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The VolunTourist™ is a premium Newsletter for the Travel Trade. For those interested in discovering what is happening in the world of VolunTourism™ and seeking emerging practices, general information, and case studies, this is your Source.

Volume 4 Issue 1 Highlights




So You May Know
Wisdom & Insight
Supply Chain
Study & Research


Study and Research


Simone Grabowski, School of Leisure, Sport and Tourism, The University of Technology, Sydney

Stephen Wearing, School of Leisure, Sport and Tourism, The University of Technology, Sydney

Danielle Lee, School of Leisure, Sport and Tourism, The University of Technology, Sydney

For this issue of the Research Forum section of The VolunTourist, we are fortunate to have as our research ”guests” Simone Grabowski (Simone.Grabowski@uts.edu.au), Stephen Wearing (Stephen.Wearing@uts.edu.au), and Danielle Leigh, all of The University of Technology, Sydney. In their research, they examine the motives that drive young people to participate in some form of volunteer or humanitarian activities while on a leisure trip and the benefits and impacts that the volunteer tourists derive from the experience on their return. Perhaps more importantly, they are in the midst of a longitudinal study to assess levels of re-entry shock and their determinants, a little-studied area in volunteer tourism.



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Youth Challenge Australia (YCA) is a non-profit organisation and branch of Youth Challenge International (YCI) which was established in 1990. YCA targets 18-30 year olds to volunteer on conservation and community development projects in countries like Costa Rica, Guyana, Vanuatu and Guatemala. These programs run for five to ten weeks. Since 2004 a program has also been run in Central Australia.

There have been limited studies on the motivations of people to volunteer. The motivations of volunteers have been found to be that of fulfilling “higher-level” needs. Martinez & McMullin found six variables associated with volunteer participation including ‘efficacy, personal motivation, request, social networks, lifestyle changes, and competing commitments’ (2004: 116) . Upon researching volunteers’ decisions to volunteer or not to volunteer they found five main factors explaining decisions about participating in volunteer activities. In order of influence these were; efficacy, competing commitments, social networks, lifestyle changes and personal growth.

There have been fewer studies on volunteer tourists and the factors influencing their decision to volunteer. Brown & Lehto (2005) found that the three principal motivations behind volunteering were cultural immersion, making a difference and seeking camaraderie while Mustonen (2007) believes that the motivations fluctuate between altruism and egoism. The fact that the activity is often performed in developing countries by Western youth means that there will be inherent cross-cultural issues in the tourist experience. These issues were defined by Kalervo Oberg in 1954 as “culture shock”.

Culture shock is a phenomenon whereby ‘the ebbing and flowing of exhilaration, anxiety, frustration, hostility, bewilderment, homesickness, denial, lethargy, and other reactions to situational stress, are supposed to subside and eventually settle into a calming sea of relative adjustment to, and acceptance of, the other culture as just another way of consuming reality’ (Furnham & Bochner, 1986: xvi) . Studies on culture shock have looked at the psychological adjustment of immigrants, workers and students to foreign environments. The concept has been looked at less frequently in the tourism literature with Weaver claiming that ‘tourists seldom experience culture shock because they are short-term sojourners who never actually enter another culture’ (1987:2) , however, this idea is challenged by Pearce (1981, cited in Furnham & Bochner, 1986) .


H 1: Volunteers that have had prior cross-cultural experience will experience less re-entry shock than those who had none.

H 2: Younger volunteers will experience more re-entry shock than older volunteers.

H 3: Volunteers that find it easy to adjust to the host culture will find it more difficult to readjust to their own culture and will experience more re-entry shock.

H 4: The longer the period of the program, the greater re-entry shock.

H 5: Volunteers that have greater communication with the host culture will experience greater re-entry shock.

