Volunteering at an English camp for children in northern Italy
Regardless of how amazing life may be, it can sometimes be easy to get bored of it. Having routine is great, but when you wake up on Monday morning feeling like you have lived this exact day about a million times before, it does feel a bit uninspiring (to put in mildly). And during those days it can be hard to try to stay positive and remember just how good life can be. I personally feel very happy about how my life looks right now. I have just recently grown out of the part of my life where I am forced to live the life which my parents created for me, and have now started to create a life which I really see myself in. My life really fits me and my personality, and that is a great feeling. I study something that I am passionate about at a good university abroad, I have amazing friends, I get to travel quite a bit and still have time to pursue things that I do just for fun. But in spite of all that, there are days when I feel uninspired. Days when I feel like writing psychology essays is not what I want to do right then, when the scenery around me feels boring and ordinary, when every single thing I do feels as if I have been doing the same thing forever. In essence; there are days when I wish I could borrow someone else’s life for a bit.
While I believe that most people feel like that at times, there are differences in how we choose to approach it. Some people accept this as reality. Life is not always great, it has its ups and downs, but that does not mean you get to check out. Other people take the absolute opposite approach – they leave their lives completely, not to borrow someone else’s life but to create a complete new life for themselves. Maybe they decide to travel around South East Asia indefinitely, or to get a Work and Travel visa in Australia, or maybe start university in another country. While I definitely have used both these approaches in life (the first approach is the one I used up until my 18th birthday, when I really did not have any say in where I was going to live, and the second approach is what I used when I moved to Germany previously, and England currently), an approach which I have recently realized I am very fond of is to temporarily borrow someone else’s life. Because I am generally quite happy with my life as it is I am not that tempted to change it completely, but for the moments when I feel bored and uninspired it is nice to temporarily experience what it is like to live someone else’s life. Even if only for a week, it will give you a new perspective of your own life and you will hopefully realize that it is actually quite a good one.
Invited to a home cooked meal of carbonara in Novara, Italy
One way to temporarily borrow someone else’s life is through Workaway, a website which connects people who need any sort of help with people who are willing to help. For free accommodation and food you spend a maximum of five hours per day helping your host, be it through farm work, helping out in a hostel, teaching a language that you know, or perhaps helping in building a house out on the countryside. You pick the country, the place and the project, and in return for your help you get to experience a new culture and, perhaps most relevant to this post; you get to borrow someone else’s life. Two summers ago I used Workaway to volunteer at an English camp for children in northern Italy. It was my first time in Italy, and quite frankly one of the best trips I have ever been on. I lived with an amazing woman and her seven year old daughter, and I instantly fell in love with the both of them. The woman had chosen to have a child on her own, and the two had a relationship which I had not seen before; one of such sincere love that it was nearly impossible for all that love to not rub off on me. I felt so genuinely happy and at ease during my whole stay. In the mornings, the woman I stayed with drove me and her daughter to a school where the English camp was. The kids were between the ages of five and nine, and for a few hours every morning I would help with painting, doing sketches, dancing and playing. Then in the afternoon I would have free time (which I mostly spent eating), and then at the end of the day my host would come pick us up and drive us back home. The evenings were also mostly spent eating. During my first night the woman who organized the English camp, Stefania, took me and her entire family – a total of eleven people – to a pizzeria for amazing Italian pizza. Another day Stefania’s mother invited me for a home cooked dinner at her place, along with another volunteer from France, and one evening Stefania invited me to dinner at her apartment, where her husband made carbonara. She was also kind enough to go with me to Milan one day to show me around, as I had never been and she used to study there. For a short amount of time I had the oppurtunity to see what life in northern Italy could be, and I really loved it (the food especially, I have to admit). Going back to Sweden was bittersweet in a way; I would have loved to stay in Italy longer, but at the same time it had given me a fresh perspective of my life back home and having had a break from it made it seem less tedious.
In Barcelona, where I lived with a Spanish family
Another way to temporarily experience what it is like to be someone else is through the countless langauge school all over the world. By enrolling in a language class in a country that you are interested in, you not only get to practice the language with locals on a daily basis, you often also have the oppurtunity to stay with a host family in the city you study in. I have taken part in three different language courses abroad; one week of Spanish classes in Barcelona, three weeks of English classes in London and two months of German classes in Bavaria. In both Spain and England I lived with host families, and not only does it force you to speak the language you are studying – you also get to experience the culture first hand by eating the home cooked food of your host family, learning their routines (in Spain this involved very late dinners) and if you are lucky you might even be able to take part in some traditions from the country, such as big holidays which you do not celebrate in your country. I for one got to experience the celebration of All Saints’ Day in Barcelona, which involed fire breathers and drums late at night, and was an amazing experience. I also got to view something that I had never even heard of before; human towers, or castellers. This was basically an event where large groups of people climbed up on each other in order to create big towers. As can be expected this was quite a dangerous tasks as there would be points when the “towers” collapsed, and neck injuries were not a foreign concept here. It seemed however to be a very popular event and the plaza where it took place was completely filled with people, making a woman in front of me tell her friend that we were standing como sardinas – like sardines. All in all my experinces with language courses and living in host families have been very enriching, and as language courses often can be as short as you want them to, usually starting from one or two weeks and ranging up to several months, it can easily be fit into your schedule. If one week is all you have time for, then it is still very well possible.
Human towers outside of Barcelona
Yet another way to borrow someone else’s life which I personally have not yet tried (but want to, in the near future) is to house-sit. Through sites such as this one you get to live in someone else’s house while they are away. Often this also means you need to look after their pets, but for someone who loves animals this should hardly be looked upon as a hard task. If anything, if may mean you have less freedom when it comes to moving around, but if your goal is simply to see what it would be like to have someone else’s life for a short while, then this should not be that much of an issue.
While I have never tried housesitting I did at one point work as a dog watcher and would have people drop off their dogs at my place before they went to work. This is the wonderful pitbull Calle
Finally, this post would not be complete without mentioning Couchsurfing and AirBnB. Through these sites you get to live with locals in their own homes. When using Couchsurfing you live along with locals, while with AirBnb you might get a whole place completely to yourself, but in this case you have to pay. I have used Couchsurfing in Vienna, London, Vilnius, Amsterdam and Skopje, and AirBnb in Rabat, Morocco (not to mention the friends of friends who have let me stay with them in Cracow, Warsaw and southern Holland). Apart from having a creepy host in London, all my experiences with Coucsurfing and my (very limited use of) AirBnb have been great. I stayed with a wonderful woman in Vienna who cooked for me and helped plan my stay, a bartender in Skopje who made me cocktails and bought Macedonian kebabs for me, and a lesbian couple outside of Amsterdam whose relationship honestly made me believe in love again. Living with these peoples, hearing about their daily lives, their jobs, their families, is a great way to get an understanding of lifestyles different from your own. It gives you perspective and makes you see your life in a different light. While staying at a hotel can be great (hello, hotel breakfast), it is often quite a sterile environment and most hotels around the world look pretty similar. If being exposed to another way of life is what you want, I would highly recommend staying with locals. It gives you a break from the rat race without you having to actually leave it completely, and by the end of your trip you will hopefully go back to your everyday life with a fresh perspective.
At my host’s apartment in Vienna
Have you ever felt like getting a break from your life? Where did you go, if you did?