Back in 2013, when pulling together plans to change my life and move to France, I decided that rather than turning up in the land of brie and baguettes with zero idea of where I was or what I was doing, it might be a good idea to arrange a little project for the first few weeks. That way, I could get to know the area I was living in, get back up to speed with my very rusty French and keep my mum happy that I was safe! It turned out volunteering was the answer ...
A bit of Googling later and I stumbled upon the website workaway.info, which offers amazing volunteering opportunities all round the world to exchange your time helping out with pretty much anything, for accommodation & food and the chance to travel! There are so many awesome places you can go all over the planet working on yoga retreats, permaculture projects, animal rescue, teaching English, building, the list is endless!
Anyway I typed in France, picked the region I had in mind, hit ‘search’, and half a second later I had about 200 volunteering projects to look at! I started to read through them all, thinking about how I wanted to change my life, what I wanted to get out of this time and then workaway introduced me to the Noyer family… Mathilde, Alex and their three girls, living in Rochefort and converting an old traditional French farmhouse into an eco-project. 4 hours work a day in exchange food, accommodation, and a change to improve my French – I was sold! And a quick email later, so were they… eek! It was on.
So, not really knowing what to expect, I arrived pretty knackered and a tad emotional after driving the whole length of France on my own, more than a little bit shell-shocked that I’d bloody actually quit my life (!!!) and rocked up at what was to be my home for the next 6 weeks.
And you know what … it was just what I needed! Typically I’d get up after the family had left for work or school, I’d have my breakfast and then set out doing a few hours of volunteer work, sometimes in the garden, preparing meals, a bit of DIY etc, before having the rest of the day to myself. I did yoga, went for long walks, got some good miles in my legs on my roadbike and convinced myself I was good as I was clearly the only person using Strava round there, but most importantly I slept and I had time to think! Also, more than I’d expected, I began to feel part of this lovely family’s lives as we ate together, went to the Saturday food market together, I read books to the kids and the Noyers encouraged me (having had dozens of travellers through their doors) that I could chuffing do this!
The 6 weeks flew by and soon it was time to head to the little house I’d rented in La Rochelle where I spent a couple of months entirely on my own (more to follow on this) working out on what my next steps were going to be on my mission to change my life and funnily enough that turned out to be more volunteering!
And my next stop was C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A !!!!!!! Woohoo!
That’s a story for another day, but (spoiler alert) one that ends with a dream job in the sunshine!
Until then, here’s 5 top tips on how volunteering could help you to change your life!
1) See it as a test ride… you might well be reading this dreaming of working with food, while you sit in office admin job, or you spend every night on Pinterest using your passion for interiors to refurb your house on top of your 9-5, wishing that you could do it fulltime … well with volunteering you can! Yes of course, you won’t be getting paid initially, but if you’re wanting to gain experience in a new sector or explore a possible career change based around what you really love, it’s going to look pretty awesome on your CV that you’ve got first hand experience.
2) Fake it until you make it… Volunteering pretty much allows you to put yourself there without really taking a risk. You don’t have to completely change your life like me to make a work exchange or working holiday beneficial and explore your ideas for living life differently. You could just swap your 7 day package holiday for volunteering at a project that interests you or ask your boss about a short sabbatical. There are also plenty of evening & weekend opportunities available if you’re looking for something closer to home. How about having a look!?
3) Live the travel dream! This is pretty much a no-brainer … volunteering makes travel much more affordable. For a few hours a day, very possibly doing something that interests you, you can live in the sunshine with free food, accommodation and countless opportunities for adventures! And it is not just for 18 year old backpackers either – there is something out there for everyone whether you’re single, a couple or even travelling with kids, you just have to pick what works for you.
4) Begin to believe … one of the biggest benefits I took away from volunteering was confidence! Something really scary became something really positive as I spent time with others who were in a similar situation to me and was encouraged by the people I was working for that I had great transferable skills and I didn’t need to keep returning to my old job an option. Bloody hell, two of them even employed me!
5) Build your network… volunteering might not instantly lead to your dream job, but I guarantee that you will be meeting lots of cool people from all over the world who can offer you advice, experience, contacts and much more! This might lead to you working out a clearer idea of what you want to do, new friends, possibilities for collaboration or even a recommendation for a job further done the line!