Markus (19) from Germany talks to us about his experience working on a sugar cane farm on the small island of Miyakojima, roughly 300 kilometres away from Okinawa main island. He arrived to Miyakojima in May and worked there for a month. With a smile he looks back at his extraordinary experience in the very south of Japan.
What was the farm like?
(laughs) Funny enough, I actually worked for some sort of Japanese cult or rather Buddhist cult. I learned that they send the sugar cane harvest to their headquarters, which is located near Osaka. Apparently they collect harvest and other goods from all sorts of places all over Japan and then sell it elsewhere. Every morning they’d also have like a morning prayer and at some point I had to join as well. But it sounds stranger than it was, the people were incredibly friendly and nice. I did some research and apparently there are a lot of sects in Japan.
Why did you want to do farm work?
I wanted to live and work in Okinawa for a month, because I’d heard many good things about the place. So I contacted World Unite! and asked if it was possible to do farm work there. Eventually I got a job offer from a sugar cane plantation on Miyakojima and I thought: “Why not?”. So on May 26th I flew south.
How did your typical working day look like?
I’d wake up around 4:40am, take a shower and have breakfast. Then I’d talk to my housemates, pack my gear for the day and we’d leave for the fields, so that we could start at 6am. There were two shifts every day, the first was from 6am to 10am, and the second was from 3pm to 7pm. Like this, we would avoid the worst heat during the day. We would get around 40 degrees, which was tough. So every day was eight hours of work.
What I did was basically chopping off sugar cane and making it ready for transport. You could roughly break it down into five steps. The first step was to tear off the leaves from the top. The second was to chop off the sugar cane right above the root. Third step was to collect all the sugar cane plants and pile them up on a heap.
The fourth step would be to tear the last of the leaves off and the fifth step was to tie them together, so there were easier to transport.
What was challenging during your stay on the farm?
There are so many insects on Miyakojima. During the day it was fine, but by the time it got dark outside, my room would turn into my personal zoo. My room didn’t have any doors, so insects could just come in. After my stay in Miyakojima the cockroaches in Tokyo and Osaka don’t bother me anymore at all. The insects in Okinawa are gigantic.
What did you earn during your time?
I earned 4500 Yen a day (~35 Euros). However, I didn’t have to pay for my accommodation nor for food.
What did you do in your free time?
During my free time I explored the island with my working colleagues, because many of them were there for the first time, too, just like me. Other than that I’d just relax and take it easy.
Did your Japanese improve during your stay on the farm?
Yes, definitely. Interestingly, my boss was kind of a Germany-fan, and he knew some words. And one co-worker could speak basic English. But aside from that they only used Japanese. My co-workers were all super friendly, also my boss was really cool. I’m still in contact with all of them.
In general, all the people on the island were really nice, however it was also kind of funny and weird at the same time to be the only white person on the entire island. I was kind of an attraction for the people.
Did you experience any low points during the time you worked on the farm?
The worst day was the day before my work started. It was hot in my room, I couldn’t sleep and I knew I had to work outside in the heat the entire day – that was when I was quite terrified of it all. But after that, it was fine and it all went well. Also, I discovered that working in the heat and in the sun for hours makes my thinking rather aggressive, but I had to learn how to handle that. But the days after typhoons, when it was much cooler, those days were the best to work. I discovered for myself that I don’t want to become a sugar cane farmer. I mean, in the end I was glad that it was over, but at the same time I was glad that I’d done it.
What would you tell people who are thinking about during farm work in Japan as well?
I think it is important to learn how to control or at least filter your thoughts. It sounds generic, but you have to keep thinking positively. If you start to think negative thoughts, it just gets worse and worse. If you have a positive mindset, you’ll have the most amazing time.
Speaking more specifically, I’d say you should be aware that it is difficult to get off the island, especially if you can’t drive or you don’t have a car. I was glad my co-worker would give me lifts regularly, but aside from that there is hardly anything. You definitely can’t rely on the public transport.
