WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms

In my freshman year at Hope I had the opportunity to participate in an immersion trip that went and did some volunteer work in Jamaica over spring break. The trip had been advertised to me by a friend as an opportunity to experience all the benefits of a vacation while also doing some good for others. As I started planning a trip for this spring, I couldn’t help but recall that trip and the lasting impact it has had on my life. I still see a lot of value in simply traveling to new places and participating in touristy activities, but I knew that I wanted to do something a little different (at least for part of my break). So, I created a WWOOF account.

WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a volunteer organization that connects willing volunteers with farms and smallholdings. In exchange for accommodation and food, volunteers work for about 4 hours each day. I saw this as an opportunity to travel around and do some good at the same time, with the added bonus of saving money and seeing parts of the UK that you would not ordinarily see as a normal tourist.

I searched the WWOOF website for farms and smallholdings with good reviews and characteristics that matched the type of site I wanted to stay at, and I contacted the WWOOF hosts at these locations. After lots of research and communication with these hosts, my girlfriend, Gabbi, and I packed our bags and headed off to a farm in Ayrshire, Scotland, where we spent a few days before picking up again and moving to a farm in southern Wales. In between, we were able to stop for a night in Manchester and a night in Liverpool. I could talk about my experiences at each farm and in each city for hours on end, but I will only touch on each because the break was filled with so many activities.

At the first farm, I spent most of my working hours raking leaves, cleaning a polytunnel, cleaning a chicken coup, and potting plants. I also held a chicken. So that was cool.

Then, in the afternoons, the host would drive Gabbi and me to the nearest bus station and we’d travel to whichever cities in the area sounded the most interesting. For the first two days we were there, this resulted in us exploring the cities of Irvine and Kilmarnock.

On the third day, our host insisted that we take the day off and take the ferry across to the Isle of Arran. The Isle of Arran, sometimes called “miniature Scotland”, is an island west of mainland Scotland. From the farm we were volunteering at, you could see the peak of its highest mountain, “Goat Fell”, across a small strip of the Atlantic Ocean. Instead of working on this day, we woke up early and took the ferry across to the Isle of Arran where we managed to spend almost all of our time hiking up the majority of Goat Fell.

View of Goat Fell from the first farm
A panorama of me partway up Goat Fell

After returning each evening from our miniature adventures, I could always count on playing fetch with the host’s puppy until my arm was so sore I could no longer throw her ball.

Asha, the puppy from the first farm

As I said, after leaving the first farm, Gabbi and I made our way to Manchester for one night: the night of the Manchester City versus Manchester United game. For anyone who doesn’t watch much soccer, these are two of the best teams in the world and are also huge rivals. We stopped into a restaurant that was playing the game and got to experience some of the rivalry first hand. It was incredible. It was crazy. These people take their soccer very seriously.

The next day we were in Liverpool, which is a beautiful city with an interesting history (which I got to learn all about at the Museum of Liverpool). After waking up early the next morning for a run on Albert Dock (where we’d watched the sun set the night before), we headed off to the second farm.

The Royal Liver Building in Liverpool
Sunset from Albert Dock
Beatles statue on Albert Dock

At the second farm, we split and stacked firewood and helped put a new cover on the host’s polytunnel which had torn over the winter. There was less accessibility to public transportation on this farm, so we spent most afternoons playing board games with our hosts or walking through the rolling hills of Wales. One evening, I even learned the basics of knitting!

Polytunnel from the second farm with its new cover

On our way to London to begin the second half of our break, we stopped in Burry Port (where a nice lady in a family-run market gave us free Welsh cakes!) and Swansea. The entire, crazy experience of hopping from city to city and helping with odd jobs on farms was one which I will always remember.

Me eating a free Welsh cake in Burry Port

Concert in Glasgow

After spending nearly three weeks traveling around the UK and mainland Europe for the University of Aberdeen’s spring break, I arrived back at Aberdeen late last night. I rarely had reliable WiFi on the trip, so I had planned on submitting a few blogs about the trip today. When I went to do this; however, I discovered that I had never actually hit the “Submit” button on my most recent blog about a concert I went to about a month ago now. After spending a week downloading all of the bands’ new music and walking to classes in t-shirts with their names plastered across the chest, this is what I had written:

 

“Anyone who has been on a road-trip with me has experienced my many road-trip games, and my girlfriend had the pleasure of putting up with them all morning last week (as in the week before I actually wrote this three weeks ago) when we took an early morning bus to Glasgow to spend a day in the city and see a concert at night. One of the games I like to play is called “top-3,” and it is pretty self-explanatory. Basically, I give a category and the contestants share their “top 3” for the category. One of the categories for this trip was “all-time favorite concerts,” and after narrowing down a top 3, we were each excited to see if the one that night would rank among the likes of Elton John, Darius Rucker, Ben Rector, and OneRepublic in our lists.

