Most recently I traveled on our Ghana program and I had been itching to get back to a rural location. I was not disappointed! The community where we work is breathtaking; green and luscious during rainy season and very mountainous. But of course it was the people of the community that really blew me away. We were welcomed in town with open arms and greeted happily on a daily basis. I was truly blown away by the genuine, kind-hearted, positive attitude that flourished in Hohoe. My favorite part of this particular experience was the group of volunteers that I was with; I felt we were really in together! We bonded through our trip to the witch doctor, completed a 5 hour hike through 6 caves, and swam under the tallest waterfall in West Africa. I couldn't have imagined my trip without each and every one of them!
As a college student, you successfully raised funds to volunteer with CCS in Tanzania. Can you share a few fundraising tips?
Molly: When I was thinking about volunteering in college, I knew that I couldn't do it without a little help. I went the old fashion route and did a letter writing campaign. I drafted two types of letters, one for family and friends, and one for businesses. I printed close to 200 letters and sent along a handwritten note with each, to make it personal. I think what really sealed the deal was including a self-addressed, stamped envelope with the letter - I wanted to make it as easy as possible for my sponsors to donate. I was blown away by the amount of responses I received; anything from $5 to $500! I found that many people are looking for a way to give back, and sponsoring a volunteer was a convenient way to do so. I successfully raised my entire program fee and enough for my flight. When I returned I handwrote thank you letters to each of my sponsors (just do it) and even held a few presentations about my trip. Fundraising ended up reconnecting me with some of my distant family members and people in my community still hit me up for volunteer advice!