Other than that people should be aware what they get themselves into. Farm work is hard, physical labour and people should be really sure that they want to do that.
Did this experience shape you as a person?
I would definitely say that this experience taught me new ways of thinking. The people on the island were insanely nice. They lead simple lives, but they are so genuinely happy and content, and I think I kind of absorbed some of that attitude. The people are always in a good mood and happy, and it really rubbed off on me. You learn to appreciate the little things, it all really inspired me.
What do you do now?
I arrived in Osaka on July 9th. I’m working in a guest house and isakaya, and I also live there. I’m thinking of working here for at least another month and after that, I’m not sure yet. But I’m thinking of staying in Osaka. My visa expires on April 18th, and I want to stay here the entire 12 months.
Markus (from Germany)
Are you interested in working on a farm in Japan as well? Find more info about farm work in Japan on our Website!
Wanderlust? Our participant Johanna spent half a year in India and volunteered at a local school. Read more about what Johanna experienced during her time in Navi Mumbai!
My name is Johanna, I am originally from Austria and spent half a year in India where I worked as a volunteer at a school. More specifically, I spent most of my time in Navi Mumbai, a city next to Mumbai, and volunteered at the Mahima International School. I also had the opportunity to travel around during my stay, but I would like to start with my experiences in the city of Navi Mumbai and my work at the school.
Johanna, tell us about your life in Navi Mumbai!
Life in a big city like Navi Mumbai was an enormous change for me at first, as I am originally from a rather small village in Austria. The whole hustle and bustle was on the one hand very exhausting, but at the same time exciting. Especially since I was a rarity compared to many people who live in India – in terms of my light hair and skin color. It often happened to me that people wanted to take a selfie with me!
I experienced some many things during my time in India that were so different to things in my home country. Most of the time, it felt like living in a completely different world. I would highly recommend you to get informed about India well in advance as you can avoid many unpleasant situations with an adequate preparation!
How was volunteering at the school?
My work in the school was at first very different to what I had expected. The way in which the school and teaching system work in India is very different from what I knew from home. Although it was challenging at the beginning, I still had a lot of fun teaching and the best thing was the kids who came to school every day with so much energy and openness. The teachers were very nice to me and took good care of me.
After school, I usually accompanied the boys from Palms Care to their home, who also attend the Mahima School, to spend some time with them.
What did you do in your leisure time?
In addition to volunteering, I also attended a gym and participated in a power yoga class. The owner of the gym was also the best friend of our World Unite! coordinator Sudipta and she was not only our trainer – she was almost like a mother to us and treated us very kindly. Through her we could really experience India!
By „we“ I mean myself plus all my roommates or other volunteers I met during my stay in Navi Mumbai. I usually had the weekends off and could explore Mumbai. Together with other volunteers we explored Mumbai’s most beautiful and interesting places and got a pretty good idea of how colorful and lively the city can be. You should definitely be prepared for immense crowds!
Nevertheless, you do not need to be afraid because people are usually very nice and also very happy to help. Although sometimes they are a bit too nice and you should be careful not to be fooled, but after having spent some time in the city, you get a pretty good feeling for it. The shopping experience in all the markets and bazaars that Mumbai has to offer is highly recommended! And all Bollywood fans should definitely go to the movies at least once.
Around Mumbai there are many beautiful places such as Lonavala, Pune, Ellora, Ajanta, Aurangabad, etc., which you can explore on weekend trips and also in Navi Mumbai itself there are beautiful places that are definitely worth a visit, e.g. the district Nerul with its beautiful temples, Belapur with its interesting cultural exhibitions, Vashi with its lively market street and the Kharghar Hills.
Did you travel in India?
I also had one more month to travel around the country as there were summer vacations at school. One of my roommates had booked a tour that took her across North India and I decided to join her.
