If you read my post about getting started with Workaway, you know a little bit about how enriching my experience was. I am not the expert workawayer, but because I have gone to live with a host family through the program and my family has hosted three people through the program, I believe I have an interesting perspective on how to be successful in this role.
- Choose a family that you mesh well with.
It isn’t always possible to tell if you will mesh well with a family over Skype or messaging them, but it is important to read their profile thoroughly. This includes reading every bit of every section of their profile as well as any and all comments other workawayers left. If someone had a bad experience, they likely won’t say “this host sucked” but they will probably mention how hard/easy the work was or how they got on with the family. A lot of people’s profile’s will give details about their family, their interests, their religion, and if any of these line up they’re probably a good fit. So what happens if their profiles don’t have a lot of information?
2. Ask A LOT of questions.
You’re about to live with a total stranger, don’t put yourself in an uncomfortable position just because you didn’t ask enough questions about them. Not everyone’s profiles will be extremely detailed and include lots of pictures, and even if they do, you should still find questions to ask when you video chat with them. Some possible questions you could ask:
- How many hours a day will you be needing me to be dedicated to working?
- What kind of work will you be expecting from me specifically?
- How close are you to public transportation?
- Will we go on mini trips during my stay? If not, do you mind me traveling on the weekends to nearby destinations?
- Will I have access to a car or bike?
- Are there any young people in your area I could hang out with from time to time?
- Do I need any kind of special visa, or is just a passport okay?
- What activities can I do in your town to stay busy?
I know it may seem like a lot, but I would suggest asking all of these questions when you speak with the family about your stay. It is better to ask too many questions and make an educated decision than ask none and be miserable for however long you stay.
3. Video chat with the family at least once before your arrival.
Video chat will allow you to get to know the family and have a feel for their personalities. This will give you the opportunity to gauge how well you all can communicate in your common language, ask the questions listed above, and just enjoy a chat with the people that are about to give you the cultural experience of a lifetime. I know from the host’s perspective, its always reassuring and helpful to actually see and talk to the person that will be living in their house and spending hours on end with their children. Can you blame them? My family will video chat with possible workawayers several times (2+) before they decide together that they are going to go through with it. When I was communicating with my Workaway family I video chatted with all of them once and then the son who was around my age once, it proved to be very helpful and made my decision much more informed and validated.
4. Remain in contact with the host family from the very first message you send until your arrival.
When I first started searching on Workwaway I decided that I was going to spend 4 weeks with one family in Italy and 4 weeks with another family in France. I made the mistake of not video chatting with the family in France (tisk tisk) and having little to no communication after they agreed to host me. Okay so I’m not a total idiot, I really did want to communicate with them more and ask questions, but they were completely non-responsive. A few days before I left I sent a quick message telling of my excitement, and I get a message back that they were having family in town and couldn’t host me anymore. D’OH. Would have been nice to let me know before, right? Right… but also this could have been avoided had I tried to be more communicative and seen it as a red flag that they had no interest in communicating with me prior to my arrival. Check in every few weeks. Give them updates about your flights, your passport, your packing, keep the questions rolling, whatever. Find reasons to keep in communication so they don’t think you are ghosting them, and to avoid them ghosting you.
5. Leave room in your suitcase to bring stuff back.
…or even better, bring an additional bag. This is pretty standard for all forms of travel, but chances are you’re going to buy things that are special from that country, and you don’t want the weight limit or space in your bag to inhibit you from bringing back all of the foreign treasures. You could be a minimalist and buy nothing, but for those of you that are more sentimental like me (give me all of the authentic Italian coffee makers and books written in foreign languages), you’re going to want to have extra space for your new treasures. My parents just had a workawayer who went on a shopping spree almost weekly because clothes + makeup in the U.S. are so much cheaper than in Germany. She was so stressed about making the weight limit and actually had to leave a lot of stuff with my parents so she wouldn’t have to pay the oversized baggage fee. The oversized baggage fee runs at about $100+ for most airlines, while an additional checked back is only around $25. Just do yourself a favor, if you know you’re a souvenir shopper, bring an extra bag.
*Pro tip: If you have a soft duffle bag you can totally flatten or roll it up and stick it in the lining of your suitcase until you need it.
I hope these bits of information are helpful in your Workwaway endeavors and as always, if you have any questions, are feeling particularly nervous, or are totally excited to leave for your workaway, send me a message + let’s talk! 🙂