We all know how great it is to have an extra pair of hands around, and as hosts we often think we have a clear idea of what we’d like our workawayers to help us with. BUT, having been a Workaway host for over 15 years, there have been many unexpected benefits which I could never have envisaged. Here are 10 of the most varied and wonderful ways that Workawayers have touched our lives and in some case, made a lasting impact!
(Leer el artículo en Español: Diez Ventajas Inesperadas de Ser un Anfitrión en Workaway)
1. Bringing fresh ideas – in this case made of donkey poo!
Many of us live in a bit of a bubble. We go about our daily lives and mix with the same people. I live in a rural community in the middle of nowhere, which I love! But sometimes, I miss the chance to hear about what is going on in the outside world. Having Workawayers means that I am more in touch with new ideas and developments which people are enjoying in other parts of the world. This could be alternative building techniques: like the Workawayers who were inspired by the mud and dung constructions they had learnt about from their time in Morocco and were enthused about trying out their skills on our compost toilet, using a foot trodden concoction of hay, clay from our land and our DONKEY’S POO to clad the space. Literally a house for pooing made of poo… believe it or not, it is the freshest and coolest room we have!!
2. Broadening horizons
Sharing experiences and interests is another great aspect of having workwayers to stay. I believe that every single person we meet has either knowledge or a quality we can learn from. It’s not always easy to find…but sure enough there will be something! When you have common interests the discovery tends to happen a lot quicker. So it was with workawayer Nadine, and when we got onto the subject of pregnancy and childbirth (something I had a challenging time dealing with during my time in Spain) she explained how she had trained as a doula, whose role is to provide emotional support and physical comfort to women throughout pregnancy/childbirth. This possibility appealed to me so much, I decided to enrol in a doula course so that I could be available to provide this type of help. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say my experiences have been very memorable!
3. Expanding your capacity to earn a living
Many workawayers, especially the digital nomad types, have become very savvy as far as making a living wherever they are. Some are content writers, others blog and vlog, whereas others manage to find ways of working from home, wherever that may be. I am an English teacher, and although I have been interested in on-line work…I felt I didn’t know enough about it to take the next step. Workawayer David put in his volunteering hours in the mornings and then had Skype classes with his students in Hungary in the evenings. Our rural satellite internet connection proved to be able to work well enough, which was one of my concerns. He also told me how to be able to share screens and documents… the nitty gritty stuff which you need to know. I have yet to branch out into on-line teaching, but now at least I know it is a real possibility and can begin to envisage myself doing it.
4. Cultural understanding
Having workawayers to stay from very different cultural backgrounds may require a little more patience and support, but there is also a wonderful opportunity to really understand what makes others tick, and it can be truly enlightening. I have been to Morocco and other Islamic countries where I have really wanted to connect more with the local women and yet found that the language gap as well as lack of opportunity for interaction meant that I was unable to do so. Workawayer Nadie is Morrocan by birth and lived there until her parents migrated to Canada when she was a young adult. Being highly educated and studying political science she was able to describe her own personal experiences as well as provide fascinating insight on her country as an insider as well as an onlooker. We developed a trust which meant we felt able to ask one another questions on a wide range of subjects and really satisfy our curiosity for each other’s cultures. This was also true for the Japanese Workawayer, Takako, who was incredibly reserved and shy at first, but on providing her with the daily opportunity to ask/answer any questions she wanted to as a cultural exchange activity we both learnt and understood each other so much better.
5. Parenting and different approach
In fact Takoko’s calm demeanour also had an interesting effect upon our sometimes challenging 7 year old daughter. Emma could be controversial and provocative, and incited a similarly dramatic response in most people on the receiving end of it, either shocked, frustrated or upset. When Takako was taking care of her, she was consistently serene and diffused any moodiness by saying “No Em, this is not the way, we don’t say or do this…and then moved on to distract her with a therapeutic activity such as showing her how to make origami animals and flowers. I became aware that treating fire with fire only aggravated the situation and that there is something slightly absurd about raising your voice to match your child whilst telling them to calm down! Takoko set the example beautifully and although I was initially concerned that Em might take advantage of her gentle nature, the reverse was true: there was no battle of wills and any tension was diffused.
6. Making improvements
A very dynamic and driven couple, Mary and Sarn, not only made a huge contribution as far as lending a helping hand, but also noticed when systems we had in place weren’t working as efficiently as they could. Our recycling and composting methods were rather disorganised and so Mary set about designating separate bins for easier collection and transportation of the materials to be recycled, all neatly labelled, as well as a small kitchen bin with clipped down lid to accumulate vegetable waste destined for the outdoor composter. This system is still in place, and obvious as it now seems, it wasn’t something which we’d considered doing before.
7. Culinary delights and surprises
Having visitors to our home from all over the world means that appreciation of food will be shared and recipes exchanged. Memories of workawayers live on in the meals that are prepared years after their departure. Our Polish guests brought with them wealth of knowledge about the techniques of fermenting vegetables and the health benefits of eating this food rich in nutrients and probiotics. The process is an ancient one and surprisingly simple. It is an excellent way to preserve vegetables, minimise waste if you have too much of something and the end product is delicious. They also showed us how to grow our own sour dough yeast culture and have assured us that it matures and improves with time.
The word “companion” has its roots in Latin and Old French, literally meaning unity with those you share your bread/food with. We certainly make more effort to sit down together and eat at the same time when we have workawayers. We put more effort and thought into food preparation, and as a result mealtimes are meaningful times to get together share stories and enjoying each other’s company. It may be more effort than when we are alone, but actually the meals are far more worthwhile and I have become more aware just how important and beneficial this together time is.
9. Enthusiasm is contagious
When workawayers first arrive they are excited to see and get to know their new home. When you are knee-deep in the middle of a project, you can easily forget what made you fall in love with a place or your initial dream. Visitors can often remind you of yourself when you first started out, their appreciation and enthusiasm for where you live and what you have achieved is a reminder of just how lucky you are and to pat yourselves on the back for just how far you’ve come.
10. A language for life
This final perk was experienced by my good friend and midwife, Claudia, from Germany. As a single mother whose primary work was attending homebirths, she was continually in the precarious situation of bring on call for a birth and yet never really knowing when that might happen. As these things often take place in the midnight hours, it was hard for her to make provision for her young daughter Lucy. Workawayers were a good solution as they were able to provide her with back-up care for her daughter when the time came. Charlotte was an English Workawayer who loved being part of their family for an extended time. She and Lucy got on so well and because Charlotte spoke no German, it became easier for them to speak in English at home. Lucy may have heard her mother speak English from time to time, but this was the first time it had become meaningful and part of her daily life. Kids pick up languages quickly when there is trust and a need to communicate, and I was amazed at just how well Lucy picked up the new language. She speaks fluently and with no noticeable accent. Charlotte eventually left, but Lucy continues to speak excellent English and I am sure it will prove to be a wonderful asset in her life.
I believe that as hosts we not only develop a greater awareness of our other cultures, but simultaneously we gain a better insight into our own values and achievements. I believe that everyone you meet has at least one thing to teach you and a skill to offer. Allowing workawayers a free rein from time to time can be super rewarding, the most spectacular contributions have emerged when we have allowed workawayers to follow their passions by taking part in activities which engage their creativity and enthusiasm.