More recently, studies have been undertaken to show that culture shock can take place when people return home. This has been referred to as “reverse culture shock” (Gaw, 2000; Harris & Moran, 1996; Mitchell, 2006; Samovar et al., 1998) , “cross-cultural readjustment” (Rogers & Ward, 1993; Searle & Ward, 1990; Ward & Kennedy, 1993; Ward & Kennedy, 2001; Ward & Searle, 1991) , and “re-entry” (Adler, 1981; Brabant et al., 1990; Mitchell, 2006; Rohrlich & Martin, 1991; Uehara, 1986) . The result of such shock is ‘when sojourners leave home, they often carry with them a static, mental and emotional snapshot of home; on some level, they expect home to stand still [and therefore,] they can be unprepared, then, for the changes that have occurred at home during their absence-changes that no longer match their image of home’ (Mitchell, 2006:5) .

Re-entry shock has been correlated to age, gender, length of sojourn period, motivation and ease of adaptation (Adler, 1981; Christofi & Thompson, 2007; Gaw, 2000; Mitchell, 2006; Rohrlich & Martin, 1991; Uehara, 1986) , and has been studied longitudinally via expectations, experiences and psychological adjustment (Rogers & Ward, 1993) . These studies have been undertaken on students, workers and immigrants where there has been limited research undertaken on volunteer tourists and the effects of re-entry. McGehee and Santos (2005) found that various social networks made during the volunteer experience directly impact on the life of volunteer tourists upon return. This will be another variable tested in this research project.


The aim of this study is to discover the extent to which International Volunteer Tourists (IVTs) suffer re-entry shock. It follows on from an undergraduate project (Leigh, 2006) which qualitatively studied the re-assimilation of volunteer tourists into home environments. Both McGehee and Santos (2005) and Leigh’s were the first to explore issues of volunteer re-assimilation qualitatively and therefore the quantitative methods used in this research project will closely follow those used in studies about international student sojourners. Some of these studies have been longitudinal (see for example Rogers & Ward, 1993) , however, the majority have surveyed students upon return to their home country (Gaw, 2000; Rohrlich & Martin, 1991; Uehara, 1986) .

The researchers have chosen a longitudinal approach which examines ‘the changes in a variable from one period to another… [and] the identification and understanding of these differences over time’ (Ritchie, 2005:132) . In this case volunteers are surveyed prior to departure and then six weeks after returning from their experience(1). Volunteers from five project groups (Vanuatu, Guyana, Guatemala and two to Costa Rica) have been chosen to be surveyed between August 2007 and April 2008. The pre-departure questionnaire focuses on volunteer characteristics while the return survey examines aspects of the experience and levels of re-entry shock. Re-entry shock will be determined by a number of variables. These include, difficulty resuming work, study and relationships, getting used to the pace of life, social difficulty (Furnham & Bochner, 1982) , the Revised UCLA Loneliness Scale (Russell et al., 1980) and the Beck Depression Inventory (Beck et al., 1988) .

Photo by Will Plowright, Copyright © Developing World Connections, All Rights Reserved

The research process has been divided into two stages. Stage one, which will be reported on in this paper, explores the pre-departure variables of the volunteer tourist experience. Stage two examines the effects that these variables have on re-entry shock. Five hypotheses have been formulated to address stage two:

H 1: Volunteers that have had prior cross-cultural experience will experience less re-entry shock than those who had none.

This was found to be the case in Rohrlich & Martin’s (1991) investigation of American students studying abroad.

H 2: Younger volunteers will experience more re-entry shock than older volunteers.

This has also been postulated by Mitchell who found that ‘younger sojourners often experience more difficulties because their overseas experiences do not build on the mature base of a well-formed personality’ (2006:18) .

H 3: Volunteers that find it easy to adjust to the host culture will find it more difficult to readjust to their own culture and will experience more re-entry shock.

H 4: The longer the period of the program, the greater re-entry shock.

This closely relates to hypothesis three in that a greater length of time in the host culture is negatively correlated with ease of adjustment.

H 5: Volunteers that have greater communication with the host culture will experience greater re-entry shock.  

This follows hypotheses three and four and was found to be the case in Rohrlich & Martin’s (1991) study.

