When I got on a plane three months ago to the south of France, I had nothing more or less than a hint of a plan once I hit the tarmac. I knew I would be spending a few days travelling from hostel to hostel until I found my way to the farm where I would be WWOOFing (http://www.wwoof.net/) for four weeks. At the time, I was petrified with fear and confusion, asking myself what could have possibly possessed me to get on a plane, by myself, and willingly live like a nomad for three months. Especially considering I am well-renowned for being a planner, an organizer, a control-freak. I didn’t even have much of an interest in the environment or farming. Quiet frankly I don’t know how I thought a girl who squeals and spasms at every paranoid delusion of a bug being nearby could ever live on a farm. I slept mere inches from spider webs, forced to watch them feast on various insects as I lay my head down in an attempt to get yet another night of mediocre sleep. And while a 6am wake-up call and entire days of weeding and harvesting in sweltering heat might sound miserable, leaving all the comforts of my home and my university to WWOOF and travel for three months was the best decision I think I’ve ever made, without being too histrionic. I discovered wants and desires I never thought I would have. I care more about the food and agriculture industry and it’s effects on the environment than I think I have ever cared about anything else before.
I was unbelievably ignorant about all of it before I left and now I know slightly more than I used to and only want to learn more. The most amazing thing about my summer is that these revelations and learning experiences happened in the summer. There was no professor telling me what the important lessons were. There were no friends or acquaintances subconsciously influencing my interests. No classrooms, no textbooks (although, yes, there were plenty of other books), no homework, and even no salary keeping me going. And I love school; I’ll be the first to advocate higher education, but there are just some things the system fails to teach. I give the education system an F for educating about the most important aspect of every human being’s lives: food. It’s what we eat, what we fuel our bodies with, what helps us lift our lids and put one foot in front of the other every morning. It’s what is more commonly causing diabetes in children and potentially lowering our generation’s life expectancy to below that of our parents. It is also, if organic, local, free-range, etc. what can solve a majority of the world’s problems. And not just malnutrition and obesity, but global warming as well. And I never knew any of this until I, at 20 years old, for some reason decided to buy a plane ticket and live on a farm merely for the chance to have free food and housing while I “saw the world.”
If I were to give one piece of advice, it would be to travel, but for you own sake don’t go to France and don’t go alone. Being by myself in Paris or Strasbourg or London or Marseille gave me the alone-in-a-crowd feeling after a while; it’s the loneliest kind of lonely. But Scotland was a magical place. Phantassie Farm, where I spent the best four and a half weeks of my entire summer, was the closest thing to a home I had since leaving the U.S. (http://www.phantassie.co.uk/). There’s really nothing I can say to describe it without short-selling it. I lived in my own caravan among several other similar caravans with WWOOFers from all over the world: Australia, Mexico, Germany, England, Italy, Spain, and France (this Frenchman being the first one I actually took a liking to). We woke up at seven, started working at eight, took tea breaks every two hours until the work-day ended at 5pm. We worked alongside the other employees, mostly all of Scottish decent, but one crass Kiwi did leave an impression. Lunchtime conversations were such that I dare not repeat, partly because of the subject matter and partly because, while they were speaking English, the accents were so think they may as well have been speaking Cantonese half the time. And the best part is I’ve made connections with people from every corner of the world who I fully intend to see again some day. And none of this would have happened if I didn’t decide to study abroad this fall.
For the past two weeks my mom and I have been on a pre-study abroad trip around Ireland. We started in Cork where I will attend UCC. We got a chance to look at the campus and I already know I’m never going to want to leave. Dublin and Temple bar were next on the tour. My mom actually stayed out with me until 1am listening to Irish trad music in the pubs. We have hiked the Mourne Mountains, walked the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge, stood among stone circles, stood on the Cliffs of Moher, and hiked the Torc Waterfall in Killarney National Park. My orientation in Dublin starts in just a few days and I could not be more ready. I’m ready to play Ultimate Frisbee again and rock climb again and meet even more people (Cork people being the best people). I’m so lucky to be able to spend the next three months living, studying, laughing, and exploring in the most beautiful and kind-hearted country I think this world has to offer. Only time will tell if my high expectations can be met, but then again I have the luck of the Irish on my side.