Since I had already been to Glasgow for a weekend trip with some friends, we only briefly visited some of the major tourist attractions that I had already spent time in: the Necropolis, Glasgow Cathedral, and Kelvingrove Park. We spent the rest of the day walking around in the heart of the city, trying a highly recommended Kebab restaurant, and exploring the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow. Glasgow’s city-center (or “centre”) is filled with walking streets that pass through shopping and dining areas, kind of like an extensive outdoor mall. On the day we went, these streets were crowded with street performers and groups of people stopped to watch or listen to them. The walk was really enjoyable, and we wound up stumbling onto a kebab place that I had recognized from reading positive reviews online the night before.

**Quick foodie interjection: For anyone who hasn’t had or heard of a doner kebab (since I hadn’t before getting here), a doner kebab is essentially lamb shavings and vegetables wrapped in pita bread. It is not a Scottish dish. I believe it is Turkish. But, they are wildly popular here as a late night snack to share with friends or as a quick meal. I highly recommend googling it right now and finding the nearest location to you that offers them, because they are delicious. I have probably eaten between 15 and 20 of them since being here.**

With full-stomachs, we headed to explore the beautiful architecture of the University of Glasgow and were intrigued by signs pointing toward the Hunterian Museum. The Hunterian is a large collection of artifacts started by a fascinating man named Dr. William Hunter who had a wide-variety of passions. The collection is about as diverse as Hunter’s interests were, containing anatomical and medical, technological, political, and biological artifacts. This diversity was perfect for my girlfriend (a kinesiology major) and me (a biology major). The collection is really impressive and informative. You could spend an entire day there, but we only stayed for a couple hours.

At the end of the night, we went to this concert venue called “the Garage (attic).” The venue was small but not too crowded. The first band in the lineup was Indigo Velvet, followed by Vistas, and then Marsicans. These bands are not incredibly well-known (yet) but they all have really great music. If you are at all interested in alternative rock, I would recommend checking them out. Every one of the bands put on a fantastic show, and my girlfriend and I were both left with a new concert holding the number one position on our list of “all-time favorite concerts,” as well as a continuous ringing in our ears.

 

Thanks to my slip-up of not pressing submit, I had some extra time to reflect on the significance of this concert to my study-abroad experience as a whole. I love music, and I appreciate the way that music ties in with memory and inspiring emotion. I will always be amazed by the power that a specific song has in taking me back to a specific time, place, and feeling. This entire spring break trip, my girlfriend and I found ourselves humming or singing parts of the songs we’d heard at this concert. The concert itself was a wonderful experience that I will always remember, and the songs from the concert will also always take me back to this special period of time abroad and all of the times these songs were stuck in my head, like while eating gelato in the streets of Vienna or hiking the hill up to the Citadella in Budapest. But more on that spring break trip soon.

Poorly taken photo of Marsicans performing at the Garage (the Attic)

My First Cricket Match

In the first week of classes, the University of Aberdeen hosted a refresher’s fair aimed at introducing new students to its large number of clubs and societies. I went to the fair and signed up to be notified about when most of these groups met. Fast forward one month, and I am bowling my first over in a university cricket match.

Having played baseball my whole life, I had never actually played a game of cricket before. I still don’t understand the rules, and yet, this past weekend I had an absolute blast playing in my first ever game. I have messed around playing cricket with my friends at home before; however, we have never played by the actual rules or used proper form for bowling or batting. Here, I have learned a lot from the players and the coach on proper form, and I am getting much better (though I am still pretty terrible).

I have even earned myself a nickname: baseball player. This nickname can be used as a compliment or an insult. When I accidentally bend my elbow while bowling (and throw more like a baseball pitch), I get called “baseball player” as an insult (though typically it is sarcastic). When someone decides to bowl it in full toss (without bouncing) against me, and I swing as if I am holding a baseball bat, I get called “baseball player” as a compliment.

My first game was filled with extremes. I hit a six (basically a home-run) and then I immediately popped up for an out on the next bowl (which is way worse than popping out in baseball). I bowled an out (basically a strikeout) and then a wide (basically a walk). I was probably one of the worst players on the field, but I had a lot of fun. The guys on the team have been incredibly welcoming to me, and they could not be any more supportive. The other players are always willing to help instruct me on how to improve my form or to explain instructions that the coach gives using non-cricket terms that I can understand.

I am really appreciative to the players on the team for how kind they have been to me. Several of them are some of the best friends that I have made since being here. I am also really appreciative for the opportunity that studying abroad has given me to learn something that I would otherwise have never gotten involved in. I can’t wait to learn more about the sport and to spend more time with the team over the course of the semester.

