Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Osman Özturgut


Absael Antelo


Dorothy Ettling


Norman St. Clair


Despite a growing interest in international volunteerism, there is a scarcity of literature concerning returning volunteers’ cross-cultural experience in developing countries. The purpose of the study was to examine the phenomenon of volunteers’ cross-cultural experience of participating in immersion trips to Tanzania and Zambia. The study also explored whether volunteers believed their cross-cultural experience to be life changing. The following research questions were used to guide this study: 1. What motivated volunteers to participate in immersion trips to Tanzania and Zambia? 2. How has the immersion experience changed the volunteers’ beliefs about themselves while engaging in a cross-cultural environment? 3. How has the immersion experience changed the volunteers’ cultural beliefs? 4. What is the volunteers’ perception of the impact and contribution of their work in Tanzania and Zambia? This was a qualitative study using an interpretative approach. A purposeful sample of 13 volunteers who had participated in immersion trips with the Women’s Global Connection to Tanzania and Zambia between 2004 and 2012 were selected for the study. Semi-structured interviews were conducted using a series of open-ended questions to explore the meaning of their experience. Data were analyzed from recorded transcriptions of participants to identify recurring themes in the responses to the questions. Five major themes were identified: (a) motivation, (b) changes in their beliefs about themselves, (c) changes in their cultural beliefs, (d) impact and contribution, and (e) hospitality and relationships. Participants thought they had a skill they could contribute, and they wanted to learn about the people and culture. The participants gained more self-insight and expressed changes in themselves and in their attitudes following their immersion experience, such as having a greater appreciation for the opportunities given to them, realizing they have more career options than they previously thought, having a better understanding of culture and poverty, and learning that they can make a difference in their communities. Although some volunteers were not certain of the sustainability of their impact on those communities in Tanzania and Zambia, other volunteers thought their impact was continuing and lasting. The warm welcome and hospitality the volunteers received fostered lasting relationships with the people they met and worked with. This study may provide valuable insights to others wanting to learn about volunteering in developing countries, and it may be of interest to organizations that recruit and prepare volunteers to participate in cross-cultural immersion trips.