Domaine Baillat winery

How Americans can live in France (without teaching English!)

At some point in every traveler’s life, one will ask oneself, “Could I be an English teacher?” And one will ask that question because it seems like the only feasible way to travel and live around the world is to teach English. This, at least in the countries where I’ve worked, is because a business has to prove to the government (in order to get a work visa for an American) that they must have an American — youhopefully — do the job, and only an American. And typically the only job an American can do better than a native of the Czech Republic, Turkey, France, et cetera, is teach English. The odds are in your favor here.

But it’s a bit of a mess to get a work visa as an American in Europe. Should a company or school choose to hire you over the many other qualified and likely more experienced candidates, you have to have time and money to get through the process. Here, the odds are not in your favor.

It’s not impossible, but it’s unlikely. What’s more likely is that, if you search long enough, you’ll find a job at a school, but you won’t get a work visa. They won’t even try to get you a work visa, opting instead to  pay you in cash, “under the table,” as English teachers have learned to say. (Shhh, don’t tell!)

So once you decide that you don’t want to be a teacher, you better start looking for other options. I won’t lie: there aren’t many, if you’re a regular ol’ Joe like me and the thousands of others who take the TEFL route.

Option 1 of 1: WWOOF: Willing Workers on Organic Farms
They change the acronym all the time, but WWOOF (not to be confused with stood for Willing Workers on Organic Farms in 2012.

Most people are familiar with the basics of the program: offered in countries all around the world, WWOOF seeks to make the connection between people who are willing to work while they travel with farmers who need a little extra help. You don’t get paid, but you get free housing and food.

Each country, from Canada to India, Afghanistan to Brazil, has a network of hosts. To view the network, you have to subscribe to a country’s listing. Gaining electronic access to the list costs 20 euros (and I think it grants you access for a month from what I remember), which is a bargain when you consider that you’re getting set up with real people who are looking for volunteers like you. You’re completely avoiding getting spammed or tricked into something. These are real people from around the world who need help.

Interested already? Check out France’s subscription page

Once you pay the 20 euros (PayPal being the preferred method of payment), you can look around at locations and settings. You can work on a farm in Normandy or on a vineyard in southern France (remember, I just have French experience with WWOOF). You then email the hosts of places you’re interested in to see if your schedules work together (they may not have room for you when you want to go), and if everything works there, you make a plan.

Kuba and I picked a few favorites and Googled what we could about them (many have their own websites) before we emailed Christian, who seemed to be a very nice man, about coming to work on his vineyard. We were very grateful he approved, as we made a last minute decision to leave Istanbul about a month before we had originally planned. We had no money and, if we left Istanbul, no jobs, so WWOOFing was our only hope. It was so great to have that option for the in-between moments of travel.

I have a few blog posts about working in Montlaur on Christian’s vineyard, but the highlights were that he was a very kind and generous man, the village was gorgeous, and the work was easy (five hour work days are a piece of cake). It was a vacation to stay there with him and help him out.

But beware: not everyone has this experience. We heard WWOOF horror stories from fellow volunteers while at Christian’s. Therefore, I would advise looking into and talking with potential hosts as much as possible (without annoying them!) to get a good feel for what the environment at particular farms is like. Some hosts are very strict. Some, like Christian, just need a few extra hands on the vines and like to have meals together.

Do a little research, get excited, and go WWOOF!

Prague beer fest

Travelers: Not brave, just desperate

I don’t know how many times I’ve told someone about a trip and they respond with, “I wish I could do that!” Or how many times I’ve shown pictures of a new city I’ve visited or exotic food that I’ve eaten and people say, “LUCKY!” or “So jealous!” Of course, these could just be nice comments from observers, not saying anything more than “Congratulations on having fun” in a less formal way.

But I’ve also come across people who really mean it. They really are jealous. They really do wish they could do it, and somehow separate things I’m capable of from things they’re capable of.

This is how I saw things when I was 22: basically, you can start your career, or you can travel. One is “safe” and one is adventurous. One is responsible and the other a way to have fun before you get too old/start working for your retirement/get married/have babies/accumulate so many obligations, material goods, and debt that you’re tied to your life as it is today for as long as you can imagine.

You can chase money, or you can live your life. There’s a certain amount that you need to eat and sleep in a bed and live. Whether you live comfortably or safely or just adequately is up to you and your needs. But you don’t need much. You just have to decide what you really want.

Anyway, here’s how I did it, savingonmininum wage — or close to it.I couldn’t find a job after I graduated college. So I worked at a summer camp, just to get out of Oklahoma for the summer. It was temporary and it was in Idaho and it was at a Lutheran camp (I know nothing about Lutheranism and had only recently learned how to pronounce the word “vicar,” though I still couldn’t tell you what it is). I think I made less than $2,000 that summer and I worked 18 hour days most of the time. None of that money went to my travels.I came back to Oklahoma with as many prospects as I had left with: none. So I took my aunt up on what was probably just an empty, albeit polite, offer to house me in her basement in Denver while I looked for jobs there. For three months, I worked at Ann Taylor Loft and saved what I could. Then I moved back home.

I continued working at Ann Taylor Loft in Tulsa for $9.50 an hour. I also got a job at a liquor store for $8 an hour. And with those jobs, living with my parents and not paying for housing or food, I was able to save to go to Prague to teach English. The only expenses I had were car insurance and gas, which probably totaled around $250 a month.

I get that I was lucky to live with my parents after college. But at the time it really sucked. It was a blow to my ego and it made me feel like a real loser. But I still could have saved up. It would have taken me a lot longer working two part-time jobs and getting paid less than $10 an hour, but I was also living in a city with one of the lowest — if not the lowest — costs of living.

I chose Prague because it was also a cheap city. They had a legitimate school (TEFL Worldwide Prague) where I could get TEFL certified in a month and gain teaching experience, and I felt comfortable with the idea of committing to a few months — one, at least — in the city.

I had no idea what I was doing. I was scared shitless. But I also didn’t want to stay in Tulsa, Oklahoma for the rest of my life and start working for my retirement at 22. So I just went.