Cross-Cultural Solutions

Fully Verified What's this?
9 / 10 after 142 Reviews Based on overall, support & value average ratings

As an international volunteer with Cross-Cultural Solutions, you're making a meaningful contribution, working side-by-side with local people and sharing in the goals of a community that warmly welcomes you. You're experiencing another culture like never before and really getting to know its people. You'll gain new perspectives and insight into the culture and yourself. It's an exciting and personally inspiring experience, and you'll develop memories that will be with you forever.

Submit a review

I LOVED my experience with CCS Peru. The in-country staff was fantastic - supportive, informative, and they became my family in Lima. I can't imagine anyone better than Kique, the Country Director, leading this program -- he was energetic, knowledgeable, and an incredible personality to introduce me to Peru.

I volunteered in a center for the elderly, which ended up being such an incredible experience. There was so much to do every day -- I can't even describe how meaningful my experiences were in working with the older men, women, and staff there. I will never forget the moments we created together, and I was able to see first-hand the support we gave to these individuals. I helped out in the kitchen, led daily exercises, helped with a makeshift barber shop, and of course spent a lot of one-on-one time playing cards, talking, and so much more. Every day was full, and went by so quickly!

The rest of the program was equally fabulous. The activities were engaging and in-depth. My favorite was actually a presentation on the political systems of Peru, but there were so many excursions and lessons that I really felt immersed in Peruvian culture in just a few weeks.

Of course, I need to say something about the amazing food in Peru. I loved that the CCS cooks really provided an abundance of incredible dishes for every meal! When I wanted to learn to make something to take home, the cook was always helpful in giving me an inpromptu lesson - just another benefit of the staff in Lima!

Overall, Peru was fantastic. A memory I'll keep with me forever. I'd definitely encourage anyone considering international volunteering to go to Peru for an incredible time - and of course with CCS!

Program:
Location:
Posted: June 20, 2014
Overall:
10
Support:
10
Value:
10
By: cet.807
Age:

PLEASE READ BEFORE PARTICIPATING WITH CCS

My purpose in writing this review is to help those researching a service-based trip and hopefully keep others from ending up in my situation. I was meant to be departing tomorrow to participate in a program with CCS in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. After a few things that seemed “off” towards the end of the process with them, I started doing some more in-depth research and what I found was truly upsetting. My goal is to share what I learned, consolidating several sources of information to make it easier for others. Read the below, do your own research and then make whatever decision is best for you. For my part, in the end there was no way I could be affiliated with this organization. Thankfully, I have found another program that I am quite pleased with. I am hoping to get my money back, but if I cannot, I know I will rest easier for not having been a part of a program like this.

In my initial research I came across plenty of good reviews. It was only when I went back and reexamined them did it became clear that the positive and negative reviews addressed very different items. The good reviews were all about housing, food, transportation, free time, and the excitement of being in a new country. Occasionally, you’d find mention of the work, but only as it pertained to the volunteer enjoying it and not about the impact that was being made. The negative reviews are all about the work (or lack thereof). Many of their former volunteers describe how there was little to no plan or guidance for them and that the work they did was useless. Most disturbingly, that some actually felt they were doing more harm. There are also numerous complaints about the few hours spent working, no plan to build on previous volunteer’s work and a general feeling of being not needed. CCS seems much more oriented towards creating an experience to make people who participate feel good as opposed to identifying a community’s needs and addressing them in a meaningful way. I highly recommend reading OrenRose’s thoughtful review on page 15 of this forum.

As you do your research, you will find that most reputable programs do not allow participation for less than 4 weeks when working with children. This is to protect the kids and keep their needs at the forefront. The tale of a non-native English speaker being told to teach children English and teaching them to spell incorrectly is horrifying. Further proof that CCS is not actively looking to place people in appropriate settings to address a need. There is a great blog by a CCS volunteer who for her part really enjoyed her end of the experience. However, in describing the impact she had, she details a detrimental involvement for the children she was meant to help. Her assessment was, “The negative emotional and educational impact on the children from the turnover is enormous and very difficult for me to swallow.” Her very enlightening blog can be found here: https://carynlevyonline.wordpress.com/tag/cross-cultural-solutions/

I also learned that I would only work 42-56 hours over the course of 3 weeks. I inquired about volunteering more and was told that it would not be possible during week one, but at the discretion of the in country staff they might find me something for the remainder of my time. My feeling was they had no need or plan and would likely find some busy work for me. Also, it seemed clear that I could not go out on my own and find other opportunities, as they seemed to be in control of where and how I spent my time. My impression from other volunteers is that the program seems to cater to those that may not have had much (if any) international travel experience, offering them a way to do so in a bubble. Those that had traveled before and/or volunteered before really seemed to be at odds with this program.

This was also my introduction to the fact that the afternoon activities are mandatory. While immersing oneself in the local culture is important, it is ridiculous that grown adults are not in charge of their own time. Feedback on these activities ranges from fantastic to terrible. (One volunteer’s experience of “learning” Swahili was being handed a list of verbs by someone who worked in the house.) Again, this only matters because you are forced to attend. Several people have complained about being treated as children. The curfew also precludes attending certain events and festivals in town as well. It would seem the only local culture that CCS finds to be of note is that which they provide.

