Getting Selected by Cuso International – What it’s Really Like


The views expressed in this blog are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect those of Cuso International. That being said, our views are at least three times more attention-grabbing than what you find on the official site. Now on to the exciting stuff!

When you’re choosing the “right” person to send overseas for 12 months, and you want to make sure they don’t fly back home with tears in their eyes after two months, what do you do?

Put together a rigorous screening process of course!

At least, that’s what Cuso International does.

Before sending you to volunteer in a professional placement, they want to make sure that you’re not a crazy person, a clingy xenophobe, or an emotional trainwreck waiting to happen. If you’re interested in volunteering with Cuso International you have to jump through a few hoops.

A hand pointing to a process with a marker - Cuso Selection Process

Here is how Cuso’s selection process would work:

1 – Apply for the position. Fill out your resume in the “Cuso format”, guaranteed to be completely different from what your resume looks like right now. Pick your top skills from their list, then write an essay about why you want to volunteer with them. Tip: it’s not the kind of thing you can whip off in 30 minutes.

2 – Provide your references. Along with your application, you need to provide two work references and one character reference. So don’t worry if only two of your co-workers liked you – you can use your best friend for the third person!

3 – Preliminary call. To make sure you’re not a psycho (and to confirm that you’re still interested in volunteering) you’ll have a call with a Cuso employee. This is their chance to spring on you that you need to make it to Ottawa or Vancouver for an Assessment Day before you’ll even be considered. This is your chance to spring it on them that you totally forgot you applied for a position with Cuso.

4 – Assessment Day. A one-day in-person meeting in either Ottawa or Vancouver, to assess your suitability as a volunteer. The day is half interview, half group work and discussions. Evaluators lurking in the background take notes on your every word. Seriously.

5 – References checked. If you didn’t screw anything up on Assessment Day, your references receive an email form to fill out. It’s quick and easy, but also easily lost in busy inboxes. Tip: ask your references to watch for an email from Cuso.

Expect to fill out many forms, and also have your doctor and dentist fill out forms too.

6 – Partner acceptance. So now you’ve been accepted by Cuso International in Canada, but it’s up to the partner organization overseas to check your credentials, your resume, etc. and give you the thumbs up or not.

7 – Medical, Dental, Police Check, Vaccinations. Once the partner organization gives you the green light, you need to take care of a few things before you leave. A medical checkup, a dental checkup, a police check, and any required vaccinations. Expect to fill out many forms, and also have your doctor and dentist fill out forms too.

8 – Oh yeah, and you have to do a bunch of fundraising for Cuso. You know, replenish the coffers for the next volunteers and all that.

9 – Pre-departure (SKWID) training. Five days of in-person training in Ottawa or Vancouver. This training isn’t country specific, it’s about Skills for Working in Development (SKWID, get it?). This is five FULL days of cultural awareness, gender issues, communication techniques, and Cuso strategy.

10 – Finally you get to leave for your volunteer placement! Keep in mind anywhere along this selection journey you could be eliminated if you display inappropriate behaviour. So even if you make it all the way to pre-departure training, keep covering up your character flaws.

Cuso on a frosted door - My Cuso Selection Process

OK, so now you know how it’s supposed to go. In theory. Here’s how it happened for me.

1 – Apply for the position. I was scouring the Cuso placements for quite a while before I actually applied. I wanted to go to Southeast Asia, but it seemed there wasn’t a single position I was qualified for. Then I saw “English Instructor” and I knew I was qualified for that one.

2 – Provide references. That was no problem. I had some great references.

3 – Here’s where things didn’t go quite as planned. Instead of a preliminary call, this is where I had my References checked. Yes, even before I had been contacted by Cuso. I received a note from my reference congratulating me on being chosen for a volunteer position. Whaaa? I mean Yay!

4 – Preliminary call. When I got my call I was living in Mexico, but I had internet access, so it was a Skype call. To my disappointment it was not a video call (I had dressed nice.)

5 – Assessment Day. When I got back to Canada, I attended a compulsory Assessment Day.

Cuso will pay for some expenses to get you to either Ottawa or Vancouver (the only two places Assessment Day is held). They also pay for your hotel. But remember this is a non-profit, so don’t expect to fly business class.

Some people choose to just pay it all themselves and skip the whole fundraising thing

6 – Partner Acceptance. Since my references were already checked (ha!) the next thing was partner acceptance.

This happened behind the scenes, and the notification I got was an email with an attachment written in Laos, that (I assume) was partner acceptance.

7 – Medical, Dental, Police Check, Vaccinations. This was incredibly time consuming and costly. I had about a month and a half to get everything done, and it was barely enough time. Some appointments I had to wait weeks, and some vaccinations had multiple doses that needed to be injected a month apart.

I was warned that volunteers had been stopped from getting on a flight if they didn’t have medical clearance, so I took this one seriously.

8 – I did all my fundraising online on my Cuso fundraising page, by sharing on Facebook and emailing friends. Since I don’t have a billion Facebook friends, I funded half of my $2,000 fundraising goal myself.

9 – Pre-departure (SKWID) training. This was a Friday to Tuesday, all-day, in-person training session in Ottawa to prepare volunteers for overseas placements and for working in development, specifically. My week-long class had two facilitators and about 20 volunteers.

10 – At last, the day arrived. I got to Halifax airport ready for my 32-hour, multi-airport, around-the-world flight.

Time it took starting from submitting my application to boarding my flight: seven months.

Being accepted to work with Cuso International was exciting and (despite some of the sarcasm above) applying wasn’t too onerous of an experience. I selected Cuso because it was a Canadian NGO, and because they placed skilled professionals. All in all, I’m happy I hooped through the jumps and ended up working with them.

Check out our announcement about Volunteering with Cuso International in Laos. 

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