Before the actual tour started, we had about five days to go on a small trip ourselves. We decided to start our journey in Amritsar. Amritsar is located near the Pakistani border, in the region called Punjab and is well known for one of the most beautiful Gurdwaras in the world – the so-called Golden Temple. But in addition to this beautiful religious site, you can visit the „Wagah Border“ and experience there the border closing ceremony, which takes place every day just before sunset. But the best thing about Amritsar are its restaurants, the so-called Dhabas, where you can drink the best lassis and eat the most delicious Parathas and Kulchas!
Our next stop was Dehli, because our guided tour started from there. We arrived two days early, so we decided to look at the sights that were not included in the tour, and even signed up for a Bollywood dance workshop! Dehli is simply a dream for every tourist as you can discover so much in the capital of India!
Two days later we started our tour through northern India. Our trip took us across Rajasthan to Agra and Varanasi and ended in Dehli.
All in all, my stay in India was the best thing I’ve ever experienced. I have learned so much about the culture, the people, but also a lot about myself. I can definitely recommend a stay in a foreign country to anyone!
Johanna (from Austria)
Join us in India and become a volunteer at the Mahima International Kindergarten and School!
Our participant Syhafitri, winner of our Weltenbürger scholarship, did a pre-medical internship in Tanzania and participated in our World Learner program in Zanzibar, where she learned about traditional medicine from a Zanzibari Herbalist. In our blog, she describes the differences between Zanzibar and Tanzania and tells us, why one can’t go to Tanzania without doing a safari and why her trip will always remain an unforgettable experience for her!
It was a cloudy day on a cold winter, as I left Halle (Saale) to Frankfurt am Main by train. This is my first time to travel alone to a far away country and was kind of excited with what is going to happen when I finally arrived in Moshi, Tanzania. New people, new cultures, and all of the new things that I will face soon!
KARIBU TANZANIA! (Welcome in Tanzania)
The airplane smoothly touched down the runway of Kilimanjaro International Airport after 8 hours flying. It was in the early morning, as the passengers left the aircraft. The weather was nice. The air was fresh and warm. And I, at that moment, was so excited. I couldn’t stop to thank God to bring me so far from home.
After taking my first pictures of Africa I went inside to the airport building and applied my visa in the immigration office. I didn’t face any difficulties in the airport and got a visa for 3 months.
My first impression of Tanzania was, “Wow, the people are friendly and kind! I think, my 2 months residence here are going to be great.’“
A driver from World Unite! – the organization, which organized my volunteering and internship program in Africa – picked me up and brought me to my host family in Moshi. The journey from the airport to my host family’s house was quite far away. It took more than 1 hour by car.
The long road was empty, the birds sang nicely and the sun started to come out from the east. On my left and right side I could see many trees, various crops and an endless view of steppe. Not far from my sight, there was mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa with 5895 meter high above sea level. I could see its snowy peak without any clouds which usually covered the top. It was incredible! One of my bucket list has been accomplished. The driver said to me many times, ‘’Oh Fitri, you are so lucky to see mount Kilimanjaro clearly!’’ And oh yeah, it was a nice day being warmly welcomed from both peaks of mount Kilimanjaro, Kibo and Mawenzi. I couldn’t hide my smile along the way to Moshi. It was a great start at the beginning of my adventure in Africa.
My first day in Tanzania was cool. I met almost all of the coordinators in Moshi and few volunteers from Germany who had also an orientation and cultural briefing on that day. We had a city tour together and were shown few places by Joseph, one of our coordinators.
Unlike Germany at that time, Moshi was so warm with its busy town on that day. We could see daladala (minibus), bajaj (auto rickshaw), bodaboda (taxi bike) everywhere in the town. People in Moshi use it as public transportations. The town itself isn’t big, but the center is crowded though. Along the big road we can see a lot of shops, art galleries, supermarkets, local restaurants and hotels. There is also a market, in which people sell their crops, such as beans, maize, bananas, and many more. The local tailors sew their handmade clothes, wallets, bags and headscarfs from Kitenge (a traditional fabric from east, west and central Africa) and sell it with good price in the street.
