Lately, I’ve been exploring the benefits of multigenerational volunteer travel experiences. I think families grow stronger when they face positive challenges. Being out of your element as a family means sticking together, relying on each other for support, and learning side-by-side. Seeing your family members in a new way teaches you about who they are as people. On volunteer excursions, families learn as much about each other as they do about the country they’re visiting. I’ve also been on the lookout for family volunteer experiences that involve total cultural immersion. I think, especially for kids, being challenged to acclimate to a home-stay fosters adaptability. It also encourages the development of language skills, since many home-stay families don’t speak English.
Global Citizens Network is an organization that focuses on the whole family, offering that perfect volunteering combination: adventure, challenge, family, safety, and fun. They offer cultural immersion alongside education. Volunteers stay with local people but they also have English-speaking guides who help them navigate the language barrier. Volunteers are encouraged to study the local language before their trip, but being bilingual is not a requirement. Still, this is one of the first family-oriented volunteer organizations I’ve seen that emphasizes language learning. I think most organizations shy away from language learning because they’re afraid it will intimidate potential volunteers. I think GCN does a great job of encouraging study without making it seem like a roadblock.
GCN focuses on cross-cultural exchange first, work second. There is plenty of work to do, but their projects are interpersonal—they want to foster communication to build lasting relationships. This is also refreshing. Most volunteer experiences focus on the tangible labor. While this is critically important, it’s not all there is. Again, GCN finds a balance by making labor part of the whole experience rather than its sole focus.
I think, in part, GCN manages to accomplish so much because they focus on pre-trip education and orientation. Each volunteer gets a packet of information before the trip. Their packet includes practical material about what to bring, but it also includes details about the country, state, and village; health tips; travel tips; and a reading list for further study. They also schedule regular meetings with group leaders throughout the expedition so volunteers feel connected and have a chance to ask questions as they arise. GCN has ongoing projects in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the United States and Canada.