Paris, Barcelona, Copenhagen: Undoubtedly beautiful cities of light, culture and pride, that is assuming one ignores the overwhelming number of tourists. Why limit yourself to the same museums, walks and experiences as everyone else? There are other ways to see the world that don’t cost you an arm and a leg and dump you into a gift shop at the end. For those passport-holders with more than a little wanderlust and the genuine desire to lend a helping hand, here are a few cool abroad volunteer opportunities:
Heave a Hoe
Through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOFing, for short), as little as €15 annual membership scores you access to an exclusive list of network farms throughout Europe and Asia. By contacting the farms that interest you—from animal husbandry to viticulture (wine grape-growing)—WWOOFing gives you an opportunity to experience sustainable and organic living firsthand.
Chicagoan Claire Tuft WWOOF’d April 2011 in the town of Minervois, near Carcassonne in southwest France. “It was awesome to be immersed in the language. Super difficult, but a very good way to learn,” said Tuft. “I really liked getting down to business and working with my hands–doing manual labor, working with the animals. I learned how to milk a cow, which was priceless. I saw a whole different perspective of French culture that you wouldn’t get touring the cities–even the small ones.”
WWOOFers are responsible for their airfare but upon arriving at their destination farm they enjoy free meals, room-and-board, meeting locals and language immersion. Most European countries do not require a visa if you stay for less than 90 days, but other countries, particularly in Asia, have different visa requirements so be sure to research all that boring-but-oh-so-important info before booking your trip.
If a three-month commitment on a farm isn’t for you, Pueblo Ingles in Spain is the perfect pit-stop—or launch-pad—for any European vacay. Situated a breezy 30 minutes from Madrid, Pueblo Ingles (or, “English Village”) hires English-speaking volunteers to converse with Spanish-speakers seeking to improve their English. “Participants engage in a big talk-a-thon,” says Brian Bolles, programs manager for Pueblo Ingles. For eight days, volunteers speak with Spaniards while receiving free lodgings and meals. Think day camp for adults: one-on-one conversations, improv, small group theater and “jokes around the village bar” are all on the schedule, says Bolles. “At the beginning, everyone is shy and reserved, but by the end there’s an understanding and bond that wouldn’t happen from reading a book about Spaniards or Americans.”
The SATs may be behind you, but they loom heavily on the minds of many ambitious South Koreans looking to attend American universities. In cities throughout Korea, hagwons, the Korean language equivalent of SAT prep school, hire hundreds of Americans year-round to tutor students. Many of these schools are more than willing to sponsor American teachers—even the untrained—by paying for visas, airfare, housing and even a wage. Be warned: some teachers have reported working upwards of 60 hours a week, with little to no time personal time. Conversely, coming back from your Korean summer with $15,000 extra in the bank isn’t half bad.