There are only so many things you can learn in a month. But whether you learn brain surgery or how to tie a shoe is directly proportional to the effort that you put in. The month I spent in Ireland volunteering on an organic farm (WWOOFing, as it's so aptly called) taught me things I never imaged I'd ever actually know.
And understand this: Making a home for yourself and working in a foreign country gives you more than just tangible knowledge-- it also teaches (at the risk of sounding cheesy) your heart and soul.
The things I never expected to learn:
1.) That hazelnuts grow on hazel trees. (For being an honors student, that sure wasn't my most brilliant deduction.)
2.) That you can create exceptionally good tomato sauce just from boiling crushed-up fresh tomatoes and basil.
3.) That Ireland has more cows than sheep-- and they're all fantastically friendly.
4.) That you should NEVER pick off the tops of tomato plants. Unless you want stunted, pathetic-looking vegetables, this is not a good idea, people.
5.) A "workday" could be anywhere between two and twelve hours. Farmers put the W in WORK (and all the rest of the letters, too).
6.) You will make the best friends of your life, and you will do so within one minute of meeting them. Travelers bond faster than most, it's the nature of who we are.
7.) Never underestimate the power of those friendships, and how deep they can become. Shoutout to my WWOOFing buddies--you know you're loved!
8.) Late-night soccer games effectively relax you more than sleep at the end of a long day. Still don't know how this is possible, but it is.
9.) Sheep are crazy-strong and don't particularly take to being hugged.
10.) That one should never wear Wellies (rain boots, natch) to the Sunday market. Unless one wants to be stared at like a particularly freakish-looking alien, of course.
11.) That it is surprisingly easy to live without a microwave. Or a dishwasher. Or a clothes dryer. And life was much simpler and pleasant for it.
12.) That there are cats out there who actually let you pick them up and pet them somewhere other than their heads (not like my cat, who will put claw-marks on your arm faster than you can say, 'I didn't mean it!')
13.) That Irish cookies--called biscuits-- are THE best-tasting things you can imagine. Pair some with a cup of black tea and you've just created your own little heaven.
14.) That contrary to popular belief, four-leaf clovers are hard to come by in Ireland. Yeah, let that put a downer on your day.
15.) That making bread is an art form, one that I may never actually be good at. I should have made a photo book called "The Battle of the Bread" that showed example after example of my gloriously failed attempts at baking. Ah well, maybe next time.
This list doesn't even begin to touch on the things I learned, about myself or about farm living, but these are some highlights. To have your own metaphysical WWOOFing experience, go to wwoof.net. Find a country you'd love to see, join that country's WWOOFing page, and prepare yourself for the adventure of a lifetime!
Kayla Maneen received her BFA in Creative Writing and minored in adventure and fun. After graduation, she worked on an organic farm in Ireland and taught English in Italy, and learned all there is to know about chasing sheep and eating long, leisurely meals with family. She is adamant about people living out their passions and reaching their highest potentials. Always follow that fire in your heart!