February, 2017. I’ve been back in Manchester for 2 months after my huge stint in South East Asia, and I’m restless. I want to begin planning a trip to Europe but I have no idea where to start. After living on the same beach for a year, working in the same bar, and seeing the same people, the idea of going back to backpacking solo from country to country is pretty daunting.
And then I receive a message.
Workaway.info is a website that I signed up to about two years ago, but never actually utilised. The idea is that you work a few hours per day in exchange for free accommodation, food and drink. Of course, this is perfect for travellers who want to save some cash whilst on the road without committing to a long-term “real” job. This “work” could be anything from helping to renovate an old building, to babysitting, to looking after somebody’s pet cats, to helping out in a hostel, and the best bit is that pretty much every country in the world is featured on Workaway.
Volunteers can contact “hosts”, or vice versa, in order to negotiate work. In this case, a host by the name of Małgorzata contacted me, asking if I was interested in teaching English to Polish adults for 5 days, all expenses paid.
(Sidenote: there is also a website named Hippohelp that operates on the same principle but is completely free of charge!)
At first, I was hesitant. I’d never wanted to teach before, and the idea of doing so was not appealing to me. However, after looking at the JustSpeak website and realising that the “teaching” really just involved having one-to-one conversations rather than standing up in front of a classroom full of people, I thought I’d give it a go.
Fast-forward to May and I’m on a plane to Poznan, nervous but excited for the week ahead. I figured that taking part in the programme would ease me in gently to another larger trip, and rationalised that if I enjoyed my time with JustSpeak, I could return again to Poland for another week of free food and accommodation (which I later ended up doing!).
So, what was in it for me?
1. A welcome meal and drink at an Italian restaurant in Poznan the day before the programme commenced
2. Free accommodation for four nights at a hotel in Kwiejce
3. Three meals a day for five days
4. Free tea/coffee
5. Free gym access
6. Free laundry service
7. Access to the hotel’s bicycles, basketball courts and lake
8. Two free beers per night
9. Free shuttle from Poznan to Kwiejce and back
10. The opportunity to make friends with other Workaway volunteers and Polish students
I’d have been an idiot not to, right?
Everything about the two JustSpeak programmes that I participated in was unbelievable.
From the monster portions of traditional Polish food, to cycling through the forest, to toasting sausages on a campfire and dancing under the stars, I could not have had a better time with JustSpeak. Our days were spent sitting by the lake having deep and meaningful conversations, playing fun word games in larger groups, and learning about the differences and similarities between our cultures. Nights were spent crying with laughter around the campfire (this may have been helped by a story which involved a camel, a rodeo, a witch doctor and a broken wrist), having fiercely competitive games of Monopoly, and making idiots out of ourselves as we played Charades.
The Polish students went from being reserved, nervous and lacking in confidence, to outgoing, hilarious and self-assured, and it was really heartwarming to see them improve so much in such a short space of time (despite the fact that Polish people are determined to put themselves down and not recognise big achievements when they see them!!).
However, what made my two JustSpeak programmes truly special were the people that I met. Ranging in ages from 18 to 73, I got to form relationships with psychotherapists, life coaches, television presenters, Japanese translators, university professors, entrepreneurs and even some fellow travel bloggers! The bonds that we all formed as a group over the course of the two programmes were beautiful, and I made some friendships at JustSpeak that I know will be long-lasting, such as my friendship with Joanna, who I have since been to visit twice in her home city of Warsaw (which you can read about here).
I honestly cannot recommend JustSpeak enough to my fellow solo travellers. What could be better than having a few days in a free hotel, with beautiful surroundings, getting to hang out with intelligent, interesting and hilarious people from around the world? You don’t have to have any qualifications to join the JustSpeak programme – you literally just need to be a Native English speaker! What’s more, you can even choose where you’d like to take part in the programme (JustSpeak offers programmes in Kwiejce and Warsaw), whether you’d prefer a 5-day or 2-day programme, and whether you’d prefer to work with youths or adults! If all of this sounds good, then head over to JustSpeak’s website and shoot Małgorzata an email!*
*I’d also like to clarify that I’m not getting any sort of commission for this – I genuinely just really rate the programme and would love to see more people having as good an experience as I did!