Work experience abroad as “workawayer”: the story of Jacopo

Sometimes one of the biggest hurdles when it comes to overseas experiences is overcoming the fear of the “unknown”, that is, leaving our comfort zone to jump into something we don’t know at all.

I would start by saying that, however scary it may be, taking a one-way ticket and moving without support (but always after doing the right research) is less scary than you think. I, Beatrice and thousands of other people who have already done this can confirm it.

If this obstacle for you is too big and difficult to overcome, do not worry, there are some shortcuts, and one of them is to start as a “workawayer”.

But who is a workawayer?

Leaving for abroad as a workawayer simply means to move by leaving thanks to Workaway.info. This website allows you to get in touch with thousands of families around the world or organizations that, for one reason or another, need help and are willing to host foreign boys and girls.

However, I want to explain more and to do so I start by telling you my story.

How I moved to England thanks to Workaway

If you’ve read my introductory article, you’ll know that I’ve always wanted to move to England and that for a few years I’ve been working (literally and figuratively) to achieve this goal.

In January 2020 I went 10 days to London by myself so I could start meeting people and dropping off resumes. I met a couple of other people in the same situation and we decided to leave together for March 2020.

That’s right, March 2020: we couldn’t have chosen a worse month!

So, since bad luck had gotten in the way, I spent the first lockdown trying to figure out how I could still leave as soon as possible. I was determined to move and I had made a lot of sacrifices in order to have the means to do so; I wasn’t going to let a worldwide pandemic get in my way.

The rational part of me, however, was convinced that perhaps, given the situation, it was better to look for some more security. So, I signed up for Workaway.

After a few weeks of searching, where I received at least a dozen “no’s”, I was finally contacted by one of the hosts (the families or organizations that offer room and board in exchange for help).

He is Italian from Padua, her English husband, with a beautiful kitten, were looking for a hand in the house and, being beekeepers, also for help in building beehives from recycled wood. I had some skills in working with wood, especially pallets, but very few in doing laundry or cleaning the house, but both of them, very nice and helpful, it did not matter, they would have taught me everything.

The very first beehive I built for my host family

The house was in Chichester (this is the story of how I ended up there instead of London), a small Roman town by the sea an hour’s train ride from both the English capital and Brighton, where Beatrice later moved to (just look at life’s interlockings!).

I was supposed to help them out a few hours a day, and since they didn’t offer payment beyond room and board (some families do), I could look for a part-time job to support myself.

For me, it was perfect: within a week we agreed on a couple of video calls and I purchased a one-way flight departing July 22, 2020.

How exactly does Workaway work?

Well, if you’ve made it this far to read this, you’re probably also intrigued and want to know how exactly this website works.

The current slogan of the site is “Travel differently, connect globally”, but when I started it was “By travelers, for travelers”.

Both slogans are very true: Workaway.info is in fact first of all a community born from the idea of some travelers to help many others to travel the world in a different way (in my opinion better) than the classic vacations.

The registration to the site as Workawayer has an annual cost of €39 (€49 if you register as a couple) and allows you to get in touch with thousands and thousands of hosts around the world. Obviously, you can do your own research and browse to see if you find something interesting even without signing up, you need to pay only when you decide you want to contact the hosts.

You can find any kind of experience, it also depends a lot on the destination you choose. For example, if you want to live in the city, you will mostly find families who need help around the house or maybe with children.

You’ll also find many families who live in the countryside and have various lands they own that they use for self-production. At the same time, there are a number of voluntary organizations that are committed to producing food and more while respecting the environment.

Anyway, you can find really everything!

Ready to save bees! Very nice experience, but I cannot say I would do it again!

Some hosts ask you to stay a few months, others only a few weeks, and still others don’t care about the length of your stay. Some offer only room and board (but give the possibility to find a part-time job), others also guarantee a payment. Some are looking for a single workawayer, while others host two or more workawayers together.

In short, the choice is really wide!

How I found myself starting with Workaway

Having arrived here, I think you understand how Workaway.info works (if you want, you can deepen reading their page “How it works“) and maybe now you want to know how I found myself during this experience.

Although for me it was a fallback choice, the positives in this experience were several. First of all, I found a couple of young and super nice guys, who helped and supported me in many things.

Also, I was able to move even during a global pandemic without too many worries, even though I later realized that, thanks to the huge amount of job opportunities, I would have succeeded anyway (Beatrice knows something about it!).

The thing I enjoyed most, however, was being able to live in a truly English town and having to adapt to their lifestyle. Obviously, when you move abroad you tend to choose destinations that you know and are used to, for example if you think of England, the first choice is London.

One of the downsides of moving to European capitals is that one risks not fully experiencing a culture that is different (even if only slightly) from our own and remaining clinging to Italy. Every year 480,000 Italians emigrate and most of them move to large capitals like London, Berlin or Madrid. Therefore, by moving to these cities, you risk finding yourself living, working and hanging out with other Italians.

Not that this is a tragedy, but in my opinion, if you decide to have an experience abroad, it should first of all help you to open your mind and make you discover that there is more than just your own country. This, of course, if this experience is done for reasons that go beyond the simple need to work.

I’ll give you an example to make you understand better, even if it may seem like a trifle.

I used to live with an Italian guy who had been living in England for almost 25 years and who by then had completely adapted to the British way of life, also because he was married to an Englishman. To help them around the house I had to adapt to their lifestyle and for the 4 months I was with them I practically woke up very early (around 6.30 am), had a good breakfast, lunch with a sandwich or something quick and worked with wood until around 4.30 pm. After that, I would shower, have dinner around 6pm and go to bed early.

Classical easy lunch in Chichester (during an unusual sunny day!)

Before I left, I never would have dreamed of eating dinner at 6pm, not eating pasta for lunch, or not eating pasta at all for weeks, but then I found out that this lifestyle wasn’t bad at all.

In short, being able to live myself and meet people who didn’t live the way I was used to was the aspect I enjoyed most about my Workaway experience.

Last but not least, this website allowed me to leave abroad without too many thoughts even in a particular period like summer 2020, so I could start what was practically my dream.

My advice if you decide to join Workaway

Like everything in life, Workaway has its pros and cons and is neither always right nor always wrong. Everything is relative and every situation changes from person to person.

From a “technical” point of view, this solution could be perfect for you if you don’t feel like leaving completely closed-box or if you don’t have much money to spare. Consider that, if you find the right host, less than a thousand euros are enough.

Speaking instead in terms that concern more the personal sphere, if you decide to enroll in Workaway, you must be ready to adapt. Even if you will be completely autonomous, you will live in someone’s house, since you will not pay rent or anything else, so you can not think of doing completely as you want. I lived in a host’s house for 4 months and then always on my own and I can assure you that, even if as a workawayer I was really free, they are two very different lifestyles.

Also be prepared to take a lot of “no’s”. Do not hope to find the right host immediately (if you can, better for you!) and always try to improve your profile and take care of it in every detail. It’s a bit like looking for a job, only you won’t have to sell only your skills, but also and above all your person. Remember that families looking for workawayers have to decide which stranger to put in their home and live with them for some time!

Well, this is the story of my experience abroad as a workawayer. As mentioned several times, this could be a small “loophole” to leave and get to even places that seem difficult to move to (no work visas needed). Depending on what kind of person you are, you may or may not like it, but I suggest you consider it anyway, it doesn’t cost anything until you decide to enroll.

As you can see, there are so many options for gaining experience abroad, so why stand still?

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