First things first: I was not sponsored to review workaway, which you may otherwise feel once you read my post, but what can I do if my volunteering-stay turned out to be so great. Moreover, the fact that I had a great volunteering experience and that I encourage the idea of Workaway-ing, are not linked.
In case you’re wondering what’s workaway… Workaway.info is a site where you can find volunteer positions in tourism, agriculture or as an au-pair anywhere in the world, and where potential hosts can hire you. You start by creating an account. All you have to do is sign-up, pay the fee for one year ($29 for a single person, $38 for a couple or two friends), and create a profile and description about yourself and what you offer. Once you have signed up, you can start contacting businesses or local hosts based on countries, cities, and/or type of work. The general gist in each location is that you get a room and board in exchange for 5 hours work a day. Well, that’s what it’s supposed to be like. But that totally depends on the kind of host you end up workaway-ing with.
I mean of course you contact them first, call or message, ask your doubts, read other workawayers’ feedback on their profile, but you still never know what’s coming, right? Speaking of my personal first experience, during my first (I workaway-ed twice during my recent 2-month backpacking trip in Europe, once in Germany and once in Italy) workaway experience, I worked more than 5 hours a day. And the work was also quite challenging. I was painting, driving a digger, and transporting wood-logs away. But I was in Germany, following a German lifestyle. More work, less play was always a risk. Moreover, I never said that my experience was bad, in anyway, I had a great time staying with the host and they were friendlier than I expected.
And then I ended up workaway-ing in Rome in Italy, and happened to find the best workaway host ever. Or perhaps everyone in Italy is so friendly!
From My Job… To What I Actually Did
There were two reasons why I wanted to workaway in Rome at first place: one, to save money, and two, to stay with a local host and understand the city as they knew it. And when it comes to cities like Rome, it’s even better if you happen to find a local host — someone who know the city from inside out. Moreover, the plan was to stay in Rome for around 2 weeks — enough to know the city from inside out, even if I were not exploring the city daily.
So yea, after deciding to workaway in Rome, I found a family on workaway.info, who were looking for someone to help them restore and clean up their neglected piece of land. During the time I happened to be there, I helped in burning chopped-off olive trees, and cut the grass around their wineyard. The same wineyard, whose wine I ended up drinking during my stay!
I can’t remember how many days, out of my total 12-day stay did I actually work for them, because Rome was tempting, and I was requesting them to give a day off almost every two days to explore the town. But if there’s any detail I remember, it is, I definitely worked less than 5 hours a day. So yea, it felt less like workaway-ing and more like ‘Stay with us. Share our dinner table. Eat the amazing Italian food we cook. Drink our home-made wine. And let’s make some amazing memories during the process’.
A Bit More Detail… In Short!
I stayed with a typical Italian family (half Roman, half Sardinian, if I’m not wrong) of four members, with my own personal room and a complete access to their house — a kind of setting that would make anyone feel at home, despite being away from home.
My host, Fabio, was a tough, middle-aged man, very particular about his food habits. Helplessly driven by healthy eating habits, he wanted to build an eco-system where he could grow, most of their personal food items — from olive oil to wine to vegetables — at home, and in an organic way. And for that he needed a piece of land cleared for planting.
Everyday, I and Fabio would cut the trees and burn their bushes (in their own property of course) to clear up the land. The rest of the three family members would go working in Rome and attending universities.
I’d work a few hours in the morning before making it to the dining table for some afternoon pasta, and that’s exactly when my working hours would conclude. Later in the day, I’d relax, read, walk around, play with the dogs, and wait for other three family members to arrive, to only cook food with them, talk a bit, and learn about Italian delicacies.
Dinners were, of course, the highlight. And the many half-baked conversations — most of which happened in Italian, and some, in English — made dinners even better.
A Few Highlighted Moments
Of course, dinners, as I said earlier… and all those lovely conversations that followed. But other than dinners, I’ve had a fair share of other memorable moments.
For example, the next day upon my arrival we had a community gathering in the house. With some exotic Italian food served on table, and white and red whine waiting, in our glasses, to be consumed, it was time for my first ever Italian-cultureshock experience! And to tell you the truth, I was surprised. So far, throughout my travels, I’ve met very few communities that friendly and well-disposed, as Italians. It’s true that I expected them to be easy-going, from what I heard about them, but I wasn’t prepared for such affability. For the next 12 days, I came across more neighbors and they all were the same. To me, Italians felt more like (a happy bunch of) Indians, with more money, a better house and a lot of wine inside it.
During a few holidays, we also did a few day-trips in and around Rome, including a Sunday visit to the gardens of villa d’este and other UNESCO heritage sites in Tivoli, a lazy Thermal Bath day near Viterbo, and coffee bean roasting lessons in Rome (here’s a Facebook post on my page about it). And they all were great experiences. Going out for shopping together moreover qualifies as a frequent and regular highlight.
What Workaway-ing In Rome Taught Me About Italians
I think the reason why I ended up workaway-ing twice, in only 2 months in Europe, was because of the kind of cultural exposure I had during my first workaway with the German family. In only a few days I happened to know a German way of life and understood the culture in a way that I couldn’t, even while travelling to many other places in the country and meeting dozens of Germans throughout my travels. And same thing happened in Rome, Italy. I understood Italians much better. Though of course, I still know nearly nothing about their rich culture, a bit of exposure surely helped. Now tell me if I am wrong…
Other than learning about the friendly Italian nature, I found three things about them: One, Italians can be loud. So be louder. Italians are loud and verbose. So be both. Moreover interruptions during a conversation are only a sign of engagement.
Two, they love long conversations, half of which include humble mentions of food. Speaking of food, except for breakfast (the time when Italians load themselves with sugar and caffeine rush), all other eating ceremonies — that, in English, are known as lunch and dinners — take at least an hour. You leave the dinner table in 50 minutes, and you’ll be considered hungry. Which can also be misjudged with poor food taste. So always wait for someone else to leave the dinner table first, and then follow.
And last but not the least, Italians have some fine sense of fashion, so be careful with your wear, particularly your shoes.
[Recommended Read: 5 Budget Travel Tips That Helped Me Travel Europe On A Cheap]
Have you ever tried workaway? Or WWOOF-ing? How was the experience?