My first WWOOF Experience

If you’ve ever thought that spending time in nature sounded nice, have you checked out WWOOF?

WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and is exactly what the name says. It is an international network of organic farmers, who serve as hosts for eager travelers. It’s a chance to explore a different region/country/continent, practice some language, learn a skill, and develop amazing relationships you’d never expect.

I spent the last two weeks of my spring Eurotrip WWOOFing (yes, it’s a verb) in Basse-Normandy, France.

 

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A map of my route, for reference!

How did I choose a tiny town in Basse-Normandie? Simple. On the WWOOF website (you pay 20 Euro be a member for a year and then you have access to the catalogue of host farms in the country you choose) there is a list of filters including type of activity (IE permaculture, orchard, dairy, eco projects) and length of stay (one week, two weeks, 1 month). I had two weeks to farm; I was interested in orchards and eco projects. So I found La Fermette du Bellefontaine.

 

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A rainy day on La Fermette

La fermette means “little farm,” and that’s exactly what it was: a small scale organic farm owned and operated by a few friends. Each had his and her own plot of land and primary source of income: one is a vegetable gardener, one a seamstress, and my host, the master baker.

 

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For most French people, bread is life. It’s fresh, it’s inexpensive and it’s eaten three times a day. And why wouldn’t you eat it when the grain was grown and harvested three miles away?

As for eco projects, these included a composting toilet (of which I sadly did not take a picture, but I’ll leave that to you to research), an organic sewage system that uses water-loving plants to clean used water, and newspaper insulation. All created by my host out of his desire to “be as autonomous as possible.”

It’s amazing what you can learn when you least expect it, when you enter into a new situation with zero expectations. I left a lot more informed about steps I can take as an individual to reduce my impact and respect our planet. And I had the best cheese of my life.

 

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View of the town from a hilltop! Not pictured: the medieval fortress I climbed to take this photo.

 

 

 

 

How To Convince Your Overprotective Parents That Travelling is Tremendously Useful for Life

In response to my last post, I’ve been reflecting on some of the incredible benefits of travelling and some arguments I would make to someone who was not an avid nomad or had maybe watched too much CNN. Here are five ways to convince your overprotective parents (or friends) that travelling is not at all like The Hangover:

  1. Travelling makes you self-sufficient. Unless you sign up for a tour, nothing happens abroad unless you make it happen–booking hotels, finding bus tickets, converting money, deciding to drink the water (or not)…it’s your impetus that helps you get places and stay safe.
  2. Travelling makes you brave. You never know how capable you are until you’re watching the last bus pull away from the station and you have to run after it, screaming and waving your hands like a chicken with its head cut off. You run into all sorts of unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations when in a new place, and you have no choice but to cope.
  3. Travelling helps you be more social. You become far more dependent on the kindness of strangers to get around. Slovakian Grandmothers, Vietnamese construction workers, and Israeli soldiers have become some of my best friends in times of navigational uncertainty (I get lost easily). When you don’t know where you are, you have to stop and ask someone, or in my case, five or six people. I’ve been delighted at the many times I’ve had a genuine conversation (in English, Hebrew, or with drawings in the sand) with a complete stranger. The desire to help people is palpable, and when someone takes time out of his or her day to stop and help you–a stranger–the world seems a little smaller and brighter.
  4. Travelling makes you more culturally sensitive. Visiting religious sites, eating the local food, and observing local customs are all ways that the traveler can develop a keen sense of cultural sensitivity. It also makes you more aware of your own way of doing things by virtue of comparison.
  5. Travelling makes you a better citizen. Less then 10 percent of Americans own a passport, and yet there is so much world outside the coasts. When you travel, you see how the rest of the world lives. You realize how much of an impact Americanism has on the world, how much of American culture is exported and mass produced and interpreted differently. Talking to locals about this helps you form your own opinions about the United States and its place in the world. Being informed is a cornerstone of democracy.

So you see, there is so much more to travelling then Bengal tigers and giant skyscrapers. Going in curious, confident and with a sense of humor can yield tremendous personal growth and a heck of a lot of great stories (to share with those family and friends back home…or not). You don’t need a tour or an itinerary to do it; you just need a good pair of shoes.

Chapter One: A Very Slow Start to a Very Long Year

The first week of teaching is over. The second week of teaching has just begun.  I write happily from the comfort of my apartment in my pajamas–this is my day off.

The first week was everything: exhilarating, terrifying, irritating, rewarding, and (literally) nauseating. I teach nineteen and a half hours a week.  While I thought that was completely normal, even a bit easy (given that most full time American jobs in the professional world run anywhere form forty to eighty hours in a week), I quickly realized that nineteen and a half hours of teaching really means nineteen and half hours of performing stand-up comedy routines. And that’s exhausting.

In many ways I think I came to immortalize teaching much as I used to immortalize acting (which I find rather hilarious, since I’m starting to see so many similarities between the two jobs). I convinced myself over the last year that teaching was one of the most noble professions a person could pursue and that therefore, I should do it. I convinced myself of this so that I would feel better about moving to a corner of this globe I barely knew existed. Of course, I still do (and always will) believe that teaching is a very noble profession. I probably wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for my teachers. I mean that. But being noble doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t plagued with doubt, fear, irritation, and those pesky little calls of nature that you just can’t answer because you’re already late to your next class and it’s twenty minutes away on the second floor of a building that doesn’t have stairs.

(Deep breath).

This past week, as I bulldozed my way through seas of giggly students, I began to feel a change in my own skin. First of all, I knew that I was being watched. It’s impossible to avoid being seen, because students wear uniforms and teachers do not. If you’re not in uniform, you’re a teacher, and everybody knows it.

I never thought I would be cursing self expression!

I’ve always, always tried to blend in with the crowd, to avoid feeling put on the spot and to be able to watch life unfold from the safety of the wallpaper. But now I feel like I’m suddenly in the hot, bright spotlight–and I’ve only been teaching for a week of my life.

My dream is to use this awkward position of authority to my advantage–not to self-aggrandize myself, but to catalyze the respect teachers are supposedly garnered into challenging my students further in the classroom. Ok…but how?

I’m torn halfway between wanting to throw myself full-heartedly into this profession and wanting to lace up my boots, grab a backpack and hit the road.

I’ll go ahead and say it: it is not easy working in a foreign country. Nothing makes sense to me. The bureaucracy of Thailand isn’t my bureaucracy, so instead of brushing it off as “typical,” I get more and more frustrated. Every day I get more blank stares from students who would rather be on their cell phones or shopping at the mall than sitting in my classroom listening to me explain non-countable nouns.

What the hell are non-countable nouns, anyway???

Maybe I would be less frustrated if I had indeed finished an English as a Second Language training course. That’s probably what any logical, foreword-thinking person would do. But part of me thinks that no matter how “prepared” you are for a job, nothing can prepare you for getting smacked in the face by the unpredictability of human beings. Whether they are above or below you in “rank” (which is very big here in Thailand), human beings are just as messy, confused, and wanting to be loved as you.

If only I could hug everyone instead of having to smile politely and say “kap kun ma ka” for God only knows what.