You’ve returned from your trip. Your bags are unpacked, your camera memory card is full, and your face is beaming. You feel a greater appreciation of the world around you. You’ve gained new friends, and have experienced moments that have made an impression on your heart forever.
As soon as I step onto the tarmac, beads of sweat ripple across my jet-lagged skin. Eyes itching from too many hours within pressurized cabins, I blink several times and follow the lumbering man ahead of me. With his khaki safari vest, a giant camera bag over his shoulder, and his head swiveling back and forth, it appears he hopes to spot his first zebra before he even clears customs at Kilimanjaro International Airport.
When I was about 11, I used to visit my grandmother at a nursing home nearby. It's a very vivid memory for me, and one that isn't entirely pleasant. When I was asked to select my top two volunteer assignments for my Cross-Cultural Solutions program in Cartago, Costa Rica, I thought about it for quite a while, and decided that this was my moment to try again, and get out of my comfort zone (just a bit). I told Danielle, my Program Specialist, that I really wanted to work with the elderly.
Although I've traveled the world, Rabat is unlike anywhere I've ever been. Many days, it felt more like what I pictured the Middle East to be, and less like the Africa I have come to know and love from my time in Central and Southern Africa.
A voice in the distance calls me from the depths of my dreams. Unsure of where I am, my nose registers the cold air. I feel the weight of my wool blanket pressing down on me and yet I still shiver. It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness and for me to process where I am and why this warbling voice beckons me to rise from my slumber and pray.
As Cross-Cultural Solutions Director of Programs, it's my job to keep in close contact with all of our in-country directors and ensure that all of our expert teams around the globe are up-to-date on the latest standards in volunteer safety and security. Over the next few months, I'd like to take some time to introduce you to our country directors as well as talk a bit more about what makes each destination safe and special.
Two years ago, I set foot in Tanzania for the first time as a Cross-Cultural Solutions volunteer. And now, I'm writing this from my home in the middle of a Maasai village in Tanzania. I never thought that a six-week volunteer program could change my life so drastically, but it did!
This time last year, after a 14-hour direct flight, I landed in India. The first person that I met at the airport was the CCS driver, Sunil. His smile and warm welcome were exactly what I needed after such a long flight! He eagerly greeted me, loaded me (and my bags) into the air-conditioned van, and we were off! I felt a rush of excitement as I stared out of the van window in wonderment: markets, farm animals, and busy people on the streets. India's beautiful chaos is something that I've tried to describe a million times to a million people, but you really just need to see it for yourself.
When I received my volunteer assignment—working in an elementary school in Costa Rica—I didn't quite know what to expect. The school consisted of 3 buildings perched on the upper slopes of a valley with a perfect view down through the clouds and over Cartago.
Volunteering with Cross-Cultural Solutions in Hohoe, Ghana was amazing. But it was also entirely different from what I had expected. Rather than huge, sweeping moments and life-altering epiphanies, the experience was instead a collection of beautiful, little moments. Moments that were so simple and subtle, that I barely noticed them until they had passed.