Robert Burns Night

As an aspiring poet and avid reader of poetry, I was familiar with Robert Burns and his work before coming to Scotland; however, I was not familiar with the celebrations hosted on and around January 25th (Burns’ date of birth) to commemorate the famed Scot. “Robert Burns Night” or “Robbie Burns Night” is a very big deal in Scotland, apparent in the number of people that gather to partake in a myriad of traditional festivities memorializing Burns and his work.
On January 25th, I joined in the festivities by attending a ceilidh with several friends that was hosted by a society on campus. The traditional ceremony began with a number of Gaelic folk dances which allowed me to parade around my two left feet. Luckily, I was not alone in this; and, everyone had a good time whether they remained standing when the music stopped or lay twisted and tangled on the ground. As tradition dictates, the dancing was followed by a ceremonial haggis being “piped in,” or ushered in by a man playing the bagpipe. Once the bagpipe player and haggis reach center stage, a Burns poem, entitled “Address to a Haggis” is recited as the haggis is ripped open. The ceremonial haggis was followed out by a tray of “haggis, neeps, and tatties.” Neeps, I believe, is simply another term used for rutabaga, and tatties are mashed potatoes. Haggis, on the other hand, is a unique treat.
My only other run-in with haggis up to this point was at a restaurant I went to during my first week here. I had heard a lot of talk around the food but wasn’t sure exactly what it was. All that I knew was that it was some kind of meat, but I didn’t want to know what kind until after I’d eaten it. Having detected my American accent in ordering, the waiter asked if I had ever tried haggis before and I explained the situation. He responded, “you either love it or you hate it” (a statement I have heard used by many people here in reference to haggis). On the contrary, I was somewhere in the middle. While I did not enjoy my first experience with haggis too much, I did manage to finish my plate before the waiter returned.

“Okay, now you can tell me. What’s in it?” I asked.

“I’m just going to let you look it up on your own,” he replied (always the response you hope to hear when questioning what kind of meat you have just eaten).

After looking it up later I came to the conclusion that it tastes much better than it sounds, though that is not saying much. If you would like to know what is in it you can do the same as I had to and look it up on your own.

Nevertheless, I tried haggis again at the ceilidh, and I was pleasantly surprised! At the ceilidh, the haggis was served in smaller portions with the neeps and tatties, and it all tasted really great together! My friends and I even returned for second servings (and some of us thirds). I left shortly after the food was gone with a full stomach, the memory of an evening I will never forget, and a new life-goal: to one day have some type of meat musically ushered into a room and cut into while a poem of mine is recited. Although, I am thinking that maybe we could do a nice cut of steak or a juicy hamburger for mine.

Es una Broooma

I’m anticipating that when I get home, people will ask me what my favorite thing about Chile was. My answer for them will be this: the sound that Chileans make as they’re waiting for you to get their joke. It’s a very specific “aaaaah,” and it’s shared by basically everyone I’ve met! I love this particularity of their culture, and I appreciate that I’ve gotten to experience it on the daily.

Chileans have a remarkable sense of humor. They are always making jokes and teasing one another lightheartedly. My house, the church, and even my classes are absolutely full of laughter.

My two-year old brother loves to play pranks and poke fun at the rest of our family. He has a catch-phrase that he says all the time: “es una broma,” which means, “it’s a joke.” Or, with his cute baby-talk, it generally comes out more like “es una brooooooma.” I think it’s the cutest thing ever! Here’s a quick video:

The sense of humor is also present in their language. Chileans have added many words and phrases to the Spanish that I learned, which makes it their own unique dialect. As we say in my phonetics class, they speak chileno, not español.

Many of the “chilenismos” have to do with animals, which is pretty fun. For example, young men are called cabros (goats) and hacer una vaca (cow) is to raise money. Another one of my favorites is echarse el burro, which means to lose motivation to do something.

One thing Chileans do is call each other names. A lot are endearing nicknames–there’s the classic mi’jita (mi  hijita), cariño, or amor that even people in the grocery store will call you. There’s also modifications of your given name– I’ve gotten Moni, Mo, and Moquita. My friends are Isa Pizza and Juan Papa (to incorporate food). And also Chileans often use adjectives ironically, like feo (ugly) or gordito (fat). When I first heard my friend Rodrigo talking about his daughter, la gordita, I remember being shocked. But it’s actually a term of endearment, some light teasing. A reminder not to take everything people say completely seriously.

I tend to be an over-thinker and I value pondering deep life questions. But simply being in another culture has brought a lot of that to mind. So I’m thankful that I get the chance every day to laugh it off, take joy in relationships, and watch Camilo’s face light up when we fall for another one of his pranks.

What does it mean to be mujer?

Today I let myself cry about the gender inequality I see in our world. I felt a little silly sitting on a park bench with the tears streaming down my face, but I think this issue is something that needs to be recognized and deserves to be cried about.

