Since participating on his first Global Volunteers service program in Russia in 1992, Norman has participated in service programs in Vietnam and Cuba, and has led numerous volunteer teams in Cuba and Montana. Now retired and living in Calfornia, his working career included 12 years as a commercial banker and 17 years working on overseas technical assistance projects as a project manager, resident advisor, consultant, and trainer.
by Norman Baxter
My experience with Global Volunteers spans several decades, beginning in 1992 when I went to Russia for three weeks as a business volunteer on a program led by Michele Gran, Global Volunteers’ Co-founder. We delivered two one-week seminars for Russian business people outside of Moscow. As a banker, I contributed a lecture on credit during the seminars. As a Russian speaker, I was able to connect with Russians directly, without an interpreter, and established friendships that I still maintain.
When I returned, I left my banking career at the end of 1993 and became a resident banking advisor on a USAID project in Kiev, Ukraine, where I lived for 13 months in 1994-1995. Thereafter, I continued to work as an international banking advisor/consultant/trainer on a variety of USAID and World Bank projects until I retired in 2010. I credit Global Volunteers for having girded by confidence to work in other countries and contribute in a deeply meaningful way.
My second experience with Global Volunteers was 20 years later in Vietnam in 2012, when I taught English for two weeks at the Foreign Trade University (FTU) in Hanoi as part of a small group of seven volunteers. It was great fun. We worked closely with the English teachers at FTU and through a variety of in-class activities (such as skits) we were able to connect with both students and teachers. As a result of my extensive training experience as an international advisor and consultant, I was able to advise some of the younger teachers on teaching methods.
My third experience with Global Volunteers was in October of 2015 when I went to Cuba with 19 other volunteers, who were engaged in three difference activities: gardening, maintenance, and English tutoring. I was involved in tutoring English and thoroughly enjoyed working with the teenagers, young adults, and mature adults well into their working careers.
One common element among my trips with Global Volunteers is the fact that all three countries I volunteered in were in the process of making the transition from a planned economy to a market economy. Russia had just abandoned Communism and was on a new path, not knowing where it would lead. Vietnam was making progress toward a market economy, but still under the control of the Communist Party. Cuba has not yet made a full commitment to a market economy because the Communist Party cannot entirely abandon its ideology.
As a consequence, for someone like me who lived in Europe twice in the 1960s, visited Berlin before the Wall was built and had studied the history and economy of the Soviet Union, the granddaddy of the socialist bloc of nations, each Global Volunteers experience was fascinating in that context, above and beyond the contact with the local people. And more than anything, I knew that the help I was offering was truly making a difference in people’s lives. That’s why I continue to serve with Global Volunteers today.
As a result, I can say that Global Volunteers had a far greater impact on my career than just the overseas experience it provided. I actually changed careers based on these very positive and affirming experiences with Global Volunteers.