If you haven’t heard of workaway, it is a type of exchange program where you offer up a few hours of work each day in exchange for accomodation and food. Some places require you stay there for a few days, while others require a few months. There are tons of opportunities around the world through workaway, and it is a great way to try to save money while also learning about new cultures, meeting new people, and helping out communities! Check out workaway here.
Becca did a workaway in San Juan, Puerto Rico during the summer of 2016 at a hostel. (Shout out to Mango Mansion!) It was a very positive experience for her, and she was able to explore Puerto Rico while helping others enjoy their time there as well.
During the summer of 2017, we did a workaway in La Rioja, Spain. It was at an English summer camp for kids. It was a family-run, overnight summer camp where kids ages 5 and up attend to improve their English speaking skills.
We planned on staying at the workaway for 2 weeks at the camp towards the end of our Europe trip to save some money while exploring a different part of Spain and also gaining experience working with children in a different setting.
Unfortunately our time at this summer camp was not as pleasant as Becca’s workaway experience in Puerto Rico. Without naming the exact workaway, know that you can probably find it on your own using the search tools.
We are sorry to say that this camp was not at all what we expected.
As noted above, we were expecting and had planned out with the owner to stay for 2 weeks. When we arrived, some of the other workawayers stated that this was the final week of camp. No one working at the camp ever tried to communicate or check in with us about the change of dates or sent us any notification saying that the week we arrived was going to be the last week of camp.
Part of their work away post says that the expected work is 5 hours a day for 5 days a week. However, besides your break or when you are sleeping, you are always working and if you do not leave the camp while on your break, you are pointed out for not being outside with the others and participating in the activities. One could also say that while you are sleeping you technically are still working because you are in charge of the children sleeping in your assigned room.
There were “counselors-in-training” that were family members or friends of the family. These were kids usually from the ages of 11-14.
The majority of them did not set a good example for the campers as they would speak in Spanish most of the time. Again this is an English camp but more on that later.
When they were questioned by one of the workawayers (volunteers), they would use their status as a way to get out of certain activities. The other campers even started to notice that the counselors-in-training were able to do what they wanted, when they wanted. Some of the counselors-in-training would even say “but I live here” to get out of what was asked of them.
Inappropriate Camp Games
A game the campers played was a capture the flag type game: pañuelo. One of the older, male senior counselors (approx. 18-19 years old) had the flag, and there were two teams that tried to get the flag and run back to their team’s side before getting tagged. Typically, the person in the middle would just hold the flag out in front of them. However, when there were two older, female campers (aged 11-14) he would put the scarf in his shorts pocket to make them grab it there. It made both of us feel extremely uncomfortable.
One camp “song” was called ‘shake your booty’. What happened was someone would say, “Hey _________ stand up and shake your booty.” The person either had to stand up and quite literally shake their booty. If you said “no,” you got water dumped on you. So the choices were being publicly humiliated or getting water thrown on you. This may seem minor to some people, but in our opinion it teaches children it’s not okay to say no to something they don’t feel comfortable with.
One day of the week, we went on an overnight camping trip. Some of the campers decided they wanted to play truth or dare. Now, we would be lying if we said we never played truth or dare as a pre-teen and dared each other to do weird things like eat dog food or prank phone call someone. However, the truth and dare that was happening at this camp was being run by the male counselor discussed above. He was encouraging inappropriate dare choices like having a girl who was about 11 years old choose between kissing two boys. Becca stepped in and told the girl it was okay to say no, and then she was questioned by the same male counselor as to why that is okay and “what was the point of the game then?”
Lack of Professionalism
There was a lack of organization throughout the camp. It was pretty much run by 16-18 year olds. When there was down time, the workawayers would get blamed for not having activities planned when we were never told to come with activites. Luckily, Becca had worked for summer camps in the past, and both of us work with children so we were able to come up with some things on the fly.
Another thing that really bothered us what that there was a clear ‘in’ group. Not only with the counselors but also with the campers. It was really disheartening to see the new campers feel like outcasts. For example, when we would have campfires, there was no time dedicated to actually teaching the new campers the songs. They were just sang by the campers and counselors that knew them.
Minor detail, but we think it is also worth noting: In their workaway description the WIFI box was checked. When in reality, for the entire week at camp there was no WIFI. This would have been fine as we are by no means people who are dependent on technology; however, for one, our parents thought we were dead for a week. Two, it was in their description. And three, we were kind of scrambling to make plans for the week after camp because they canceled the last week of camp without telling us and we had planned on being there (as we previously stated).
If you have any sort of dietary restriction this is not the place to be.
Breakfast was all sugar. Literally, one day we ate bread and nutella. The other days consisted of cookies, cereal, chocolate milk, or bread with butter and jam.
The whole time we felt like we were carbo-loading for a race that was never happening. The snacks were bread with either chorizo or pâté, and dinners were usually some sort of pasta or rice with meat.
Sometimes more Spanish was being spoken at the camp even though it was an English camp.
Even simple instructions were in Spanish. For example, when everyone was walking on the road and there was a cyclist coming the senior counselors would yell ” derecha” instead of “right”. Or “vamos!” instead of “lets go!”
We felt guilty putting on an English play for the campers parents at the end of the week because it was a fake representation of what the children had “learned”.
Are we done yet?!
On Saturday morning, all the families came to watch their children perform in their end-of-the-week theater skit that was intended to show the families that their children had improved their English.
After all the families and campers left we were asked to stick around a little longer to help clean. We thought that entailed a little bit of vacuuming, dish washing and picking up the place a little bit. What we were actually doing was staying 4 extra hours to deconstruct the “camp” and reconstruct it into the family’s Airbnb. . . This involved taking apart every single bunk bed, getting all the parts into the basement, moving the furniture for the Airbnb up to the main space, raking the yard, taking apart an outdoor event tent, taping the walls for them to get repainted, and then getting yelled at for not taping the walls properly.
We wish we were making this up.
We try to find the positives in everything we do because there is no point in just complaining. Our joy and willingness to stay the whole week came from trying to include the children who were there for their first camp experience and trying to help them learn some English while having fun and feeling included.
The camp owner, was not involved in the day-to-day camp operations, but he is an incredibly nice man who really wanted the camp to be an opportunity for children to learn English. We truly believe that if he was more involved with the day-to-day operations the camp would be a joy to work for.
While this workaway experience post might have seemed like a rant—in some ways it was—we really wanted to give people insight into our experience with this workaway.
If you are thinking about workaway, make sure you are in contact with the host and are asking detailed questions about the work you will be doing. Prior to going to Puerto Rico, Becca had to be interviewed twice! This may seem like a lot but in retrospect it was extremely helpful.
There are thousands of workaways out there that we can almost guarantee would be wonderful experiences for travelers looking to extend their time in a place without going over their budget. If you’re one of these travelers, make sure to check out workaway!