Tourism and acculturation : exploring the experiences of volunteer tourists

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NO FULL TEXT AVAILABLE. This thesis contains 3rd party copyright material. ----- The aim of this thesis was to explore the role of acculturation in the volunteer tourist experience. Acculturation is the process of change that occurs when an individual comes into contact with another culture. Acculturation is an interdisciplinary phenomenon, therefore theory from cross-cultural psychology, anthropology and sociology has been drawn on to examine its application to volunteer tourism. In this context the experience was conceptualised as an incomplete cyclical process: It was postulated that the cultural contact experienced at each stage of the process produces a change in the individual and as a result he/she does not return as the same person as before he/she departed. The methodological approach adopted in this study was underpinned by social constructionist epistemology. A qualitative case study was employed with longitudinal methods as the aim was to investigate a process which involves several stages. The participants, 12 volunteer tourists from the organisation Youth Challenge Australia who travelled to Costa Rica, Mexico or Vanuatu for a period of six to 10 weeks, were interviewed pre-trip, immediately upon return home and six months after their return. Additionally, some of them completed journals while they were away and weekly online surveys when they returned. The study found that, at each stage of the tourist experience (pre-departure, in-country and re-entry), volunteer tourists experience cultural contact with the home (first) culture, the host (second) culture and the volunteer (third) culture. There are two important components of this cultural contact. The first component is “cultural distance” which, in this study, manifested as language, understanding of time, and social practices. The second is “relationships” which transcend the geographical zone in which the volunteer is situated because volunteers maintain contact with all three cultures at each stage of their experience. The outcome of cultural contact is a change to self exhibited by stress and coping, cultural learning and social identification. The implications of these findings are, that in order to facilitate the acculturation process of volunteer tourists, volunteer tourists must be made aware of cultural differences as these will impact their experience. They must also be aware of the degree to which relationships with the host community, fellow volunteer tourists and people at home, could potentially affect their whole experience and understanding of self.
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