8 In Travel

Guest Post: WWOOFing in Spanish (Part I)

My name is Zachary Biondi. I started traveling in college and it has truly transformed the way I view education. I would say it has even transformed my life. I am also dating the creator of this blog. She suggested that I write about my experience in Spain, and I of course could not turn her down. So here is my first attempt at a blog. Gracias, viageros. 

The love of traveling is often closely accompanied by the love of foreign language. In fact, trekking through a country whose language is not your own usually gives a tourist an uncomfortable yet exhilarating feeling of linguistic helplessness (perhaps you are familiar with it). It was this very sensation that endowed in me a fascination for languages. I remember wandering through the terminals in the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris after a late-night flight, somehow hoping to glean meaning from the cryptic markings on the signs, realizing for the first time that my humanities education was lacking a crucial element: I needed a foreign language.

If you are considering purchasing Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur, stop. If you are going to pick up an Italian textbook at a used bookstore, save your two dollars. If you are going to attend the nearby university’s free French lessons, save yourself the time. Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with the these methods (except perhaps Pimsleur) granted that you know beforehand that you will not reach any level of proficiency—that is, without quitting your job, getting a divorce, or becoming clinically insane. If you do not have at least one nervous breakdown, then you aren’t learning the language.

There is one tried and true method of language acquisition: total immersion—i.e., sink or swim. It, however, is also far more expensive than the thrift store Italian book (though the nervous breakdown is included at no extra charge). You must relocate, often to a place where it will not be possible to find a job (remember, you don’t speak the language), and often to an expensive place. When I graduated college in May 2012, basking in the student loan grace period, I decided to immerse myself in a language before I had to immerse myself in the stress of job searching. In my youthful enthusiasm I decided to move to Spain. I remembered a little bit of Spanish from high school—that is to say, I knew what conjugation was and that la was feminine and el was masculine. I figured I would pick up the rest along the way. But who would pick up the bill? Then at a fateful Chipotle lunch a friend told me about WWOOF.

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Ciudad Real, Spain. Near Plaza Mayor.

Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (or, as I often heard, Willing Workers on Organic Farms) is a loosely organized association of organic farms all over the world meant to spread and promote ideas and techniques of sustainable living and food production. Many countries have national organizations, Spain included, with opportunities at farms of all kinds. What they all had in common was organic and sustainable techniques. I was instantly a fan of the idea. I did some research and decided that this was an outstanding opportunity for various reasons:

  • Though I wouldn’t consider myself an ‘activist’, I feel strongly about environmental sustainability and count it among the issues I wish to learn more about; and I especially wish to live out my convictions in a more consistent manner. Through WWOOF, I would be able to find people who truly walk the walk. Who better to learn from?
  • A proud city-dweller, I figured it was about time to get in touch with my inner mountain man. I hoped that afternoon walks through organically planted fields and idyllic ponds would summon in me the sort of ‘getting in touch with the soul’ that one reads about in Walden. (In fact, I read Walden during my three months in Spain. I downloaded the free copy onto iBooks on my iPhone. Ignore the contradiction and read on, please.)
  • The basic arrangement through WWOOF is roughly 30 hours of labor per week in exchange for free room and board. I would learn some farming skills, work outside with my hands, speak another language, have plenty of time to study, and not have to spend a dime (or Euro dime?) for three months.
  • Seeing how most farms are not in the middle of cities, by WWOOFing I could ensure that I wouldn’t be running into English speakers on a daily basis. I did a bit of research and selected an area of Spain where it would be more difficult to find English. And I was right!
  • I could live on a farm with people who only spoke Spanish. That way I would have no option and would not have to depend on will-power, which, if you were to attend the weekly French class, would be more a test of your determination than of your French.
  • And lastly, I left for Spain at the beginning of August 2012. That means I returned just in time to vote in November and yet got to skip all of the campaigning!

So I became a member of WWOOF España and perused the listing of farms. I sent out several emails with ‘mi solicitud’ in English and Spanish. I got a response from a woman in Ciudad Real, a city about two and a half hours south a Madrid by bus. She wrote all in Spanish, the first line saying that she couldn’t speak any English (which turned out to be absolutely true). Her name was Maria. She lived alone on a small farm, had ample work for me, was fine with my lack of experience with WWOOF, and, most importantly, was willing to be patient with the paucity of coherent Spanish I could utter—which is putting it generously.

IMG_1614 Carrión de Calatrava. The pueblo near my host’s farm.

I had solved my problem. Total immersion need not be expensive. I could experience another culture and language at very little cost. And I could participate in something worthwhile that contributes to how the world ought to be. Plus, before I left, I utterly underestimated the amount I would learn through this journey.

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Two views from a hill near the farm.

For part two.

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8 Comments

  • Reply
    Matthew Groves
    February 5, 2013 at 8:56 am

    I assume this is but part one, or uno. Love it.

  • Reply
    Guest Blog- WWOOFing in Spanish (Part II) « For the Love of Wanderlust
    February 5, 2013 at 10:38 am

    […] For Part One. […]

  • Reply
    letsgospanish
    February 17, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Good post – I partially agree on the comment regarding to stop purchasing RS and Pimsleur etc.

    While I agree that they certainly aren’t the BEST way to learn a language- they do have merit. That being said, I 100% agree with “full immersion” there isn’t anything like it – and I’m glad that you found that!

    Looking forward to reading on!

    • Reply
      Zachary Biondi
      February 27, 2013 at 8:29 am

      I think we agree about RS and Pimsleur. I made sure to add the disclaimer that these methods are fine so long as you are not chasing proficiency or fluency. And those methods test your will power more than your language learning abilities. Since being back I’ve told a few people, “you cannot learn a language on the weekends.”

      I’ve also thought about the common idea that some people have a talent for language learning. I’m a skeptic. Here is my conclusion: either you have a talent for language OR you are socially well-adjusted. (choose one.)

  • Reply
    Guest Post: The London Olympic Games (Cue the Tympani) | For the Love of Wanderlust
    April 11, 2013 at 9:46 am

    […] guest post already, which was about WWOOF, Spain, and language learning. You can read  part one here and part two here. I think the contest between Paige and I about who is a bigger fan a travel is […]

  • Reply
    owenskc
    June 12, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    Hi,

    My name is KC Owens, I’m a college student and I love to travel! While cruising the Internet, I found your site and really enjoyed reading your posts. I have been to countries all over Europe with just my backpack and a camera. Since I am a college student and I have significant bills, it can be difficult to find ways to travel the world. However, I have done this several times, with less than ten pounds of luggage and while on a college dime!

    I was hoping that you would allow me to write a post for your site to share my tips and tricks with your readers. I put a lot of time into my traveling, it is my biggest passion and I would love to inspire others by sharing my stories, mistakes and triumphs. I look forward to hearing from you!

    Best,

    KC Owens

  • Reply
    Guest Post: The London Olympic Games (Cue the Tympani) | For the Love of Wanderlust
    August 31, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    […] guest post already, which was about WWOOF, Spain, and language learning. You can read  part one here and part two here. I think the contest between Paige and I about who is a bigger fan a travel is […]

  • Reply
    Guest Post- WWOOFing in Spanish (Part II) - For the Love of Wanderlust
    October 14, 2016 at 11:39 pm

    […] For Part One. […]

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