At 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!
You would have seen our ‘Workaway Host of the Month’ feature we recently started which introduces you to some of our amazing hosts, but you didn’t think we would ignore the ones that are actually going out there and helping make a difference did you?
This month, we talk to Workawayer Kat from Australia who has not only found friendship and enrichment through Workaway, but also love:
Hey Kat, thanks for letting us interview you this month!
Can you tell us more about your current Workaway exchange and what it involves?
Well at this precise moment I am not actually workawaying. On my last Workaway experience in Spain last year, I met a wonderful man and I am now living between Spain and the UK working and studying Spanish in the process. It’s all very romantic.
Sounds great, so what Workaway exchanges have you done before?
I have volunteered in three wonderful Workaway experiences. The first one was in the north of Chile at a little English school. I spent around a month there, helping out in the school teaching lessons, interacting with all the students and participating in all kinds of fun activities organised by the school. To say it was incredible would not adequately describe it!
As a teacher myself, it was a privilege to work with and learn from the principal teacher of this school and to have such an enriching experience with English language learners of all ages and levels. It completely sold Workaway for me as a perfect way to connect with the local people and immerse myself in a new language and culture.
So as my travels continued I found myself in Spain last year. I decided to try to look for another Workaway experience if I could. And I was lucky enough to stay with a host in Alicante and help out with his permaculture project, and then again in Vigo, Galicia at an English summer camp for youngsters. Both opportunities afforded me the chance to share my skills or at least my physical labor and in exchange I get to know some wonderful people; their lives, their opinions, their thoughts on life and the future, and to share some beautiful memories with them. Living in a westernised culture like I do, sometimes is quite easy to become disenchanted with the future and with the general kindness of people, but having these experiences gave me the opportunity to step outside my little bubble world and connect with other mentalities of life. I learnt a lot.
What was it that made you choose Workaway?
I have a very simple response to this. One of my dearest friends decided to travel to south east Asia a few years ago and undertook a Workaway experience in Vietnam. After speaking with her about her time volunteering in a hostel on the beach, basically in paradise, helping out the owner with her English and helping tourists settle in and enjoy their experience, I was sold on the idea to try it for myself.
How is travelling through Workaway different from other kinds of travel?
For me, it was like going to a new country to visit family I had never met before. The people I volunteered for and with made me feel like I was at home in a strange and new culture. It’s definitely not a glamorous experience in terms of luxury, well, at least in my case they weren’t, but they were authentic. The people, their homes, their families, their lifestyles and routines it all become available to me to experience and learn from.
In Galicia the kids at the summer camp all gave me the nick name of ‘tiger’ because every day I would play a game with them where I would chase them around pretending to be a tiger growling and gnashing my teeth. They didn’t walk away with too much English from the camp, but they remembered the word tiger. In Chile it was the first experience I had with Spanish, a language I have completely fallen in love with. I will never forget the many nights spent with my adult students and their partners in their houses sharing meals, playing games, laughing and learning. These are experiences I am yet to replicate staying in a hostel. You are just not given the same direct access to people’s everyday lives.
What is the most valuable lesson you have learnt through cultural exchange?
Maybe it sounds cliché but it’s the importance of shutting up and listening. People I think for the most part want to share their lives with others. They want to be understood, accepted and loved. This is what I learnt. Asking the right questions and then just allowing people to open up and share is an art too.
I also have learnt a lot of practical things like cooking from scratch instead of the packet, being able to teach a lesson with a class full of kids who don’t speak your language and without any resources, how to plant certain plants in your yard if you want to attract certain types of insects to your garden, and of course I have learnt Spanish, which is something honestly, I never thought I could do.
Have you had to overcome any obstacles while on Workaway? How did you overcome them?
I have experienced language barrier issues, getting lost in a strange place without a map or knowledge of the address I was staying. I have been homesick beyond explanation and not had much access to wifi and other forms of contact with my family. Not surprisingly I have always come out the other end a little scathed but OK. This is, I guess another learning curve that travel in general provides. You just learn to go with the flow and keep a calm head.
Is there anything you wish you had brought along with you or anything you wished you left at home?
By the time I got to my last Workaway experience I had given away half my clothes and a considerable amount of my toiletries. If there is one piece of advice I can offer in terms of what to bring when packing for a trip, it is you are not going to need as much as you think. You will not need clothing ‘options’ — fashion trends do not apply when travelling. You will not need hair care products, make up, translated dictionaries, and various technologies we have become so reliant upon in our everyday lives. Just leave them at home. Take only the basics — believe me, things just complicate your life.
Do you have plans to do another Workaway? What kind of work exchange would you be interested in doing?
Yes, of course I am always planning the next trip! Sustainable, simplistic living has really become a big interest of mine so I would love to look for another opportunity to learn more about self sufficiency.Also an opportunity to share my teaching skills and experience in any way needed. There are a lot of really interesting projects that people are undertaking on Workaway, there are always new possibilities. My current plan is to return to South America next year on a one way ticket to continue exploring, practising my Spanish and this time sharing the whole experience with my partner who hasn’t had the chance to try out Workaway yet.
If you could give any advice to new Workawayers what’d it be?
Take an open mind and an open heart. Give as much of yourself as you can to the project you are doing and the people you’re helping. Take a good sense of humour and your patience with you too, try not to expect too much of what the experience ‘should’ be like and just be open to whatever shape it takes. You will always have something unique to offer, whether it is skills or experience or specific knowledge don’t forget the most important thing you can offer is just your time and company.
Thanks so much to Kat for sharing her experiences with us, we really love learning about fellow Workawayers. 🙂 Do you want to be featured as our next WAyer of the month? Email us over at firstname.lastname@example.org!