Global Citizens Network - Cultural Immersion Trips Abroad
By : by Amy LeClaire-Sachs and Ellen Sachs
This is my third year working at Global Citizens Network (GCN) - a non-profit organization that has been offering cross-cultural travel opportunities since 1992. We strive to develop creative local solutions to global problems by providing opportunities for individuals to interact with people of diverse cultures who share common values. To foster that cooperation, Global Citizens Network sends teams of volunteers to communities in indigenous cultures throughout the world. Participants immerse themselves in the culture and daily life of the community.

Each volunteer team partners with a local grassroots organization active in meeting local needs. By providing participants the opportunity to learn about the society, knowledge, art and livelihood of other cultures, GCN seeks to honor and preserve those cultures. By providing volunteers and project grants to partner communities, GCN fosters human and community development in those cultures. These community development projects are driven by the local communities.

My job as regional coordinator is to recruit trip participants to join a GCN team, travel to one of our partnering host communities, and to work and learn side-by-side with community members on projects which are initiated and directed locally. My motivation for encouraging people to travel and immerse themselves in another culture comes from my own children. I feel passionate about teaching children to respect, embrace and celebrate cultural differences. To foster that understanding, I feel that people, young and old, need to be immersed in another community. Global Citizens Network provides the opportunity to eat, breathe, sleep and ride immersion.

I enjoy working with volunteers and I sense the excitement (and sometimes nervousness) that trip participants feel before the trip. For many, a GCN trip is the first time they have truly interacted with locals while traveling. I applaud their curiosity and courage! In addition, when the trip participants return from a GCN trip they have a new perspective of their "responsibility" as a global citizen in the world and locally. Those are great moments for the trip participants and me, as well!

Testimonial from daughter and mother traveling on a GCN trip to Bukoba, Tanzania, 2009

In addition to my office duties at Global Citizens Network (GCN), I have the privilege of traveling to one of our sites each year as a team leader. Summer 2009, I lead the GCN team to Bukoba, Tanzania. Ellen, my 14 year old daughter and my sister, Leesa, joined that team which made for an awesome family experience! I found it interesting to note that half of the GCN trip participants traveled with a family member that year.

This was Ellen's first experience traveling out of the US. To help fund the trip, Ellen applied for and received a scholarship from the Anne Bancroft Foundation ("Dare to Dream" scholarship for girls). She also held a garage sale to raise funds to put toward the project in Bukoba.

This was an opportunity to share a once in a life time educational trip with my daughter. The best part of the trip was seeing Ellen in a new environment, and watching her make friends easily. I felt nervous about traveling to the unknown with my 14 year old daughter, as this was my first time to Africa. I was pleasantly surprised by how easily Ellen adapted and opened herself up to the experience and was impressed by the way she treated the people in Bukoba. Ellen proved to be more mature and out-going on this trip, than I had expected. We had no mother/daughter issues while traveling, and I really enjoyed seeing Tanzania through her eyes. This trip allowed for valuable one-on-one time which seems more difficult to find, as we go through our daily lives.

Here are some of Ellen's reflections:
The best part about this experience was learning firsthand about another culture and meeting new people. It only took 3 weeks to make new friendships including those on the GCN team. In addition, it was great how much closer I got to my mom while on the trip.
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