Before even embarking on the experience a host needs to be prepared mentally and practically for a visitor- it’s not always easy sharing your space or adapting to someone else’s. It goes without saying that you need to be welcoming, understanding, friendly and patient. Having a genuine curiousity to learn about other cultures/ languages along with a sense of humour are great assets too. If you have travelled yourself you’ll be able to put yourself “in their shoes/ flip-flops/ birkenstocks” more readily. In fact, if you’ve never got over that travel bug, this is the next best thing! So here we’ve got a 10 point step-by-step guide to help you get the most out of your experience as a host:
Step 1: Clear Ideas
Have a clear idea of what you need help with, the time it will take and the input or support a volunteer will need from you. Decide how many helpers you need. Couples may offer diverse skills and are often more independent. Individual volunteers tend to develop a closer relationship with the host and may need more support initially.
Decide upon the dates when you are available to receive volunteers and specify the days/hours when you’ll need an extra pair of hands. Consider if any aspect of your lifestyle, eating or sleeping arrangements which newcomers would need to know about.
Step 2: Transparent Profile
Write a profile which includes details of the optimum length of the stay and the nature of the help required, plus the working and living environment. Some readers may not be native speakers, so make sure the language used is clear and unambiguous. Be honest about any pros and cons and let the volunteers decide if it still interests them or not.
Say what your location has to offer, but also be clear about its limitations too. Before people travel there is a tendency to romanticise about the place that they are visiting and it is important to know what it was that attracted the person to your location and then be sure to point out anything which might be different to how they imagined eg. distance to the nearest beach/town centre, size of bedroom, pets, transport etc.
Step 3: Striking a chord or two
Await responses. Consider which potential volunteer appears to have the charcteristics and apptitude your are looking for. Read their profiles and any feedback they have received from previous hosts. Are you looking for certain skills? If not, choose someone who appears easy-going and enthusiastic. Has the volunteer lived/ worked away from home before? Have they got any allergies/ dietary requirements which will be difficult to accommodate? If you are unsure, why don’t you ask them why they decided to write to you and how they visualise being able to help you. Go for the person who most resonates with you.
Step 4: Mutual benefit
Once you are close to confirming a visit from a volunteer, you should make sure that both of you are clear about the conditions of the stay and the expectations you both have. What is the reason for the volunteer wanting to stay with you? Knowing what it is that has motivated the person to come will also mean that during their stay they get the opportunities they need to enjoy those aspects- whether it be sightseeing, practising their language skills or spending time on the beach or doing their favourite sport.
Once you feel that the arrangement could be reciprocal you might suggest a short skype call to firm things up.
Step 5: Preparation
Using a little foresight and organisation means that your volunteer will feel more comfortable and able to help you more effectively. Let them know what to expect as far as weather conditions go and if there is anything which would be useful for them to bring with them regarding clothes, sun cream, mosquito repellent, own beach towel, wellies etc. Depending on the nature of the tasks to be done make sure that you have sufficent tools, materials and time put aside to settle them in. Your volunteer will be excited, but also apprehensive about the visit. Their arrival and their first impression will hopefully ease any concerns they may have. Offering to greet them at the bus/train station or airport is a good move. Making sure that their sleeping/living area is clean and comfortable will help them feel at home. Any details that you know about their food preferences means you could stock up on a few goodies, picking them up a local map or providing them with information which could be of interest to them, all help to make them feel welcome. This initial input requires some time, thought and effort – but is worth it.
Step 6: Helping someone to feel at home
Once they have arrived, it is important to dedicate some time for you to get to know one another. Take time to show your visitor around as well as how things work: washing machine, internet password etc. Make them aware of any house rules you may have (smoking, drinking, taking shoes off etc) as well as telling them about the facilities which can use. Prepare a meal together, go for a walk or play chess…whatever appeals! There is always something which can be learned from another. Showing interest and respect for the other is a great foundation for a good host-workawayer relationship.
Step 7: Being Supportive
Over the first few days the visitor may need guidance as far as finding their way around: post office, bank, chemists etc. They’ll also need to familiarise themselves with the new environment, diet and routine. Be patient, their life here with you may be worlds apart from what they are used to.
Step 8: Making the most of their experience
Remember to bear in mind the reasons that your volunteer chose you and your locality and wherever possible look out for opportunities for them to be able to fulfill their hopes: whether it is practicing your native language, getting involved in cultural or community activities, seeing the sights or exploring the natural landscape. Showing that you care by going that extra mile is what the “Host with the Most” is all about.
Taking it a step further you could put together a visitors book with entries suggesting interesting things to places to see and do. Include traveller’s perspectives and opinions.
Step 9: Sharing and caring…
Even if you are both very busy, try to maintain regular daily contact and share some mealtimes together. Giving each other feedback and maintaining open and friendly conversation means that there is less chance for misunderstandings or confusion. Simultaneously you should be getting to know each other pretty well by now. Perhaps you have even found common interests in music, art, sport, cooking or gardening. Sharing anecdotes, opinions, recipes, cultural differences, philosphies on the meaning of life…all make for great topics of conversation and friendship-building. Enjoy!!
Their insights into the way of life in your locality will help you become more in-tune with the mindset of a newcomer…and what quirks or customs need explaining!
Step 10: Be flexible!
Workaway encourages both parties to be adaptable and considerate of one another. Sometimes things don’t go to plan, so it’s important to be flexible and accommodating, and if necessary have a back-up plan in place. As a host it is possible that unforeseen circumstances mean that a volunteer cannot stay. It is important for hosts to realize that their volunteers should not be so indespensible that the host is lost if they leave- this is too much of a burden to place upon a volunteer!! Conversely, I have been in the situation where I found that I no longer needed a volunteer who I had agreed to come at the end of the week. However, as she had made that commitment to me I was happy for her to come and stay anyway. There is always a chance to help out cooking, shopping, babysitting, tidying, mending… I was not disappointed as workawayer Nadine (who is Moroccan Candian) proved to be a fascinating visitor! On a number of occasions we were even up until the early hours with no idea of the time! But that is what the spirit of Workaway, and indeed human interaction itself, should be all about!