Volunteer 2 To a large degree, this [volunteer tourism] is development work for the Western world [...] If we get more and more of this kind [of people] it must, at some point, influence the decisions taken in relation to development aid [...]
Many of the volunteers expressed great interest in contributing to the writing of this study - this was perhaps also in their own quest for adding meaning and value to their stay.
Nonetheless, they were very enthusiastic about spreading the stories and experiences they had gained. After requesting permission to use her blog, Nanna answered:
[...] It would only make me happy - as us volunteers (or at least me) wish to spread our experiences as wide as possible to get people thinking and perhaps spread ever-widening circles.
According to Sherraden et al. (2008) global awareness could "enhance capacity to solve local, domestic, and international conflicts, and encourage support for development aid" (p. 411).
This study suggests that through training prior to their volunteer stay, volunteers can gain increased global awareness, and that this can inspire the volunteers for further action.
In the interviews, the volunteers all expressed their wish for engagement and their desire to become active citizens in one way or the other, and all three of them noted that their volunteer experience had influenced or confirmed their choice of further education. Actual long-term impacts on the volunteers would have to be explored in future research.
The above shows, that MS' training course attempts to meet the request by Simpson (2004) who believes the gap-year industry is lacking pedagogy for social justice, which she defines in its simplest form as "recognizing the existence of inequality, and then seeking social change" (p. 690).
All the things we now see as normal and don't consider raising eyebrows at any longer, are some of the things the newly arrived question - just like we did in the beginning! [...] it has just become our every day life.
Lee and Woosnam (2010) describe the chief outcome of adaptation as a personal transformation, which they define as "individuals who are comfortable within the host cultural environment and negotiate every-day activities on-site with ease" (p. 1887). They encourage research into these processes in volunteer tourism, as they have not received much attention.
Byrne (as cited in Lee & Woosnam, 2010, p. 1188) suggests that the volunteer's previous travel experiences, the host community's receptivity and finally the length of time the volunteer spends in the community could explain variances in the transformation, the latter being something the sending organisation can facilitate.
As mentioned earlier, MS stands out as a sending organisation in the Danish volunteer market because it requires its volunteers to go for a minimum of 12 weeks plus four weeks at the Global Platform. This is based on the belief that longer time provides a better outcome:
Lasse Jensen [...] we know it takes time to adapt to a culture fundamentally different to the context one is used to. And the longer it takes for the individual to adapt, the smaller benefit they can be for the local partner.
The findings from the volunteers in this study were that three months of volunteering was, in their perception, short in terms of what they were able to achieve during that time. This is a perception they held while volunteering and might have changed from what they thought when they were initially signing up to go. Volunteer 2 expresses how time influenced her stay:
You do not get the same trust from a person as if you stay for three months where they are.
And three months is nothing. But it is still enough to - it was only the last month that it became really great, because it was not until the last month that everyone opened up.
Regardless of the level of preparation, volunteers will have to be present for a certain amount of time to gain the locals' trust and acceptance and thereby immerse deeper into the local culture. Setting a minimum time duration required for the volunteer calls for further knowledge on what is considered short. This will also depend on the level of adaption and
personal transformation desired by the programme, and these issues would have to be studied further. Surely the needs of the host communities would have to be considered in this matter as well. So far there are no common agreements in the literature on what is considered short or long.
The volunteer data in this study, nonetheless, suggests that during their time, the volunteers are able to adapt to a level seemingly close to Woosnam and Lee's (2010) definition of personal transformation above.
Christian I feel at home in Mexico, I feel Mexican. I talk (more or less) like them, eat like them. I even walk slower on the street - like them [...] Mexico is my second home.
As exemplified in Christian's last blog entry before going home, the volunteers express feelings of comfort and ease of navigation in the foreign culture at their placements.
5.7.1 Adaptation facilitated through cultural preparation
Besides setting a minimum time frame, MS also tries to facilitate cultural adaptation by preparing the volunteers for the cultural context they will come across at their projects. This is done at the Global Platform through different lessons on cultural understanding. As Søren's comment below exemplifies, this provides the volunteers with a minimum understanding of some of the cultural codes, which they can use at their placements:
Throughout the evening I managed not to break too many cultural codes. I said the correct greetings to the many people who came and went. I resisted the temptation to raise the soles of my feet from the ground [...] And when I ate Magluube (with my hands and a spoon of course) a family member came to shake my hand. My hands were really greasy, so I did as I had been taught: gave him my un-greasy wrist instead. Phew. Crisis averted.
Not to shake hands could be offensive.
This post represents an attitude found in the other volunteers as well - that they are very aware about navigating in a foreign context and make a great effort to try to adapt and understand the culture they have entered.
Such attitude is similar to Enoch and Grossman's (2010) conclusions about Danish backpackers, whom they categorised as "cosmopolitans". They define cosmopolitanism as a
"willingness to become involved with the Other, and the concern with achieving competences
in other cultures" (Hannerz as cited in Enoch & Grossman, 2010, p. 521) They contrast this with "provincials" who do not make the effort to understand foreign culture and envisage the Other in stereotypes. While their study contrasted the difference between cosmopolitans and provincials of different nationalities, this study suggests that cosmopolitan attitudes can be enhanced in certain types of tourism, when the intermediary - in this case the volunteer sending organisations - engage in preparation of the tourist and adjust their programme structure to enhance cross-cultural understanding between participants.
Theory also points at preparation regarding cultural contexts as an important element for adaption. According to Cai and Rodriguez (as cited in Wearing & Gabrowski, 2011), misunderstandings between cultures can occur when preconceived notions about the culture are tenuous or there is a lack of shared knowledge between participants. Such situation makes adaptation very difficult. However, if the "outsider is prepared then they can avoid cross-cultural misunderstandings and more importantly, effective adaptation and increased understanding will occur as a result of the positive experience" (p. 199). Accordingly, the preparation of volunteers becomes key in facilitating adaptation, and consequently, cross-cultural understanding. Giving preparation in areas of attitude, skills and knowledge are important ways for the sending organisation to facilitate cross-cultural understanding.