Posts filed under ‘Interview’

Is it a gap year? Spread the word(s)!

While volunteering this weekend at the Mercy Edible Park in South Philadelphia, I weeded and mingled with others interested in bringing change to the neighborhood.  One lady helping us weed did a year of service in West Virginia through AmeriCorps.  She worked with a non-profit to help drive tourism to a small town.  With a degree in painting, she moved from Nebraska to Philadelphia to intern with the Mural Arts Program.  There was also a couple with an adorable baby, and they met while getting TEFL certified in the Czech Republic to teach English abroad.  Learning about these three people made me realize how common it is to take a meaningful gap year, even though the term gap year is not a commonly used phrase.  Keep in mind: when talking with people, sometimes you need to make your own connections about their motivation and interest in doing something gap year related and see if it resembles your interests.  Oftentimes, we need to search for meaning instead of waiting for someone to blatantly state what we are looking for.  It was really fantastic meeting new people while doing something we were all interested in and realizing they share common interests of mine.

July 18, 2011 at 11:47 am Leave a comment

Interviewing a WWOOF participant.

WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) offers volunteers a chance to work on an organic farm to learn about organic growing, country living, and ecologically sound lifestyles.  Volunteers do not pay for their stay and hosts do not pay their volunteers.  It is an exchange of work for knowledge, housing, and accommodations.While it is a worldwide service, each region has its own website.  This means you must join the individual page for the area where you are interested in working.  The websites are networks providing volunteers with opportunities, but the volunteer must contact and make arrangements with the farm.    A small fee is required to join each WWOOF network, but judging that the fee for WWOOF-USA is $30, it can be a general assumption that none of the sites charge a substantial fee.

I had the opportunity to interview Ray Fallon, 23, who graduated from TCNJ in 2009 and is currently volunteering through WWOOF.  He explains how he chose to spend time with WWOOF and what he plans to do with his experience:

Above: Ray with a cow.

Describe what you are doing during your gap year (location, a day in the life, etc.)

I am traveling to different farms for different time periods.  I learn what they do at the farm, how to do it, and a lot of different things: how to sustain yourself, living off food you grow, how to profit from the work.  I have been on a farm in Spring Mills, PA for a little over 2 weeks now, with one more week to go.  Soon I will be going to Europe for a month to travel and I will be Couch Surfing, then spending 2 months doing WWOOF in Germany.  I had to sign up separately with the German website and pay a separate registration fee.

Why did you choose WWOOF?

In the future, I want to be a farmer.   I thought for a while I would like to either be a farmer or an actor.  I didn’t go to school for farming and didn’t know much about it, so this was an opportunity for free education and practice.  This is also a chance for me to figure out whether farming is something I want to do long-term.  I heard about WWOOF through word of mouth, maybe years ago from my brother .

How do you finance your time with WWOOF?

Food and housing is covered by the farms I work for.  This works by communicating with the farm you’re going to work for and coming to an agreement.  Sometimes more experienced workers or people staying for longer periods of time might agree to being paid a stipend, and while that might happen, it is not standard.  To contrast, if someone wants to stay but there is not a lot of work to be done then the host may want payment for housing.  It really varies by case.

There is a minimal registration fee; I think $25 for the U.S. and maybe $30 for Germany.  I have some expenses like going out or if I want to buy something, but I use my savings for that.  I worked for a year straight after college, so I lived modestly and saved as much as possible.  I knew I would have to provide for myself if I was acting and definitely for my trip through Europe, which I planned to take either way.

What is a memorable experience you have had so far?

Well, one day which was pretty funny, on another farm, I had to milk a goat, wrestle another goat, and carry the other goat.  I was giving water to the goats and cows, and the goats got out.  I carried the female goat, but the billy goat put up a fight and tried to charge and buck.

How do you think you will benefit when you are finished?

There are a lot of benefits.  The knowledge from each farm is different because they raise different crops and use different techniques.  I also learned networking is surprisingly important in farming.  The lady I’m working with now works with some sort of PA organic certification board.  She has a large network of farmers she’s in constant contact with, and I got to go with her to different types of meetings.  One girl I met helps people get into new farms, and she told me about different programs of people who aren’t farmers but what to try to do something like a work-study.

What are some final suggestions or reminders you would give to someone interested in WWOOF?

It really is a case-by-case sort of thing.  It’s worth trying if you’re at all interested because you can just try it for as little as 4 or 5 days and decide if you want to keep going, or if it doesn’t appeal at all you can stop.

April 15, 2011 at 12:49 pm 1 comment

An interview with a City Year participant.

Before I post the interview, I want to share an article I found through the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The article is from the Fall 2009 issue of Occupational Outlook Quarterly.  I think this is a very valuable article because it helps the reader consider pros and cons of taking a gap year.  It also provides really good advice such as: if considering graduate school, take the GRE before leaving undergraduate studies, apply to grad programs, get accepted, then ask for a 1-year deferment.  The last two pages offer great resources to look at when considering a gap year.

The article above mentions the AmeriCorps program City Year.  To segue into the interview, City Year is a program that gives young people the opportunity to work full-time in schools and neighborhoods across the country to tutor, mentor, and be role-models for students.  Jeffrey Sierra, 23, is a Philadelphia University 2010 graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology.  In the following interview, Jeffrey explains what he does and why he chose to serve his time after college with City Year.

Jeffrey Sierra at his May 16, 2010 graduation in Philadelphia, PA (photo on left).  Jeffrey Sierra     with the Bakersville Whole School Whole Child City Year New Hampshire Team (photo above).

Describe what you are doing during your gap year (where you are, what you’re doing):

During my gap year I am serving for ten months with an Americorps program called City Year. I am serving at the New Hampshire site. City Year New Hampshire is partnered with five elementary schools in Manchester, NH. There is also a weekend service program called Young Heroes that engages middle school aged youth in relevant social issues.

I serve Monday through Friday in a third grade classroom. I support my students with their academics during the day, I assist them with homework help after school, and I also run a cooking enrichment class once a week.

Why did you choose City Year?

I chose City Year because I did not want to pursue a graduate degree right after my senior year at Philadelphia University. I applied first to the Peace Corps, but was not a competitive enough applicant. Wanting to give a year back, I decided to turn my attention from international service to domestic service. I applied to a few Americorps programs but after being contacted by City Year New Hampshire’s recruitment director, I felt City Year would be the best fit for me.

Why did you want to take time to do this?

I wanted to take the time to give back because I feel it’s the right thing to do. I’ve found since working with City Year that I receive such a simple joy by being able to serve my students in class and see them overcome their difficulties.

How do you get funds for living expenses? Do you get paid or receive a stipend?

I receive a stipend to cover most of my living expenses. I also qualify for government assistance in the form of food stamps and that helps out immensely.

Do you have to pay fees to be involved in City Year?

No, there are no fees associated with City Year.

What is a memorable experience you have had so far?

My most memorable experience has been making gingerbread houses with my students right before their December break. It was so much fun seeing my students shine in a different way. Their creativity and energy was very inspiring.

April 5, 2011 at 1:35 pm Leave a comment


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