Facilitating cross-cultural understanding: The role of volunteer sending organisations

Eva H. Karlsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


In recent years volunteer tourism has become an increasingly popular form of travel. This has led to a commercialisation of the sector and an expansion of the number and type of volunteer sending organisations that provide opportunities for young people wishing to 'make a difference' during their gap-year. Consequently, critical literature is increasingly wary of the outcome of these programmes and questions the type of difference the volunteers can make. This thesis builds on the premise that cross-cultural understanding should be the outcome of volunteer tourism, and argues that the commonly held perception of volunteers as development aid workers is unrealistic, considering their age and lack of skills. On this grounds, volunteer sending organisations are examined to gain an insight into how crosscultural understanding can be facilitated based on the notion that a mere encounter between two different cultures does not necessarily lead to increased understanding. This is done by examining the practises of a Danish volunteer sending organisation, and illustrating how its volunteer training and programme structure can enhance cross-cultural awareness in participants. In conclusion, volunteer sending organisations are recommended to provide preparation for their volunteers that incorporates Experiential Learning techniques encouraging reflection. The content of the training should focus on shaping volunteer attitudes and providing skills and knowledge useful for the cultural context and type of activity the volunteer will engage in. They can also encourage cultural interaction and enhance cross-cultural understanding by sending volunteers in small groups, accommodating them with host families and setting a minimum timeframe for the duration of stay.

EducationsMSocSc in Service Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2012
Number of pages81