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Exploring, creating, & reflecting one day at a time

So I’m finally near the end of my two month long journey. I’m sitting in my very cool hostel in Milano that I’ll probably talk about in my next post. I was in Firenze yesterday and I’ll be in Lyon tomorrow, before finally getting back to the bay, and then driving down to LA for the fourth. Phew. That’s 6 continuous days of travel by almost every mode of transportation imaginable.

But anyway I wanted to take a moment to talk about what I learned from WWOOF, how I feel about my overall experience, and give you some pointers if you’re thinking that you want to be cool like me and give the program a whirl of your own (lol).

Overall, I’m really glad I forced myself to go through with this experience. “Forced” might be too harsh a word, but at some points during the journey, it did get a bit rough. That was the point, I suppose. That’s what I wanted for myself, to experience something difficult, but difficult in a different way than studying/schoolwork. That’s definitely what I got. I learned so much about being organic, being all natural, being part of a family different than my own, and being myself in so many unique and novel situations.

Most importantly, I got the freedom I was craving. I was (and am, for the next 2 days) almost completely independent. Sure, I was being fed by a family and all that, but most of the time I was working in the field I was alone and in between meals I had a lot of time to be by myself and think. And, aside from all that, even when I was with other people, they were new, unfamiliar people. Unfamiliarity, a concept that used to cause me so much anxiety, is now something that I find really exciting. I guess it still causes me anxiety, but now I can channel it into being a “positive” anxiety, one that encourages me to try new and different things whenever possible.

I had so much time to reflect on everything, my life, the world, absolutely everything. I had time to grow more grateful for what I have waiting for me back home, and time to reevaluate/reaffirm what I believe in. I feel like a real person again, a feeling I sort of lost in the chaos of this year’s classes. I read books for the first time in I don’t know how long, I every bite of every meal, and I met so many people from all over the world who taught me so many interesting things.

Thanks WWOOF.

So, if this sounds all fine and dandy to you, here are some tips I’d like to give you. Keep in mind these are relevant to MY experience specifically and things could change if you choose to approach things differently, but here goes:

  • Plan early. Although I saw a few blogs, etc, online saying that you can WWOOF on a whim, you definitely will not get your first choice unless you are very very lucky. I planned my trip about 5 months ahead of time, and my hosts agreed that this was a good move. While I was there, they said they were getting multiple emails EVERY DAY from interested WWOOFers that they couldn’t accomodate because they had already accepted WWOOFers until the harvest, in October. So if you really care about where you end up working, make it a point to not procrastinate.
  • WWOOFing is NOT an easy/free means of travel. Yes, when you’re on your farm, it is “free”, but keep in mind you are on a FARM in a presumably rural area. A lot of people have the idea that on the weekends/afternoons you can just pick up and take side trips to interesting places, but agricultural areas generally aren’t near big cities (no duh) and it may be very cumbersome to get to anywhere “interesting”. I mentioned once before that the only real visitable place by train from Montalcino was Siena. You will likely have to rely on your host family for sidetrips, so keep in mind when you’re planning that these may not happen at all depending on how you end up with. WWOOFing is enough of an experience in itself, I think, and so you shouldn’t worry too much about traveling while you’re on the farm.
  • Consider going with a friend or finding a farm that specifically says it hosts multiple WWOOFers at a time if you’re perhaps a bit fragile in disposition. Like I said, being alone was great, but well, lonely. There were definitely times when I wished there was at least someone my age around to talk to, who I could relate to a bit better. If you’re not explicitly wanting to try to be on your own for an extended period of time, don’t do this alone! You will probably regret it depending on how long you stay, which brings me to my next point…
  • You should definitely try to stay in one place for an extended period of time. There are people who switch farms every week or so, and this is probably fine and dandy, but I think that getting the full WWOOF experience requires you really getting comfortable with your new home. WWOOF is about sharing experiences and lifestyles. It’s really hard to do such if you’re only there for a week. The 5+ weeks I was on the vineyard flew by, but it was just long enough that I felt I was ready to go home at the end of it. I recommend AT LEAST three weeks in one place.
  • Choose a farm you’re actually interested in. Don’t just pick a place because it’s in an area you think you’ll like. Remember that you’ll be spending close to 8 hours/day working with whatever crop/animal your farm grows, so you better have some minimal interest in it. It’s also really helpful to be interested in the organic movement. Of course I really prepped myself (unintentionally) last semester for learning about organic/all natural agriculture by eating about 90% produce. I learned so much, and more importantly, I enjoyed the learning process. Don’t do WWOOF if you couldn’t care less about organic. You’ll just get bored.
  • Make sure you keep a bit of email correspondence with your farm before you head over, and make sure you ask them the necessary details. Don’t be shy. Do they provide a room for you to sleep in (some farms only offer camping space on their property…)? Do they give you towels/linens? Is there wifi and running water? These are all important questions to ask because some places don’t have all these luxuries. You likely won’t get as lucky as I did with accommodations, but you also don’t have to be completely uncomfortable.
  • Bring stuff to do in your off time. Trust me.
  • Remember that you are going to this farm to WORK. You’re not just there to lounge around, even if there is off time. And the work is not easy. A vineyard is probably one of the easier places you could choose in the entire spectrum of farming, and it was still rough. My arms are huge.
  • Go into it with an open mind. The family you will be staying with likely has different viewpoints than you because after all, they chose a completely different lifestyle than you. Be accepting and tolerant, but also don’t be afraid to share your opinions and knowledge (in a respectful manner, of course). WWOOFing families have to have some level of desire to learn about others if they’re opening up their homes to complete strangers.  Also keep in mind that your experience may not go exactly as you planned it.  Just go with the flow.  For instance, an overarching theme through my trip ended up being reggae.  Who would’ve guessed? But i’ll take it…
  • ENJOY IT, because it’s awesome.

Now to prep myself to get back to reality…but first, the Euro Cup finals in Milano! Ciao!


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