It’s a typical Thursday afternoon at English Village in Paju South Korea. It is my “weekend” and I am busy sifting through plans and possibilities for myself and my life. Spring is here and while it is finally lovely it is also a sad little season. Here in Paju it seems bossy summer starts to fight its way in before Spring has even had a chance to settle.
Yesterday was a refreshing break from the land of Paju as I met with a young Korean friend from my SGI Buddhist group in the nearby city of Ilsan. It is near by car I should say, as the meandering local bus is more than a short journey. But it was worth it to connect with her and her friend visiting from Malaysia. Both went to university in the States with very agreeable English and inspiring dreams and attitudes. It is fun and fresh to spend time with both of them.
The highlight of our easy afternoon was a visit to Ilsan Lake Park featuring a stunning rose garden. I had flashbacks of the many hours I spent in my favorite parks in New Orleans, playing among the live oaks dripping with spanish moss. Ilsan’s park seems like a distant cousin to the parks of New Orleans as Korea does parks differently from the sultry ways of the South. In Ilsan the park was open and spacious but complete with tidy boxes of flowers and neatly laid paths. The rose garden, however, was unexpected and off the charts. To me it seemed like everything Korean. Colorful. Neat and tidy. And utterly lovely in its never-ending patterns and displays of roses of all colors.
As I am poking away at my own travel plans, it has me thinking once again of helpful travel tips to pass on to you – tips that might open doors, ignite some excitement or stir up a dream or two. In my past three years of unfolding international adventures, one of the best tips I received was being turned on to the website Helpx.net.
What is helpx.net? Quite simply it is a network of people in locations around the world willing to provide travelers with room and board in exchange for work. It is one of the best inventions in travel and can open up the world to people who have ruled it out because they “don’t have enough money.” It can also be an economical way to “getaway” or have a change of scenery even in your own country.
Who are the hosts? Helpx hosts are business owners, farmers and private people and families who want to open their doors to travelers. Businesses may include bed and breakfasts, resorts, hotels, or farms. I once stayed with a helpx family who ran their own business from home and were looking for a graphic designer. You never know what you may find that is a match for your skills and interests!
How does it work? It is quite simple really. You can view the website without becoming a member, but if you want to contact a host you must pay the modest fee to join. Once you are a member, contact a host or hosts that are interesting to you. If they feel the same way, they will get back to you. The length of stay can vary greatly. Once an agreement is reached between you and the host, all you have to do is make your plans and show up!
How many hours do I work and what do I do? This will vary by host. Some hosts are laid back and are mostly interested in meeting people from other parts of the world. Others really rely on the helpx work for the vitality of their business. I would say average expectation is 5 hours a day, 5 days a week. But some hosts will ask for 6 hours a day, 6 days a week with one day off. And others may not set hours and just ask that you help as needed through out the day.
Work varies widely as well. In my experience I have cooked, cleaned, mowed lawns, painted ceilings, chopped wood, taken care of children. Some people need help with construction, caring for their farm in some way or teaching a language. There are also unexpected little pockets or work needed that are best found through exploring the site.
How to choose a host. I found it helps to be clear about what matters to you and screen hosts for those things. How many hours do you want to work? Do you want to be in a city or out in the country? What kind of work are you willing to do? Do you want to be around a lot of other people or do you like solitude. Can you go with the flow with whatever your hosts cooks or do you have diet requirements? How long do you want to stay? Do you want to share a room with others or do you prefer privacy… the clearer you get, the easier it is to choose and shorten your list and start making contacts.
You will have more options if you plan at least a few months ahead of time as there is less “last-minute” availability. Additionally, I found it useful to contact more than one host for the same time period as some people don’t get back in touch or have changed plans.
Is it safe? With all of my helpx experiences I always felt very safe. There is a place for reviews on all helpx hosts and reading those is very helpful. Once when I still had more questions, I contacted previous helpxers to get more information. If you’re still unsure if a host is right for you, its never a bad idea to get a second opinion from a wise and trusted friend.
Is it worth it? Absolutely! It provides intimate experience into a different life and sometimes different culture. New experiences, new people, new skills. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes there is some hard work to do or relationships to be managed. But that is all the depth and color of the experience!
Daytime is melting away on this quiet almost summer day in Paju. I am listening to English Village top 40 leaking through my window from the speaker outside. Ah the sounds of life at English Village.
If you have any questions about Helpx, feel free to write! Always happy to share my experience!
Photo at top. A bright array of flowers neatly displayed at Ilsan Lake Park.