This thesis employs ethnographic research techniques to examine the lived experiences of individuals who participate in volunteer tourism projects. Data was gathered over a four month period from two diverse programs in South Africa, one working with children and one working with animals. Using a symbolic interactionist theoretical approach, the analysis of participant observation and interview data reveal an interaction process at the structural, group and individual level through which program participants come to identify self as a volunteer tourist and form volunteer tourist identities
appropriate to the social situation experienced within their own particular volunteer project. The findings also suggest program culture and group norms, as well as altruistic and personal motivations, may be influential in affecting volunteer tourist behaviour. Results of this study highlight the need for further cross-comparative ethnographic research on divergent programs to enhance the understanding of volunteer tourist experiences and volunteer tourism as a whole.