Results of the pre-departure questionnaires were analysed using SPSS software to examine the variables that will be linked to re-entry shock. These include prior experience, age, expectations, motivation and values. A summary of these results will be presented in the following section. Results of the post return questionnaire, and therefore a resolution of the hypotheses and the degree of ‘re-entry’ shock that an international volunteer tourist experiences, will not be presented in this paper.


The pre-departure questionnaire was self-completed by 33 volunteers; 21 females and 12 males. This accounted for a 91.7% response rate. The majority of respondents have not volunteered in a similar capacity before and they are experienced (travelled to more than 4 international destinations) travellers. Just under one third of the sample had spent seven or more months in another country and changed their place of residence over three times prior to the age of 18. Their ages range from 18 to 25 with an average of 21.

Clary and Snyder (1999) found that volunteers’ motives cannot be classified as either altruistic or egoistic simply because volunteers can have both kinds of reasons for volunteering. This was found to be the case where YCA volunteers were found to display a range of motivations for undertaking volunteer work. The most common initial reasons for undertaking volunteer work with YCA were for personal development (88%), to discover a different culture/environment (64%) and to help a community (48%) (Figure 1). The most important factors which influenced their decision to volunteer were “the experience that would be gained”, “personal development” and “the knowledge that would be gained”.

Figure 1: Volunteer Motivation

Volunteers were also found to have differing value systems. From a list of 18 human values the volunteers ranked in order of importance: Happiness, Freedom, Family security and Equality while Salvation, National Security and Social recognition were ranked the three least important values. This differed with gender: females valued family security and true friendship more highly while males valued a world at peace and an exciting life more highly than females. As volunteers get older they also have a greater tendency to value a world at peace, wisdom and inner harmony.

Finally, Volunteers were asked how concerned they were with several aspects of the program they were about to encounter. They were neutral to not at all concerned with most aspects however health and relationships in the volunteer group were of greatest concern. They also expected greater difficulty getting used to the pace of life and resuming work and study while resuming friendships was not expected to be difficult at all. This was shown in some of the open-ended responses:

After such an intense experience I expect to feel like returning to my day-to-day life is less worthwhile, mundane or unimportant (Sasha)

Additionally, over half of the volunteers believed that the experience would have some effect on their relationships with family and friends. These effects included difficulty getting used to the pace of life, not being able to fully share their experiences and intolerance for hedonistic and selfish people.

Photo by Rick Kurzac, Copyright © Developing World Connections, All Rights Reserved

Conclusion & Future Research

The results of stage one of this research project indicate that volunteer tourists appear to display several altruistic and egoistic motivations. They also expect their experience to change them in some fashion and have varying degrees of concern with regards to life in the host community and returned life in their home country.

Stage two of this study requires that the results presented in this article will be analysed against the results from the post-return survey in order to determine the difference between experienced and expected levels of difficulty, change in values, and the degree to which the variables already examined have an effect on the level of re-entry shock.


Adler, N. J. (1981) 'Re-Entry: Managing Cross-Cultural Transitions', Group & Organization Studies, 6(3), 341.

Beck, A. T., Steer, R. A. & Carbin, M. G. (1988) 'Psychometric properties of the Beck Depression Inventory: Twenty-five years of evaluation', Clinical Psychology Review, 8(1), 77-100.

Brabant, S., Palmer, C. E. & Gramling, R. (1990) 'Returning home: An empirical investigation of cross-cultural reentry', International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 14(4), 387-404.

Brown, S. & Lehto, X. (2005) 'Travelling with a purpose: Understanding the motives and benefits of volunteer vacationers', Current Issues in Tourism, 8(6), 479–496

Christofi, V. & Thompson, C. L. (2007) 'You cannot go home again: a phenomenological investigation of returning to the sojourn country after studying abroad', Journal of Counseling and Development 85(1), 53-64.

Clary, E. G. & Snyder, M. (1999) 'The motivations to volunteer: Theoretical and practical considerations', Current Directions in Psychological Science, 8(5), 156-159.

