Volunteering on a farm: A city girl’s learning experience
At Workaway, we are working with a team of seasoned volunteers we call ‘Workaway Ambassadors’. They are the faces of our community and passionate about helping to build a group of globetrotters who want to see the world whilst giving back to the places they visit.
In our brand-new ‘Workaway Ambassadors’ blog series, they will share their volunteering stories, travel hacks, tips and more to inspire you. Next up is the story of Workaway Ambasssador Nina (teamed up to travel together with Giuse), a born-and-raised city girl who left the comforts of home to experience life in rural Chile. Her story truly illustrates the transformative power of travel and cultural exchange! Over to Nina:
Almost two years have gone by since my first Workaway experience, and I still find it hard to believe that I volunteered on a farm in Chile. When I think back on my time there in the middle of nowhere, wearing muddy boots, getting my hands dirty, being surrounded by bugs… well, I am still surprised that I actually did all that and even had a lot of fun!
For you to understand why I’m so amazed by what I did, I’ll have to tell you a little bit more about myself.
I’ve never had a good relationship with nature. Which in reality I mean, I’ve never had any kind of relationship with nature. I was born and raised in Milan, and growing up, I’ve never visited a farm, spent much time around animals, laid down or walked barefoot in the grass, or even learnt how to plant a flower. And above all, I’ve always been scared of all sort of creepy-crawlies, especially bees and wasps, because I’m allergic to them.
By now, you might be able to guess how I felt when I first arrived at the farm: I was terrified! It wasn’t what I had expected it to be at all. My idea of a farm was — because of television and movies, I guess — an idyllic and flawless place surrounded by beautiful fields and rivers dotted with smiling animals. But what I never realised before is that these “perfect” fields and animals require a great deal of effort and care, living on a farm gets you dirty, and it usually means that you are very far from away all the city’s comfort.
To be very honest, my first thought when I arrived at the farm was, “What the heck am I doing here??”. I was just not ready to learn to appreciate the beauty of the landscapes. I had yet to find out that it can be fun working with/ in nature, and that how great it actually feels to wake up early every morning to enjoy the silence and the tranquility. Instead, all I had in mind was how far and remoted we were from the city centre. And I wondered and wondered how I’d be able to even survive the boredom without WiFi for a week hahah.
I’ll never forget my first day on the farm. Martin, our host, was very kind and patient, but I was just completely in shock! When Martin showed us the green house and the fields, telling us about the different plants he has, all I could hear was the buzzing bumblebees, wasps and whatever else was flying around. My nice and clean pants got wet and dirty within minutes after walking out of the door because of the dogs. The boots I had to wear were muddy and chunky. It took me almost fifteen minutes to put them on; I wanted to make sure there weren’t any bugs inside…
My first task as a volunteer was to harvest corn together with Tyler, the other Workawayer from the States. “It’s not that bad,” I thought to myself, “it shouldn’t be a difficult job to do!”. Five minutes later, I was holding my first poor dozen of cobs, full of pride and satisfaction. However, my enthusiasm only lasted for a few seconds when I raised my head to see how Tyler was doing. I got a little depressed the moment when I noticed he had already harvested nearly ten whole rows of corn. Then I started to realise that the field was HUGE — so much bigger than I thought — and I was just standing there on my own whilst being surrounded by thousands of corn plants.
If you’ve ever watched horror movies with scenes of people running, screaming and dying in corn fields, then you will be able to visualise what I was thinking of for the rest of my first day harvesting corn. I was jumping at every little noise and trying to remember how to get out of the field on the fastest route in case I had to run.
From then on I often tell people that harvesting corn has been my baptism into nature. After getting through that first frightening day, everything turned out to be an amazing, wonderful, funny and, above all, unforgettable experience. Even though I’m still really scared of insects, I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty and the fun of getting your hands dirty, harvesting fresh veggies and just enjoying the moment of simplicity.
I remembered why I made the decision to challenge myself in the first place: “If you want something you’ve never had, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done before”. How many life experiences and lessons did I miss out on, just because I was afraid or unwilling to try something new?
On the very last day of my Workaway experience on the farm, I was able to jump into my boots without worrying about anything. I looked at the stains on my clothes. To me, they weren’t mud stains anymore: they were stories to tell. Stories about my first time on a farm, my smiles, my fears, the smell of nature, the great teamwork, and all the other things that I had learned. I don’t think I would ever become a real woman farmer, but I know now how important it is to understand what you eat, and how much work goes into one single potato.
Managing a farm is such hard work, but with a touch of madness, the ability of making fun of myself, Martin’s patience and a great desire to learn new skills and overcoming my own limits, I’ve had one of the best experiences of my life.
Thanks very much to our Ambassador Nina for the inspiring story! You can also follow Nina and Giuse’s journey on their Facebook page. Have you had a transformative travel experience? Do share it with us in the comments below 🙂