Cross Cultural Journeys Travel Partnerships – making the world a little better together!


By Cilla Utne

About a year ago, CCJ entered an exciting partnership with our local youth soccer club Bainbridge Island Football Club; BIFC. They approached us to ask if we could take on organizing a soccer youth tour to England, the birthplace of “football”.  BIFC’s brought together 31 young boys and girls, three soccer coaches, 10 chaperones and two CCJ trip managers to make it all happen. 46 of us traveled to Manchester, England from March 28 until April 7. As part of BIFC’s player development pathway, this first trip that from hereon out will be a yearly event, is an example of a partnership at its’ best. A co-creation from start to finish!

Partnerships with likeminded organizations like the one we just did with BIFC is not only a fun way to explore the world with another entity and their members, it also brings out the highest and best in us; which makes the work easy on the way there; and the final experience in country that much better.


Our partnership journeys typically follow some kind of theme – like in the case of the one we just returned from – sports – for example. But it can also be in the realm of arts like our trips with North Carolina’s Arts and Science Council; peace building and consciousness focused excursions like the one we did with the SHIFT network to Iran in the fall of 2016; environmentally focused trips about ocean conservation and protection like the one we did with the Ocean Doctor to Cuba a couple years ago; and maybe most prevalent; our music journeys with luminaries like Taj Mahal, Roger Glenn, and this coming December, grammy award winning Jon Cleary.

The Jon Cleary Music Project  to Havana in December is open to the public, and run in partnership with Horns to Havana; a US based non-profit that helps promote musical exchanges and help restore and bring musical instruments to Cuba.

Some common attributes our partners share: they care about their fellow human; they are conscientious about our one, shared planet; they are kind and respectful of people and their differences; they are intrigued and curious about how and why people do things differently than we do…seek to understand before being understood. They tend to also have a deep seeded drive for social justice and that all people are created equally. They are not confined and constricted behind a wall of a sole world view. The ‘not knowing’ doesn’t cause fear and judgement; it creates an openness to the mystery of what people in other cultures can teach us.

CCJ likes to partner with organizations that have an affinity to build bridges to people of other cultures, through some form of shared activity and with an interest in making the world a little better in the process.


Together, we have a curiosity of other cultures and their ways of doing things; we are interested in expanding our knowledge of whatever it is we are there for; finding out how people in different cultures organize themselves; and maybe most importantly, our partner organizations explore and get a better and more holistic understanding of their own core mission. And, maybe needless to say, these journeys are a lot of fun!

The youth on our recent England adventure trained and played against local English youth teams; attended four premier league games; enjoyed walking tours of Manchester, the once Viking settlement of York and historic Chester. Part of the proceeds of the trip went to Cross Cultural Journeys Foundation to sponsor the Michael Carrick Foundation, a local inner city project to support at risk youth “football” as they call it in England.

We stayed at the Manchester Youth Hostel, in a refurbished redbrick building in the downtown Manchester Canal district.

The journey created memories of a lifetime for all involved, especially our young soccer players! An experience they will never forget!


Another recent partnership “behind the scenes”, was a Stewardship Circle to Mexico City and Guadalajara, with Massachusetts based Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). Shortly before the winter holidays, UUSC called CCJ to help bring forth a trip to Mexico City and Guadalajara for some of their main sponsors and donors.

We brought 15 of UUSC’s donors South of the border to visit their partner organizations and learn about their important work with the refugee and migration situation,  a growing problem in Mexico, in Central and South America.

As CCJ did not send along our own trip manager on this journey, we spoke with Kate Friedman and Cassandra Ryan from UUSC after their return, to hear how it went:

1. Please tell us about UUSC’s international donor programs in general. What is your main goal for such programs? Is there a specific theme or issue that you focus on for each country?
The goal of UUSC’s Stewardship Circle trips is to provide UUSC supporters with an opportunity to meet with our grassroots partners. We hope that trip participants will learn about the work of our partners and hearing directly from people on the ground helping to make real and lasting change. On this particular trip our focus was on UUSC’s migrant justice portfolio. In the past trips have focused on our refugee crisis response in Eastern Europe, our environmental justice work in Ecuador and our human rights work in Burma. On every trip we also like to schedule time for our trip participants to visit tourist sites and learn about the history and culture of the places we travel to.


2. Tell us about your Mexico program in a little bit more detail, and a little bit about your partner organizations there? What is the main mission in UUSC’s work with and in Mexico?
During the trip we visited 4 different grassroots organizations working on issues of migrant justice. Two of the organizations were shelters for migrants fleeing violence and economic persecution in their home countries. Another organization was focused on providing legal and social support to migrants wishing to seek asylum in Mexico. The final partner we met with is focused on tracking the forced disappearance of migrants and providing legal support to family members of disappeared migrants.


3. How long have you worked with these organizations in Mexico? How did you find them? Are they Mexican-run, or run and founded by people from other countries? What intercultural challenges do you face when working with organizations in Mexico?

On average we’ve partnered with these organizations for three or so years. We rely on the expertise of our staff and their human rights networks to identify our partners. The organizations we visited with are all Mexican run. As an organization we strive to understand cross-cultural differences and approach our work from an intersectional lens. Obviously language can sometimes be a barrier, but we try to use translation services as often as possible and several of our staff members are fluent Spanish speakers.


4.  What in your opinion is the most important piece of a stewardship circle like you just did? 

I believe the most important piece of these types of trips is the connections our supporters are able to make with our partners. Being able to visit our partners offices, ask questions and have the opportunity to informally chat about human rights and social justice is just so important. 

…U.S. policy is so intertwined with the experience of migrants in Mexico that it is particularly important that US constituents understand these issues and can translate their new understanding into action. We also run an advocacy program that helps our members take action on migrant justice issues within their own communities.


5. How would you compare UUSC’s international donor journeys and work in the world to an ‘old-fashion’ regular ‘charity/giving’ program?

 UUSC employs a grassroots eye-to-eye partnership model. We do not feel as though we are charity or a giving program, but instead an organization striving to partner with other organizations who are working towards similar goals….we work in coalition with others to uplift issues of human rights and social justice.


6. Please tell us about the trip you just returned from. What was the most memorable experience and why? What was the biggest challenge? What did you learn on this journey, both personally as an organization, and professionally, that you are taking back home?
The trip we just returned from was truly informative and deeply moving. Having the opportunity to learn first-hand about the challenges migrants are facing and witnessing the incredible work our partners are doing to help provide support to people trying to have a better life was so important. My most memorable experience was meeting with a woman who fled Honduras with her husband and seven children due to gang violence. She was grateful to have a place to stay in the shelter of our partner and was hoping to continue further north to create a better livelihood for her family.  On this journey, I learned a great deal about the history of Mexico and really enjoyed my time exploring the sites of Mexico City and Guadalajara. I also learned how incredibly privileged I am to be able to quickly and easily cross borders and how fortunate I am to have a great deal of economic opportunities. I’m taking back home the stories of the migrants we met and will continue to advocate for changes in U.S. immigration policy. 

If you think your organization would benefit from an international experience or exchange, like the soccer trip we just returned from with BIFC, or more “self-led” journey we helped UUSC put together, don’t hesitate to send Cilla an email directly at:; or call our office (800) 353-2276.

We would love to make it happen for you!


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