As the process went on, it became clear where CCS’ real focus was. During the orientation call that lasted an hour, about 8 minutes were spent on volunteering. The rest was about shopping, leisure time, etc. I also learned that our on-site orientation would involve local tour operators coming to sell participants safaris, etc. Their priorities became more and more clear. Their time and money is spent on everything except what should be the main reason you are there. (Part of the money you pay goes to have someone make your bed for you!) Bagamoyo is also only a summer program. That means not only is CCS not engaged in sustained long term work there, but there is also a home that has to be maintained for the rest of the year.

As I took a closer look at their financial operations, I learned that their Executive Director is a voting member of the board. This is generally frowned upon in the non-profit world as it is seen as a conflict of interest. I inquired directly if he votes on budget/compensation and got a vague reply that did not directly address this concern. Their ED also makes about 3x that others in similar positions do.

On this board you will see reviews by 3 people that were kicked out of the Costa Rica program on their first day. The story is very odd, but one thing that was consistent was that no one from CCS bothered to speak to them, they were simply presented with letters telling them to leave. I have no reason to believe their word over CCS, except that CCS' response on this public forum was to call the woman a liar and not address any of her actual concerns. Nor those of the others. They did this with another negative review as well. Rather then address the issues and present their POV, they responded unprofessionally. If you take a look at better-rated organizations such as IVHQ, you will see appropriate responses to criticisms. This one thing speaks volumes about an organization.

Letting all this go and just focusing on the work, the odds of my doing anything useful seemed slim to none. This was my main reason to not participate. The best-case scenario I could have hoped for would have been for me not do any harm, to have a neutral effect. The likelihood that I would have a negative impact was far too great. And in the end, are we not going to try and do some good? Is that not the point of this whole thing? I just could not be a part of a program that seems to be a vehicle to parade foreigners through an area in need as some sort of show and tell/cultural sight seeing tour to make them feel good about themselves. As one reviewer writes, this is a cultural vacation. Or volunteer vacation. But if you are expecting, as I was, an opportunity to work hard and make a difference, this is not the program for you.

The more I learned about effective volunteerism, it became clear that if you are going for a shorter period of time (let’s face it, we don’t all have the ability to go for longer trips) that a different type of project with specific objectives is more impactful. Habitat International builds for example, that have more immediate goals for short-term participation.

In the end, the most important thing I learned was to ask questions. If using an agency, apply to a specific program as opposed to a generalized location. What are the organizations long-term goals? Short-term goals? How do they use volunteers? What kind of constructive criticism have they received? Or better still, go direct. There are plenty of opportunities where there is no cost to volunteer, you just pay your room and board. You can be sure then that your resources are being used wisely. Perhaps most importantly, reach out to past volunteers – this has been the most useful.

Program:
Location:
Posted: June 11, 2014
Overall:
1
Support:
5
Value:
1
By: nyc101
Age:
39

Comments

Thank you for your feedback, and we’re sorry to hear that you won’t be joining us in Bagamoyo this year. We understand your concerns raised regarding the impact of the volunteer work being completed, and would love to address these in more detail. We take both volunteer satisfaction and impact very seriously, and regularly monitor this through in-person visits by our in-country staff and surveys. Last year, our volunteer satisfaction rating was 99.6%, and our impact in the community was rated as “positive” or “highly positive” by all partner organizations worldwide. In addition, we have had an independent longitudinal study conducted by the Washington University School of Social Work to study our impact in communities. This also addresses the impact on children, and we structure our volunteer work assignments specifically so that our volunteers are assisting permanent staff members at these work assignments, not taking primary responsibility for the care of the children involved (in part) for this reason. Please see our impact measurement standards at http://www.crossculturalsolutions.org/blog/how-we-measure-impact-cross-cultural-solutions-volunteers for more information on this topic. As a former CCS volunteer myself, while 4-5 hours of volunteer work per day might not seem like a lot, for most volunteers, it is a very exhausting and full day. Working with cultural and language barriers in an under resourced environment is emotionally and physically exhausting for most. Of course, we do have some volunteers who would like to take on additional volunteer work in the afternoons, and we do allow that. However, we realize that the first week of adjusting to a new location can be taxing, and we want to allow time for our volunteers to participate in Cultural & Learning Activities (some which are optional, such as language lessons) to appreciate and understand the cultural and social issues that face these communities – which creates a more well-rounded and in-depth experience. Over our 19 years of experience in working with volunteers, we have a great deal of experience with what works well for volunteers and for communities – and all of the locations where we work are led by experienced in-country staff made up entirely of local nationals; these in-country staff, together with their local community, determine the needs best met by volunteers. Our staff does include a housekeeper in all locations, whose responsibility includes creating a clean and sanitary environment for all volunteers and staff. We are proud of the fair employment conditions that we’re able to create through these programs in our locations worldwide and the impact of our programs being run entirely by local nationals, who understand and appreciate the needs of their own communities best. We completely agree with your advice to ask a lot of questions – and our Program Specialists are all available to respond to any questions any volunteers may have, as well as to provide references from former volunteers to speak about their program experiences. In fact, the IVPA includes a list of questions for all volunteers to consider when selecting a program, which can be found at http://www.volunteerinternational.org/principles.html. Please also feel free to reach out to us to discuss any of your questions or concerns. We would love to speak with you in more detail about any of these issues.

