How would it be if you could go to France – anywhere in France – and live the life of a local? Go to the bars where the inhabitants go, find out what restaurants are favoured by the locals, see off the beaten track places that only those who live there know about. You can join in the daily rituals of life and really get to immerse yourself in the culture of a village, town or city, experience the history and traditions and lose yourself in the excitement of really living the French way…
Well you can if you choose one of the many cultural exchange opportunities in France with a group called Workaway.
What if you live in France and you’d like to host visitors who are looking for that real quality of cultural exchange, people who want to stay with you and live the life alongside you doing all the things that you do on a daily basis. Perhaps helping you out in your vineyard, lavender farm or garden, getting to know and feed your animals, or getting involved with renovation projects for just a few hours a day in exchange for experiencing life as a local…
Well you can if you host Workawayers who are seeking to appreciate living in France, enhance their language skills and learn what life is like as a native rather than as a visitor.
Workaway is an organisation that enables travellers willing to work as volunteers to contact hosts – they may be individuals, families or groups who want to share their life with guests and in return get voluntary help with their projects or activities. Volunteers or Workawayers contribute a small amount of time per day (5 days a week) and in return receive lodging and food provided by their hosts.
We spoke to expat Briton Madeleine Clifford-Winters who lives and owns gites in the stunning medieval village of Tillac in Gascony, south west France who says that she and her husband have hosted many Workawayers, some of whom have become friends and who return year after year. With gites and a huge garden to maintain it has proved an excellent way to have help with the weeding and planting that a keen gardener needs. Madeleine says that they have hosted guests from all around the world – Argentina, Australia, Canada, Croatia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, New Zealand, Spain, Taiwan, USA and the UK included. As she and her husband, Tony, suffer from arthritis, getting help in the garden whilst making friends and learning each other’s cultures has been a very rewarding experience.
Madeleine and Tony started as hosts after a recommendation by a friend who praised the way that the exchange works – learning new language skills and really getting to know the culture of foreign countries, working alongside guests for a few hours a day. Madeleine and her husband live in a small village with no nightlife and say that it is the perfect escape from the hassle of city life. They have hosted guests from 18 years old to 65 years old and have found that the different levels of skills and experience have worked really well. A Scottish Workawayer who stayed with the couple “made a huge difference”, in fact enthuses Madeleine, he has become such a good friend that he has come back to stay, as a friend, several times and even joined them for Christmas and New Year.
Workaway host Donna Kerridge who lives in Nord-Pas de Calais says hosting guests who, like her, love to travel on a tight budget and really get to know the place where they visit has been a tremendous experience. She and her artist husband Nik have also stayed friends with many of their guests. Susan Arbital from Tennessee, US, wanted to experience France, not as a visitor but real France and offered to help out with Donna’s vegetable garden when she came to stay. It didn’t turn out that way as Susan is a well-known stained glass artist and instead she taught Donna and Nik some of her glass skills. Donna and Nik introduced Susan to their friends, their favourite places to visit in the gorgeous Seven Valleys where they live, places that Susan would never find without willing hosts to share. Their daughter has benefited too from the multi-cultural environment that hosting guests from around the world has provided, giving her an insight into the customs of different countries and peoples. The Kerridge family are now firm friends with Susan who has returned to stay with them – this time on a holiday round Europe.
We spoke to numerous hosts and Workawayers and discovered that the system is almost without fail, a brilliantly simple and successful way for people from different cultures to learn from each other and for hosts to benefit from getting some much needed help.
So, if you’re looking for an opportunity to host a guest who really wants to learn about where and how you live as a local, supporting you in your day to day activities – Workaway might just be your perfect solution.