After having a city tour I was introduced to my host family. Family Tesha. They belong to Chagga’s tribe (the most famous Tanzanian tribe in Kilimanjaro region). My host father is a taxi driver and my host mother is a housewife. There are eight people living in the house, such as my guest parents, their son and his wife, two grandchildren, a housemaid and a worker. The house is big and has front and back yard. They planted various types of flowers and trees in front of the house. On the backyard there are a cowshed, hen houses and hutch. Also a big plantation of banana, sugar cane, maize and mango trees.
I still remember the time, when I came back from work and chilled under the mango tree in the garden. Or just went around the backyard and talked with people about life while staring at the view of Kilimanjaro mountain. They are warm-hearted people who treated me very well. They always cooked delicious local foods everyday and taught me about the agricultural system which is practiced for their livestock in this family. Besides it, I was also allowed to milk their dairy cows. It was a little bit hard but yet an unforgettable experience!
Anyway, this family has the best chai milk tea ever! I always got it every day for my breakfast. (P.S dear chai milk tea, you’ll always be missed!).
Oh yeah, about language barrier, actually my host father and his son can speak english fluently. But unfortunately, another family members can’t speak it well. So, sometimes it was hard for me to communicate or to tell what I want. At that moment, the body language played its role 😀
They also taught me some Kiswahili words (national language in Tanzania). It wasn’t that bad, although I had difficulties at the beginning because of the greetings. I was just confused, with which response I should react to the people if they greet me on the street. But, I could count from 1 to 10 without any problems XD.
On the second day I was picked up by Joseph to go to my placement. It was a health care dispensary and palliative care in Moshi, which is quite far away from my host family’s house. So, daladala for going there and back was required. It is a small hospital with a doctor in charge and five staffs, such two nurses, a pharmacist and two laboratory technicians. They were also kind to me and taught me patiently about how the things are working in that hospital. Even though I have been there just for a month, I already learnt a lot about medicine. My first two weeks were just for adaptation and overcoming the culture shock. I was longing for friends and missed Germany so bad. I had homesick.
But unlike my first weeks, on the next two weeks (my last weeks in Moshi), I could totally enjoy my work there. It was an unforgettable experience to take part in malaria and UTI (Urinary tract infection) test, giving injection to the patients and to learn about the various types of medicines. Another cool thing was, the doctor allowed me to assist her in the room and explained about the illnesses. At that moment I felt like I am a real medical student 😀
On the last day of my volunteering program we had a little farewell party in the hospital. We cooked chapatti (my favorite food in Moshi after rice with coconut milk), mchuzi (vegetables curry) and fried chickens. It was so nice but sad at the same time. It was a little bit hard to leave Moshi after one month volunteering.
Some people say, ‘’if you are in Africa but don’t take any safari tour, it means your trip is worthless and less nice.’’ So, on my birthday, I decided to take 2 days and 1 night safari in Tarangire National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It was cool to see four of big five african animals there and enjoy the beauty of Baobab and Acacia trees. Another bucket list wishes have already fulfilled!
The Safari tour was worthwhile though to do, at least once in a lifetime ☺ and this one became one of cool experiences of my life!
After having a lot of experiences in Moshi and learning about the cultures, I flew to Unguja, an island that belongs to Zanzibar archipelago, which is known as a spice island.
The anxiety came out as I landed in Abeid Amani Karume International Airport. It was in the evening after enjoying the sunset on the flight from Dar Es Salaam. I was worried, mainly about my new flat mates. Are they friendly? Will they accept me? Can I interact with them? And so on. There were a lot of annoying questions in my head as a driver drove me to Stone Town, western part of the island, where I will stay in for the next 4 weeks. I lived in a shared rent house with other volunteers. This time I had to take care of myself, because there was nobody who will prepare delicious breakfast, cook my dinner, give the hot water for me to take a bath and worry about me if I come home late.
Zanzibar is amazing!