My tears were spurred by an encounter I had with two older men as I was leaving my literature class. Just outside the university, one yelled at me, “Hola linda! You speak English? What is your name?” I ignored him and kept walking. However, that catcall seemed to give permission to the man beside me to start talking to me, also asking where I was from and telling me about his business. Despite my refusal to respond or even make eye contact, he kept pestering me until we reached a corner. There, I turned to avoid him and take a different route.

But why should I have to change my walk home from school? I should be able to feel safe on the streets. I was fuming and frustrated that those men had the power to make me feel so vulnerable and targeted.

The other problem with that encounter is that it wasn’t just a one-time, isolated thing. Catcalls happen to me almost daily here, and my foreign friends have experienced the same thing. In fact, I was coming from my literatura latinoamericana class, where we had just finished sharing our experiences of gender roles. To close the unit on feminist literature, my profesora asked us all to write down moments where we saw gender roles play out. The sad thing was, every person in the class had those experiences. We talked about guys acting aggressively in bars, male coworkers getting paid more than female counterparts, “mansplaining,” family members giving stereotypical gender-based gifts, and of course, the plethora of catcalling.

In Spanish, the things people yell are considered piropos, and the phenomena is generally called acoso callejero (street harassment). El machismo is how they describe this gender-unequal society, where men are over-masculinized and women are relegated to the home. They also have a word for crimes against women, los femicidios, where women are actually targeted for their gender.

While I’m frustrated that these are things that happen here, I’m glad there are words that describe this experience. I feel like in Chile, it’s something I can talk about and process freely. The other day I had a really good conversation about catcalling and gender roles with a male Chilean friend. He was so sympathetic and the first thing he wanted to do was tell his other guy friends about the things I’d experienced. That made me really happy because it’s something people are realizing needs to change.

Here, the conversation about feminism is happening. Perhaps because gender inequality is more evident. However, when it’s subtle, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Back home, women experience the same things, though often it’s disguised as something that’s normal.

Emma Watson said, “we think that we live in a post-feminist society, where we don’t need feminism anymore, but actually that’s really disconcerting.” There are a lot of things that happen to women that they blame on themselves because they don’t see the bigger narrative. We need feminism; we need to talk about the things that women experience that should not be normal.

That’s why I’m sharing my story. It’s frustrating that this encounter happened to me. I don’t think it should be normal, and I don’t think it’s right that all the time women feel targeted or unsafe like I did today. Hopefully, together we can create a society that affirms the dignity of all its members. The first step, though, is joining the conversation.

Here’s a photo of two women that I consider to be some of the most powerful Chilean women ever. On the right is our pastora, Oriana, who has had to face a lot of criticism being a female leader in the church. My host mom Rocío is on the left, and she is working on her doctorate in environmental law. I wrote an interview question for her the other day: “what is it like being mujer and abogada (lawyer)?” and it occurred to me that this would never be asked of a man, since they are assumed to dominate this career path and don’t have the same occupational challenges related to gender.

Despedirse

In Spanish class we learned that the way to say goodbye is “Adios!” At least in Chile, though, that’s not how you do it. Everyone says “Chao!” as goodbye, and it’s accompanied by a kiss on the cheek, maybe a hug, cuídate, nos vemos!

Despedirse is something you do every time you leave a social gathering. And it’s required for everyone there. You have to go around the room and say goodbye to all the people you’re with before it’s okay to leave.

At the beginning of my time in Chile, this was really uncomfortable for me, because I wasn’t sure how to insert myself in someone’s conversation to say goodbye. I always felt like I was interrupting something. Or that I was holding up my family from leaving. The truth is, though, that they’re never in a hurry, and the cultural value of acknowledging others trumps the extra inconvenience.

For me, this shift in cultural values requires extra effort, and to be honest I’m still not the best at the practice of despedirse, but that’s something I want to keep working on until I have to leave.

The end of my study abroad program is coming up just on the horizon. We have a month and a week before we all part ways. I’m anticipating that this goodbye will be very difficult.

In my time here I have made a lot of wonderful friends. Both my amigos gringos and amigos chilenos have made a remarkable impact on me. I have been greeted with such kindness, invited into a new family, and accepted for who I am. I can share my heart and soul with the people I have met here, and for that I am so grateful.

I’m not ready to say goodbye.

Here I am with some friends from my program on a trip to Mendoza, Argentina. I love that the other gringas are always up to travel and share cultural experiences!
My community of jóvenes from my church in Chile. Here we are at a weekend retreat. My host dad Séba is the one taking the selfie.
These are my host family’s relatives. From aunts and uncles to abuelos y nietos, everyone came together for fiestas patrias and they’ve done an incredible job of including me in their family.
Some of my chilean church friends and I at a despedida (farewell party) for Gabriel (not pictured) who’s leaving to learn English in the US for a couple months. This was the first of many goodbyes for me and it got me feeling super sentimental.