CCS's in-country staff were amazing. We have been to South Africa on similar experiences two previous times, and can say that CCS offered the most genuine cultural experience of the groups with whom we've worked.

Program:
Location:
Posted: June 6, 2014
Overall:
10
Support:
10
Value:
10
By: foriska
Age:
35

This was my first volunteer abroad trip, and I didn't know what to expect beyond the presentation and documents that CCS provided. First off, I'd like to acknowledge that these files were spot on accurate and really provided a good sense of expectations. Next, the accommodations were more than comfortable, and exceeded my expectations. The beds linen was clean, the bed made for us each day, the house immaculately clean (albeit a little old and dark, which is expected), and the garden a real treat. The service of the in house staff exceeded expectations, and the simple meals we ate at the house was better than some meals outside! The program director, Kique, is friendly, helpful, funny, and always there to help you start the day off on the right foot. Our drivers were also wonderful, always patient with us Americans who were occasionally fashionably late, and always with a smile.

Now, the program itself is a huge success. Our team worked with seniors, and although we were a little apprehensive going into the program due to our lack of experience in caring for the elderly, we were all amazed by the care and consideration that went into running this community center. The permanent staff are all angels, all of them kind, sweet, patient, efficient, caring, and all seem to really enjoy the work they do there. The seniors themselves were amazing, and they cared for each other as though everyone were family. The fact that they were accepted into this community center indicates that they are in fact in dire need of the services provided here and that their conditions at home could be incredibly poor. But upon meeting these lovely seniors, you soon realize that you couldn't possibly begin to imagine how hard their lives are through their smile, laughter, and positive energy. We were all awed by how kind, loving, and caring, and positive these seniors were, and I think we were all expecting a sadder bunch. The work that CCS is doing here is incredible, and we were given the opportunity to serve these incredible people. Not only is the program here a success, but we came to understand that this program and other programs like this are necessities. The work we were assigned were clear and efficient, also the variety of work allowed us a glimpse into a wide range of daily tasks that the permanent volunteers perform, and we also had a glimpse into the simpler life here in Lima. This is an incredible experience that I think will humble all who have the opportunity to participate.

Program:
Location:
Posted: May 27, 2014
Overall:
9
Support:
10
Value:
8
Age:

This is my second time working with Cross Cultural Solutions. My first trip was to Guatemala with a group of nine sophomore students and it was wonderful. We had a great time and learned more than we expected to learn about the culture. And because CCS has been such a well-organized non-profit company, we decided to use them again for our service learning class – this time we traveled to Ghana and had the most amazing time.

Our purpose was to spend the week volunteering and learning about ourselves and others in the process. I worked at a school for the deaf, and, hands down, it was the best teaching experience I have had to date. My students were studying for a national exam and were highly motivated. They had no distractions for electronics (something I battle with on a daily basis in my US classes) and all eyes were on me. My placement at the deaf school was so perfectly matched to my interest and talents that I came away fully energized with every day of work. Although I do not sign, I managed to communicate, and they managed to show that they were learning what I was teaching. I think it was an exciting growing experience for both me and my Ghana students.

Back at home base, we relaxed, did a bit of reading, and attended cultural lectures which served to answer some of the questions we had about things we experienced during the day. As I mentioned earlier, I traveled with nine sophomore college students and they thoroughly enjoyed every bit of their week in HoHoe, Ghana. They embraced the lectures, loved their work, loved our outings, and were in constant dialogue with the staff about everything form how did you cook this to why am I not able to see the difference between a private and public school. We have been back home for almost two weeks now, and I have not yet heard a negative word about our experience. Currently my students are in the process of digesting their experience and working on their final project which reflects on their service and learning abroad. They are all very excited to work and eager to tell about their trip.

I expect their projects will highlight (along with their work experience) the wonderful hospitality shown to us by the CCS staff. They were so easy to talk to and so eager to help and provide information. One of our class assignments was to read a book by a Ghanaian writer. We were all a little confused about some of the practices described in the book, but our host director was so gracious in explaining about the culture and answering the many questions we had about what we encountered in our reading.

Following our work day, the CCS staff accompanied us on daily excursions. My favorite was the monkey farm where we fed monkeys as they climbed on us to get their little piece of banana. The excursions were so much fun and we were so comfortable with our hosts.

I can’t say enough wonderful things about the staff. They know just the right balance between being professional and being friendly . We had many laughs with them and they were wonderfully informative. The food was super yummy. We got to try some good home cooked Ghanaian food and also had the comfort of a few of those staples of home.

I would highly recommend using Cross Cultural Solutions for your trip to Ghana. It has been “an experience to cherish” as one of my students told me. You will absolutely love it!

Program:
Location:
Posted: May 26, 2014
Overall:
10
Support:
10
Value:
10
Age:
50

Pages