How long have you been part of the team at Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS)? What is your role?
Cassandra: As the Director of Operations with Cross-Cultural Solutions, I lead our operations teams to ensure that we are running smoothly and efficiently- including IT, Finance, Support Services, and HR, and the Program Enrollment and Campus Engagement teams to inspire and assist individuals who are interested in international volunteering. My journey with CCS started over 10 years ago, when I first volunteered in a center for street children in Peru. After an early career start in banking, I realized that my passion for and commitment to international volunteering extended beyond an annual overseas experience, and I joined the CCS team in 2005. My experience as a CCS staff member started as a Program Advisor, where I worked with individuals to help make their goals of volunteering abroad a reality – and I later became part of the Programs team, working to support our inspiring in-country teams around the world. Today, my role allows me to immerse myself in many aspects of our field, both within our office, and with external partnerships and affiliations.
We heard you had some great adventures volunteering with your niece in Guatemala. Do tell!
Cassandra:The experience of international volunteering is eye-opening, changing your perspective and, in many ways, changing you. I had volunteered in 9 countries around the world when I decided to share this experience with my 9-year-old niece, Callie. I hoped that her first experience abroad would open her eyes to new cultures and international travel, as well as a deeper understanding of our shared humanity and a commitment to helping others – I was not disappointed.
During one life-changing week in Guatemala City, Guatemala, we worked together in a local school, teaching English and sharing our lives and experiences. From living within the local community; trying new Guatemalan dishes, learning about history and social issues, and taking part in truly memorable excursions – such as exploring a Mayan community – Callie & I truly immersed ourselves in Guatemalan life and culture. Exploring the world in such a deep and meaningful way not only was extremely educational and enlightening, but also created lifelong memories.
What is the most inspirational story you've heard from another CCS volunteer?
Cassandra: Part of working with Cross-Cultural Solutions is meeting inspiring and amazing individuals from around the world, so we’re surrounded by incredible stories each day. The story that has most inspired me, however, is from a young survivor of cancer who volunteered in Cape Town, South Africa in a quest to rediscover her passions and inspiration after an extremely difficult and challenging time in her life. Working within community organizations and connecting deeply with local people ignited this passion, and, determined to spread this inspiration to others, she founded an organization to take other cancer survivors abroad to volunteer and complete those “bucket-list” items. Taking such a difficult experience and turning it into something not only meaningful in your own life, but so important and meaningful in the lives of so many, demonstrates the power and beauty in volunteering and real connections.
What tips do you have for first-time volunteers?
Cassandra: I can’t think of a better way to start your journey exploring our world than through international volunteering, and I’m always so excited to see a first-time international volunteer step into their work assignment or into the CCS Home-Base for the first time. My advice is to first and foremost have an open mind – you’re about to experience another culture on an entirely new level, learn about social issues faced by that community, and be challenged to go outside of your comfort zone. Going into this with an open mind, and with a willingness to learn and explore, can make a difference not only in how you open up to the community, but in how the community opens up to you and shares their lives and stories. The experience of sitting alongside local people and sharing your life experiences on such a deep and personal level is magical.