GoAbroad Interview

Julie Webb - Programs & Alumni Engagement Specialist

Julie Webb - Programs & Alumni Engagement Specialist

Julie is the Programs and Alumni Engagement Specialist at Cross Cultural Solutions. She has worked for CCS for the past two and a half years and has also volunteered in Morocco, Guatemala, India, Peru, Thailand, Ghana, and most recently Tanzania. Julie absolutely loves to travel, learn about new cultures, and is also happens to be an international studies student at NYU.

You’ve volunteered abroad in India, Thailand, Peru, Guatemala, and Morocco. How did these experiences lead you to your role with Cross-Cultural Solutions?

I started by volunteering in Morocco, and had such an amazing experience. I couldn’t stop thinking about volunteering and decided to do another one week program in Guatemala about a year later. There were two Cross-Cultural Solutions’ employees volunteering in Guatemala with me, and literally the first thing I said when they introduced themselves is, “I want to work for CCS”! About a month after I returned home from Guatemala, that is exactly what I did. I quit my corporate job and moved across the country to work for CCS.

Volunteer teaching English to women in Tanzania

Julie teaching English to the women’s group in Tanzania

What is a typical day of work like for you?

There is no typical day! The day-to-day changes frequently. I talk to people interested in volunteering and alumni returning from their programs. I try to reach out to all alumni within the week or two after they return to talk about their experience. I am also available on live chat everyday for questions about volunteering. There really is never a dull moment as we stay connected with alumni of programs and people interested in volunteering. 

What differentiates Cross-Cultural Solutions from all the other volunteer and intern abroad program providers out there?

I am particularly passionate about the local model of Cross Cultural Solutions and the outstanding in country staff. They really make the programs special and become like your family when you are on a CCS program. I sought out this program because CCS is non denominational and caters to the immediate needs of the local community through in-country experts or in-country staff. The local in-country staff know what is needed in-country, and that makes the volunteer work relevant and sustainable.

What characteristics does an ideal CCS volunteer or intern possess?

I think the most important characteristic of a Cross-Cultural Solutions volunteer or intern is to be open-minded and flexible! It is so necessary to be able to go with the flow when you are in a different culture and accept cultural differences with a sense of humor.

I think volunteers are most successful in their volunteer assignments when they are proactive and flexible to change.

In your opinion, what is the most interesting volunteer or intern program Cross-Cultural Solutions offers?

Such a hard question! They are all interesting, but, if I must choose, I personally think the women’s empowerment projects are most interesting. I volunteered with women’s groups both in Dharamsala, India and in Tanzania. I have to say that these are some of my fondest memories, as I made deep connections with the women I worked with. Also, Dharamsala is such an interesting and fascinating place! It is a hill station community at the base of the Himalayas and the Tibetan refugee population lives in upper Dharamsala, just a 10 tp 15 minute taxi ride away from the Cross-Cultural Solutions home base.

Shadows of camel trek participants in Morocco

Julie on a camel trek she took during her free time in Morocco

How do you best prepare participants for their time abroad?

We do as much as possible to prepare volunteers! Each volunteer works with a program specialist for their site or destination who is always available to help with the preparation process and answer questions. Volunteers also have a volunteer profile with information about their program, including cultural information, suggested books, and a language file to start practicing the local language in advance. The program specialist will also host a conference call, so everyone can connect and talk about arrival, packing, and all things before they depart. It is a really supportive and stress-free process.

How do you help volunteers immerse in the local culture during their program?

This is probably one of my favorite parts of the program. We have the local in-country staff to talk about cultural norms and help with immersion. The in-country staff will set up cultural learning activities throughout the week for volunteers. The activities are completely unique experiences that volunteers could not have as a tourist. For example, in Tanzania, Mama Thea, the program director, had a doctor speak with us about health concerns in Tanzania, a teacher came every few days to teach Swahili lessons, and we even had batik or cloth dying lessons one afternoon. I learned so much about the culture in Tanzania in just two weeks.

Batik making in Tanzania

Batik making or cloth dying in Tanzania

What are type of support do Cross-Cultural Solutions in-country staff members provide volunteers and interns upon arrival?

The in country staff are so supportive and accommodating! We will pick Cross-Cultural Solutions’ volunteers up from the airport with a big sign and a smile. We then bring them to the home base where they will be warmly greeted and settle into their new home. Volunteers and interns will have an orientation to welcome them and talk about everything needed upon arrival. The staff is always available on site to support volunteers, answer questions, and just hang out and talk about the culture!

Your academic background is in criminal justice, English, and global studies. How are you able to bring this knowledge to your role with CCS?

WIth my background I am very aware and informed about both current and past global issues, so it really helps in conversation with alumni and potential volunteers. For example, many people think that Africa is unsafe and are nervous about traveling to some of our destinations in Africa. With my experience and knowledge I can explain the economic and political stability in the destinations we have programs in, and talk with them about how to travel in a smart and safe way.

What has been your biggest achievement since joining the Cross-Cultural Solutions team?

My biggest achievement has been the level of service I provide to alumni, enrolled volunteers, and potential volunteers. I think talking and connecting with people is one of my greatest gifts, and with extensive experience volunteering in Cross Cultural Solutions’ programs, it is a winning combination in each role I have been in at CCS.

International volunteer with local women in India

Julie with the women’s group she taught conversational English to in India

What type of alumni programming do you have in place to help volunteers and interns process and share their experiences?

We have some really exciting ways for volunteers to stay connected once they have returned from our programs. One thing volunteers can do is host what we call an information session in their local community, that is open to all that are interested in volunteering. This is a great way to stay connected to Cross Cultural Solutions and meet other people that are also interested in volunteering. Alumni can also represent us on their campus, if they are students, and even put together a CCS Squad, or a group of friends to volunteer with a specific project in whichever country they choose. We have so many alumni that are references for us and love talking with potential volunteers about their experiences.

What is the most fulfilling part of your job?

The most fulfilling part is seeing volunteers’ lives change. I know everyone who volunteers has an impact on the local community and in turn the community changes them. I love when a potential volunteer makes the decision to just “do it”, and I’m the lucky one who gets to talk with them after they have volunteered and hear about how the program changed them. It is so energizing to talk with people about their love of the program and what they are doing with the experience once they return, since it changed everything for me too!