Furnham, A. & Bochner, S. (1982) 'Social difficulty in a foreign culture: An empirical analysis of culture shock', In Bochner, S. (Ed.) Cultures in Contact: Studies in Cross-Cultural Interaction (161-198). Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Furnham, A. & Bochner, S. (1986) Culture Shock: Psychological Reactions to Unfamiliar Environments, London: Methuen.

Gaw, K. F. (2000) 'Reverse culture shock in students returning from overseas', International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 24(1), 83-104.

Harris, P. R. & Moran, R. T. (1996) Managing Cultural Differences, Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing Company.

Leigh, D. (2006) 'Third cultured volunteer tourists and the process of re-assimilation into home environments', Australian Journal on Volunteering, 11(2), 59-67.

Martinez, T. A. & McMullin, S. L. (2004) 'Factors affecting decisions to volunteer in nongovernmental organizations', Environment and Behavior, 36(1), 112-126.

McGehee, N. (2002) 'Alternative tourism and social movements', Annals of Tourism Research, 29(1), 124-143.

McGehee, N. G. & Santos, C. A. (2005) 'Social change, discourse and volunteer tourism', Annals of Tourism Research, 32(3), 760-779.

Mitchell, P. (2006) Revisiting Effective Re-Entry Programs for Returnees from US Academic Programs: AED Center for International Training.

Mustonen, P. (2007) 'Volunteer Tourism - Altruism or Mere Tourism?' Anatolia: An International Journal of Tourism and Hospitality Research, 18(1), 97-115.

Ritchie, J. R. B. (2005) 'Longitudinal research methods', In Ritchie, B. W., Burns, P. & Palmer, C. (Eds.) Tourism Research Methods: Integrating Theory with Practice (131-148). Cambridge, MA: CABI Publishing.

Rogers, J. & Ward, C. (1993) 'Expectation-experience discrepancies and psychological adjustment during cross-cultural reentry', International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 17(2), 185-196.

Rohrlich, B. F. & Martin, J. N. (1991) 'Host country and reentry adjustment of student sojourners', International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 15(2), 163-182.

Russell, D., Peplau, L. A. & Cutrona, C. E. (1980) 'The revised UCLA loneliness scale: Concurrent and discriminant validity evidence', Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39(3), 472-480.

Samovar, L. A., Porter, R. E. & Stefani, L. A. (1998) Communication Between Cultures, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Searle, W. & Ward, C. (1990) 'The prediction of psychological and sociocultural adjustment during cross-cultural transitions', International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 14(4), 449-464.

Uehara, A. (1986) 'The nature of American student reentry adjustment and perceptions of the sojourn experience', International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 10(4), 415-438.

Ward, C. & Kennedy, A. (1993) 'Psychological and Socio-cultural Adjustment during Cross-cultural Transitions: A Comparison of Secondary Students Overseas and at Home', International Journal of Psychology, 28(2), 129.

Ward, C. & Kennedy, A. (2001) 'Coping With Cross-Cultural Transition', Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 32(5), 636-642.

Ward, C. & Searle, W. (1991) 'The impact of value discrepancies and cultural identity on psychological and sociocultural adjustment of sojourners', International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 15(2), 209-224.

Weaver, G. (1987) 'The Process of Reentry', The Advising Quarterly, No.2(Fall), 2-7.

I hope you enjoyed this edition’s Research Forum! If you have any questions or comments, please submit your questions to the Voluntourist newsletter, e-mail Simone Grabowski - Simone.Grabowski@uts.edu.au, or Stephen Wearing - Stephen.Wearing@uts.edu.au to learn more!

Nancy McGehee, PhD., Virginia Tech University

See you next issue!

Nancy McGehee , Ph.D.

Hospitality and Tourism Management, Virginia Tech

Blacksburg VA


For more Study & Research Articles visit Dr. McGehee's VolunTourism Research Forum. Go There >>>

This longitudinal approach was also used by McGehee (2002) in her study of Earthwatch expedition volunteers.


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