19-year-old's life changing volunteering experience

How 19-year-old’s life changing Workaway trip gave him purpose

ROTD monthly workawayer badgeAt Workaway we absolutely love getting to know you all whether it be meeting on the road, hearing stories through emails or by actually going on a Workaway trip ourselves. We couldn’t be prouder to be involved in such an inspiring community of travellers! So we just had to share some of your stories you tell us!

This month we talk to 19-year-old Jake who has just returned from his first life changing Workaway project in Guatemala. We loved talking to him and admire his courage and motivation! He really proves; No Matter Your Age, Travel Has No Limit’!

jake-kickstarter-travellers-lifechanging-book

Nice to meet you, Jake! What is your experience with Workaway so far?

guatemala school workaway life changing projectI used Workaway during the four months I traveled throughout Central America (March – July 2015). My first Workaway experience was teaching English and soccer to schoolchildren in a rural town in Northern Guatemala called San Andres. I lived in a small home with volunteers from all over the world. We lived next door to a local Guatemalan family (our host family) that essentially became my family while living there. The volunteer help involved teaching English at one of the local schools Monday through Friday. I had a class of fourth graders and absolutely loved my time with them. I volunteered in San Andres for 6 weeks in total.

That sounds just perfect! But how did you find out about us?

I discovered Workaway when I took a semester off from school to travel. I came home and spent hours researching how I could create the travel experience I was looking for:
1.) Volunteer and make an impact in a local community. 2.) Live with a local family and learn Spanish. 3.) Meet travelers from all over the world. 4.) Affordable (I had a small budget). 5.) Less structured than typical travel exchange programs.
When I found Workaway, it was an “aha” moment. Workaway was the answer to what I was looking for!

Amazing! We are so glad you found us! How have you found travelling through a cultural exchange program different from say, backpacking?

travelling connecting with local life changing experienceTraveling through Workaway was different from other types of travel because of the unique way it allowed me to connect with the locals and make an impact in the community. Being paired with a local Guatemalan family made my experience so enriching. I am still in touch with my host family today and the volunteers I stayed with. These relationships are what made my entire journey so incredible. The Workaway experience encompassed everything I was looking for, which is what set it apart from every other travel organization I considered.

Ah, you’ll make us blush! Can you tell us any lessons you have learnt by travelling this way?

The most valuable lesson I learned through cultural exchange was the art of communication. At first, I spoke no Spanish. In the town I was living, no one other than the volunteers spoke English. I was forced to be creative in the classroom and used songs, games and dance to teach my kids. I learned how important it is to smile and communicate through nonverbal cues. It still blows me away how so many people helped me out on my journey through just smiling and radiating positive energy. This aspect of communication opened my eyes to other ways of connecting to people despite language barriers.

As we always say “we all smile in the same language”. Were there any obstacles you had to overcome throughout your travels?

I think every Workawayer and traveler will experience obstacles, but they are often the most important and memorable learning lessons. To arrive in San Andres, I had to take a 9-hour bus to the town from Guatemala City. The bus was stopped for 8 hours on a one-way road due to an accident up ahead, making it a 15-hour journey. I was 18 years old, had no cell phone and couldn’t speak Spanish. I had a soccer ball in my backpack and brought it outside when while we waited for 8 hours. Through soccer and body language, I made friends with the locals on my bus. This “obstacle” ended up being such an incredible experience, forcing me to think outside the box. There were many obstacles that surfaced and they often created unforgettable memories and experiences.
travel lessons local bus guatemala

That really is the essence of travel – we love it! So how about funny stories?

There were quite a few funny moments! While in Costa Rica, I was volunteering at a Permaculture farm. A girl from Australia had just arrived and when she walked in, there was a huge lime green frog a few feet in front of her. Just as she bent down to look at it, the frog jumped right onto her face and stuck there for a few seconds! It was hilarious (and she was fine!) !

Haha, brilliant, that definitely made us laugh too! Was there anything you really wish you brought with you on your trip that you did’nt?

To be completely honest, there is nothing I would have brought with me other than what I did. I worried at first that I would surely need more stuff and regret not bringing something. With just a backpack full of clothes for 4 months, I realized that my focus was rarely on things, but more on experiences. This had a significant impact on me, because I realized you don’t need a lot of material things (other than basic essentials) to be happy.

Amen! What were the biggest lessons you took back from your trip to Guatemala?

travel changes perspective life directionTraveling opened my perception to a world of infinite possibilities, unlocking doors and revealing new facets of life that awoke my inner being. Along with experiencing different ways of life, both locals and other world travelers shared with me their stories, habits and cultural formalities, many of which differed vastly from those of where I come from. Neither they nor I are necessarily living “rightly or wrongly.” It’s just different. And, from an equally important perspective, it’s also different for each person. This observation was liberating and life changing for me. I realized that people, even those with little educational or financial resources, have the power to take their life into almost any direction they want. There is no life “rulebook” dictating how you have to live. This realization has inspired me to chase my dreams and live life to the fullest.

We love how much you learnt from travel and how life changing your experience has been- we still think it is the best education out there! What advice would you give to new Workawayers?

My advice to any new Workawayers would be to approach every experience with an open mind. Every workaway experience has something to teach you and is an opportunity to explore another culture, another way of life, and even gain insight into your own personality and character. Traveling fosters a sense of understanding and acceptance of differences. I have never met a close-minded traveler. I truly believe the world would be a better place if everyone traveled. We aren’t concerned about being right or wrong, rich or poor, democratic or republican, boy or girl, black or white. We just accept the kaleidoscope and influx of emotions and sensory detail that is life. Traveling has a way of providing you with a set of newborn eyes to view the world. It brings you back to the essence of being a child, discovering anew—once again optimistic, open-minded, and adventurous. Mark Twain word’s should be considered by everyone! “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

Such wise words! So, Jake, where’s next? What are your travel plans?

I was so inspired and impacted by my travels that I am now writing a book about my journey leaving college and backpacking through Central America. I just launched a Kickstarter campaign for the book, Off the Beaten Trail, and I’m hopeful it will be published in July of 2016. My goal is to travel around the US and promote my book, inspiring people to listen to their inner voice and pursue their passions! I know 100% I will be using Workaway again…it’s just a matter of when and where I am called to explore next. I write about traveling, human nature and motivation on my blog Eyes Fully Open and post daily on my Facebook page, sharing inspiring, positive messages and videos.
Kickstarter travel book campaign
Thank you so much for sharing your life changing travel story with us, Jake! All the best to your future travels!
Are you also an inspired workawayer hoping to spread the love? If you want to be featured as our next WAyer of the month, email us over at sarah@workaway.info!

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