Having spent the whole month of July in two small farms in the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy, I can safely say that there is a lot more to Italian life than just eating pizza and pasta and drinking espresso coffee. And no, “spaghetti Bolognese” does not come from Bologna, just in case you were wondering: spag bol is a purely English invention. Cappuccinos after 11am are also sacrilegious: an Italian mamma somewhere dies every time you drink one.
For starters, it was basically a free holiday. Well, mostly. There is a nominal yearly membership fee (around 30 euro for WWOOF Italia, which isn’t very much, really) and your hosts are not going to be paying your travel for you, but apart from that? Niente. Nothing. Of course, I did spend a bit when I went to the surrounding cities of Bologna, Florence and Verona for a giro on my days off, but I could have gone without. Total spend for one month in La Bella Italia: 200 euro. Not bad for 2 weeks’ worth of rent.
Apart from the aforementioned economic savings, why WWOOFing? Why not Interrail? Or Couchsurfing – that’s free too, right? Well, I really liked the idea of doing something productive with my Long Vacation, and the fact that I could play around with my itinerary to my heart’s content sounded very cool and personalised. Don’t fancy harvesting grapes all day? Choose an animal farm. Don’t get on with your hosts? You’re under no obligation to stay. The idea that the whole organisation was based on trust was simultaneously both nerve-wracking and hugely exciting for me.
Working for 4-6 hours a day is not as bad as it sounds, I promise. Even for those who don’t consider themselves as outdoorsy as the Land Economists or the Bio NatScis (yes, you!). Weeding isn’t as bad as it sounds, and the harvesting of the fruit isn’t so terrible either – nobody notices if you scoff a wonderfully ripe cherry tomato or deliciously sweet plum every now and then. I learnt the fine art of waitressing (I have now gained a massive respect for anyone who works or has ever worked in a culinary establishment – how do you do it?) and I was also once set the task of making some tortolloni for the farm’s restaurant – a really awful chore, don’t you think?
On top of soaking up culinary skills like a sponge, my brain quickly saturated with Italian this and Italian that to the point that I didn’t really want to go back to rainy Blighty at the end of the month. As any 4th-year linguist will have already told you a bunch of times after their wonderful Year Abroad (code-word for gap year), nothing beats going to the country and just speaking the language. The improvement is exponential – just ask a Mathmo.
You’ve heard my story. Now have I convinced you to give WWOOFing a go?