VOLUNTEER TOURISM: CROSS-CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING THROUGH THE VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE
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Volunteer tourism is a growing form of tourism. Although volunteer tourism is a form of traveling, it should not be considered part of the mass tourism industry. The purpose of volunteer tourism is to foster a mutually beneficial relationship between volunteers/travelers and their respective host countries. This tourism experience should allow for volunteers to develop a sense of self-awareness as well as to develop a deeper cross-cultural understanding. Through exploring their narratives, this paper will examine the development of that cross-cultural understanding in people who have participated or would like to participate in volunteer tourism programs in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. This paper expects to discover that both groups develop a greater cross-cultural understanding from their experiences within global communities. Although critics see volunteer tourism as being a selfish enforcement of colonialist stereotypes, it potentially offers volunteers an opportunity to interact with the host community in a positive manner, resulting in a respect for and understanding of the host country’s culture.