This summer I took time out from my job as a spreadsheet nerd to go outside and get dirty. I felt positive about many things in that choice. But I also had concerns about how someone as highly introverted and socially anxious as me would cope with what I saw as the chilled out, community-orientated vibe of WWOOFing.
In the end, my fears were misplaced. I was able to navigate the placements in a way that made me (hopefully) useful to my hosts and gave me some fantastic opportunities to experience the real joy of smallholder living. In case anyone else was in a similar situation, I wanted to share some tips on how to get the best out of WWOOF placements even if you feel people aren’t really your forte.
beautiful Orkney landscape seen on solo walks
Introverts are people who recharge their batteries by being alone, whereas extroverts get their energy from being around other people. If you know you need some alone time to be your best then take that into account when looking through the host descriptions.
Hosts often signal what sort of vibe there is on their placement. You might look for placements where the hosts say they like people to be self sufficient or independent. Placements less suited to you will sometimes have hosts say things like ‘we really like it when you are part of our community or family while you are here’ or ‘our favourite thing about meeting WWOOFers is the long discussions in the evening’. However, I almost didn’t apply to one placement because I felt having a hot tub was evidence of a flagrant tendency towards socialising. My inkling was correct, but it turns out you can be a social household and also be very happy for people to go off on their own.
You may want to look for placements that only have one WWOOFer at a time rather than a crowd of people who might get together and socialise at the end of the day. There is usually information about the accommodation on placements; if it’s important to you to have time alone then look for placements which where you get your own room rather than sharing. When you contact potential hosts, you can also signal your social preferences by talking about being self sufficient, and the solo hobbies and activities you enjoy.
If you are a socially anxious person, then going to a stranger’s house is always going to bring up some worries. At every placement I went to I worried that my hosts would find me weedy, ignorant and boring. For me the trick, and it’s not easy, is to recognise I have those thoughts and then pretend that I’m a relaxed confident person. And what helps on WWOOF placements is that the sort of people who decide to be WWOOF hosts are generally the sort of people who are warm and kind and pretty relaxed about meeting different types of people.
Boorach and Hobbs, good companions
On a more practical level, you may want to think about how you carve time for yourself on your placement. This may be by volunteering for tasks you can do on your own. On my placements feeding the animals was always my favourite task. Sometimes there can be a tendency for everyone to get together in the evening, but don’t feel like you need to be a part of that if you don’t want to. If you feel uncomfortable saying you just want to be on your own, tell your hosts you want to finish a gripping book, or go out and take some photos with your camera, or go for a run. You may plan your social activities weeks in advance but don’t be surprised to discover that your hosts are constantly having people over for dinner or to stay with minimal notice. Two of my hosts said they regularly had friends of friends dropping by unannounced. They seemed to welcome this which I found baffling.
My final piece of advice about being on your placement is to share a little, if you feel comfortable, about how you experience the world. I have found that people enjoy delving into the intricacies of their personality including where they fit on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. And almost everyone can relate to some circumstances where they worry about how people will react to them. WWOOFing can be a great way to have experiences and meet people who wouldn’t usually get a chance to, and I encourage you to embrace it.
A huge thanks to the families who hosted me with such warmth this summer, and dealt so calmly with me accidentally freeing their chickens and threatening to steal their dogs.