Perry Brissette - 2014 Program Participant
Perry and other volunteers with locals in their traditional Indian dress.
Why did you choose to volunteer abroad?
Inspired by my studies in global affairs, I wanted go overseas and into the field to make an impact and contribute to something positive for the world. But, I wasn’t sure where to get started. CCS provided me with a friendly and flexible framework, an easy, more approachable way to help me launch. I regarded the global placement opportunities through Cross-Cultural Solutions as something akin to engaging field work and a chance to really immerse myself in another culture.
Ultimately, my experience helped me discover how making a difference in the world is as much about challenging and reshaping my own cultural frame of reference as it is about the role I filled, however positive and enjoyable that was. The experience taught life lessons like no other about who I am and how my cultural perspectives influence my world view.
Why did you select Cross-Cultural Solutions over other volunteer abroad programs?
From the very beginning the staff at CCS really listened to my needs and helped me achieve what I wanted to accomplish abroad. Plus, after extensive research, I could not find any other organization with quite the breadth and depth of services, the extensive and well-rounded destinations, and significant track record as Cross-Cultural Solutions. I feel quite lucky to have found CCS!
How did your experience in both Thailand and India with CCS impact you?
They both offered life-changing experiences. But what I most enjoyed was the way the experiences changed me and reshaped my own views about my own cultural background and my place in the world as a "global citizen."
What were your housing arrangements like?
Accommodations are much like a dorm. And yet, the arrangements feel like home. In the morning, we’d share conversations over the breakfast table. In the afternoon, we’d gather in the living room for roundtable discussions, briefings, or cultural learning exercises. In the evening we’d get together to watch Bollywood movies on the VCR, a wonderful extension to the cultural learning while in India. All this lent itself to an open, family like atmosphere. You could enjoy privacy in your shared room or spend time chatting with staff or fellow volunteers whenever you liked.
What was a normal day like as a volunteer?
Our volunteer assignment served as the centerpiece for most of our day; however we spent lots of time engaging in extracurricular activities too, including cultural excursions, lectures, and language studies. There was personal time, to write, read, and reflect; plus there was time to hike or explore local places. Over breakfast, our day might begin with time spent planning and preparing for the work ahead; later, we’d participate in debriefing sessions with staff and learn from fellow volunteers. There is considerable emphasis placed on sharing and discussing topics and issues together, so we spent a lot of time interacting with staff and other volunteers, as a method of continuous improvement, ensuring the quality of our impact at work and our overall experience in country.
Perry outside the Taj Mahal while volunteering in India with Cross-Cultural Solutions.
How did you spend your free time or off days?
Opportunities for excursions outside the regular structure were numerous and varied. I traveled further afield by train and bus, getting to know more of the country.
Now that you are a Cross Cultural Solutions Alumni, what would you say is one way they stand out from other program providers?
The attention to detail paid to the program by the staff.
In what ways did the local staff engage you throughout the program?
They really listened. Not only did they solicit my feedback throughout the process, but they viewed my input as vital to continually improve the value of the program -- for me the participant, as well as for the contribution I was making in my volunteer assignment.
What was the most memorable experience you had while volunteering abroad with Cross-Cultural Solutions?
My work was amazing and really availed me a whole new world of understanding. But oftentimes, what I found most memorable was about merely pausing and being in the moment. In the mornings, I’d awake very early to write in my journal. The peace and serenity of the morning before anyone was yet up I found to be the best time for me to pause, think and reflect. It was then that I’d often sit out on the deck and gaze up at the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas, or stop to listen to the exotic birds singing in the trees engulfed in tropical heat. This was the time I really stopped and pondered that I was really having this incredible experience, that I’m really HERE, right now, in this amazing foreign country, that I’m so privileged to be able enjoy this experience with such unique intimacy and personal connection. Other times, it was the feeling of how transformative the experience was, how witnessing another country and immersing myself in a different culture was really changing me in very deep and positive ways. Other memorable experiences were through the people I met, and the lasting friendships I established with staff, fellow volunteers, and students.
What's one thing you wish you’d done differently while abroad?
I wish had developed more skills as a teacher of English to speakers of other languages. I found there was a definite need for more skills in the field. I have vowed to cultivate these skills upon my return home.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while volunteering?
Often it was the physical demands of travel – fatigue, jet lag, dehydration (it’s very important to stay hydrated!). However, these challenges really ended up as opportunities to learn and educate ourselves on many levels.
What advice would you give to other students volunteering abroad with Cross-Cultural Solutions?
Spend time talking to alumni. They are your best resource to help you prepare for a positive experience. And don’t be concerned about not knowing everything you need to know right off. There are so many ways that the experience itself is your best teacher, that you can’t really know everything before you go, but being present within the moment is the best way to get the most from your experience.
Would you recommend your Cross-Cultural Solutions program to others?
Yes, definitely, I now serve as a kind of ambassador to share my experiences with others and help prospective volunteers better approach and prepare for their own experiences abroad. I don’t assume to know everything, but I can speak to my own experience and be true to what I personally learned and derived from my experiences.
How has your experience volunteering abroad impacted your life?
As I’ve now embarked on TWO volunteer abroad journeys with CCS – and looking forward to more -- it’s safe to say that I’m hooked. The experiences I had overseas with CCS were life-changing. So much so, I’ve committed myself to professional work more in line with international issues. For example, after such a positive experience as an English language instructor in India, I’ve decided to embark on a course of study leading to a TESOL certification (the Teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages certification). I’ve also embarked on a project management certification with the aim of engaging in socially responsible projects around the world. I’ve really doubled down on my goals for more globally engaged work, and this stems directly from my CCS experiences.
How has your outlook on life been altered by volunteering abroad?
I have committed myself to furthering the cause of "global civil society" and to foster a deeper understanding and example of what it means to be a "global citizen."
If you could change one thing about your program, what would it be?
Not really a change in the program, more a suggestion to help manage expectations: Consider the realities of daily life in a developing country and be more conscious, aware, and prepared for what may feel like a stunning lack of resources. Be prepared to drop your expectations of what people can and cannot achieve with a lack of what we expect to be “necessary.”
If you could go on another Cross-Cultural Solutions program which one would you choose?
North Africa – Morocco specifically -- because it’s one of the great places in the world where cultures cross and intermix in beautiful and stunning ways.
I believe that the future belongs to “global citizens” and I see CCS as being one of the best resources available to help people prepare for deeper more engaged experiences abroad, beyond merely being a tourist.
What are the top reasons you’d want to go back to volunteer again?
There’s really so much to learn, it’s limitless. A top reason to go back would be to continue this amazing learning experience, the kind only available to those courageous enough to pack their your bags and putting themselves into a new a different place in the world, to get out of your comfort zone and really immerse yourself. The learning really does feel so rich.