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I have been wanting to try an international Workaway program for a while now, and it has been eluding me for years just like my Euro trip.
I finally decided to go to Europe in Feb 2018 and explore Rome, Florence, Venice, Zurich, Prague, and Vienna for three weeks. And, in order to keep the costs low and experiences high, I thought to volunteer in Europe with Workaway.
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If you are at a loss for what Workaway is, here is the gist. It’s one of the world’s leading community for volunteering, working, and cultural exchange. Workaway is a one-stop site for all travelers to connect with over 34,000 hosts in more than 170 countries. It makes it easier to share the skills, language, and culture between hosts and volunteers.
Workaway costs about 36 USD per year for one person and 46 USD per year for two friends or a couple. You can register for Workaway here.
I found it better than couch surfing since it’s more than just a free place to stay. It’s an inclusive experience as you involve with the local community to help each other out. I wanted to have an authentic Italian experience with sumptuous food and friendly locals. So Workaway in Italy seemed like a no-brainer.
I had a return flight from the Rome, so it made more sense to stay closer to the Italian capital. There were many choices in Rome especially for taking care of kids and helping around the house. As I’m not great with kids and wanted to learn something new, I thought of looking for opportunities in gardening, farming, wineries, social media, or blogging, or anything else that looked interesting.
Workaway in Italy living with the locals
My search finally culminated after hours of digging through the site and messaging over a dozen hosts, when I came across a cozy Bed and Breakfast place – Olive Tree Hill. This was going to be my first international Workaway experience. Located just 50 km outside of Rome in a medieval town of Zagarolo, Olive Tree Hill seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. It promised an authentic Italian experience in the lap of nature and had rave reviews.
My hosts – Ivano and Tehri (Italian Finnish couple), as it turned out, along with their adopted Chilean kids, were a lovely International family.
Ivano is an excellent cook and a brilliant host. He is passionate about the history and culture of the region and makes you fall in love with it too. Don’t miss the chance to go on a midnight walking tour around Rome with Ivano. It lasts for 6 hours and is one of its kind experience in Rome. Also, a personal tour around the lesser known yet historically significant and beautiful places around Rome is highly recommended.
Tehri is always so energetic, kind, and is a world traveler. She took us around Zagarolo town, made delicious pasta when Ivano was not around. And told us so many stories of Finland and Italy that I now feel like I know a little bit of the two (divergent) worlds.
I was sharing rooms with two girls – Lin from Taiwan who has been traveling for 6 months in Europe and Zsuzsi – a 19-year-old girl of Hungarian descent passionate about photography. I was in great company; we had so much to share and I had a blast living and working with them.
Cultural exchange with an international Workaway in Europe
I was going to find out that Italians hate microwaves, and they pour wine on almost everything from pasta to cookies.
As far as Finland goes, apart from the extreme weather, they have a world-class education system also rife with weavers, forging a weaving culture (popular for carpets). I was astonished to find out that almost every Finnish home has a weaving machine.
Last time, I heard about having a weaving machine at every house was in a remote village in Assam, India – Baligao, a certified green village, which was a revelation too. Anyway, that’s a story for another day.
Looking forward to having a similar Workaway experience? Check out some top tips before volunteering abroad.
The topics of conversation over the dinner table ranged from politics to geography to history to food.
The conversations revolved around Hungarian Romanian conflict, elections in Italy, rice burgers served in McDonald’s of Taiwan, different fruits that grow at different months in Italy, and having a meal with bare hands served over a banana leaf in South India.
Zsuzsi wanted to come to India to eat food with her own bare hand while Lin planned on visiting India in August for the rich and colorful culture.
Here are some recommended things to do near Zagarolo:
It felt like a big family, even with all our differences in culture, it was a place of laughter and merriment.
I was glad to have lived with the locals, even for a brief moment, in the Italian way. With warm hospitality and lip-smacking Italian food, I only wished I had stayed here longer.
If you’re worried about staying amidst the suffocating crowd in Rome, then basing yourself at Zagarolo (Olive Tree Hill) is a no-brainer.
It is 25 mins from Rome at 2.6 EUR train ride away. Stay amidst nature with lovely people, and treat yourself to scrumptious dinners. And yes, stay here for at least a week like I did. You won’t be disappointed.
If you are looking for an authentic Italian experience near Rome, then look no further.
Also, it was an enriching and fulfilling experience living with the locals on a work exchange program that I’m now itching for more. It brings down the costs and aligns you well with the local way of life. And ideal for long-term travel. I would highly recommend trying an international Workaway program if you haven’t done so already!
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