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 — you, hopefully — 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.
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!