Staff Spotlight: Kelly Knowles

Director of Program Enrollment Department

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 Knowles - CCS Director of Program Enrollment

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?

Petronilla and Kelly

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.