I didn’t think before that, this time in Zanzibar would be the best time of the whole journey. As I had a city tour on the next day I felt like, I was in Indonesia. Everywhere I went, I could find most of the women and girls are wearing the hijab (headscarf). Also the moslem there used to say Salaam Alaikum (a moslem greeting which means, may peace be upon you) when they get in to daladala or when they meet people in the street. I was impressed! Besides it, the people are friendly and kind, the foods are super delicious, the beaches and sunset in Stone Town are amazing and I felt quite safe in Zanzibar. Living in Stone town reminds me a lot of Venice in Italy, because it is also like a labyrinth with a lot of small alleys inside. People can easily get lost during the first days in Stone Town.
While enjoying the evening in Forodhani Park we should not forget to taste the local foods (e.g Shawarma, Zanzibar pizza, urojo, seafoods, breads, chapatti) and beverages (e.g sugar cane juice with lemon and ginger, tamarind juice, avocado juice, passion juice and many more) in the night market. Most of the foods are expensive but it is worth to try ☺
In Zanzibar I had my agricultural internship for a month. I learnt about herbal medicine in a herbal hospital from the best herbalist in the island, who is famous as Mr. Madawa or in English, Mr. Herbalist. He is a great teacher, who taught me not just about the medicinal plants, but also about an important role of religion (in this case, Islam) in herbal medicine. During the lessons I used to have a lot of funs, because besides theory I had also practice for collecting herbs and making medicines. In other days we had spice tour in Kizimbani, which Mr. Madawa and the local people explained us about the herbs and spices in that area, and also visited ZARI (Zanzibar Agricultural Research Institute).
Finally, this amazing journey is over. It was an unforgettable experience in my life to learn about many things from a far away country. Being a solo traveler and challenged to discover new things in the new places are not bad at all. I don’t mind to try it again in another opportunity 😀
Baadaye Tanzania! (See you later Tanzania!) ☺
You’re in your gap year and are looking for a way to gain professional experience? You would like to reorientate yourself and would like to get a foothold in the hotel or tourism industry or start to study something related? Sebastian from Germany gained valuable experience in living and working in China during his 6-month hotel internship. Read more:
My internship in China was definitely a great experience! I worked as „Guest Relations Officer“ in a 5 Star Hotel in Beijing. I mainly worked in the lobby and at the reception. This included the concierge service (especially for foreign guests who didn’t speak Chinese), greeting guests, giving local recommendations, etc.
In addition, I answered emails and booking requests from guests in English and forwarded to my colleagues in charge in the hotel.
If there were language barriers between foreign guests and hotel staff, I was often often asked to assist and to translate.
Partly I also worked in the VIP service and in exceptional cases, I supported guests outside the hotel.
Part of my tasks, together with another intern, was collecting feedback from guests and sharing it with my supervisors.
In addition, in my hotel department I was responsible for the English training of the employees and the assessment of the English language skills of new applicants.
I would like to thank World Unite! and my local supervisors for the wonderful support during my time in China.
Read more about hotel internships in China!
Are you looking for a very special internship or volunteer placement in the cultural or tourism sector? Then you’re in the right place at Ise Shima National Park in Japan! Our participant Shima started her internship with the Ama women this week, women who dive here in a traditional way and gather seafood without any diving equipment!
Our coordinators Chris and Julia accompanied Shima from Tokyo to the Ise-Shima National Park for her internship.
Ama women’s techniques of diving in a traditional way without scuba gear and collecting seafood in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way are recognized as a UNESCO cultural world heritage. The Ama women are also considered the inventors of pearl farming.
Interns and volunteers work in the management of the Visitor Center and they support guides with the tours and boat trips. There are tourism professionals who can supervise interns.
Here you can find all information about this internship in Ise Shima.
Are you interested in animal and environmental conservation and do you have a special passion for penguins and sea birds? World Unite! participant Jan has volunteered in a penguin conservation project in South Africa for 7 weeks and made lots of great experiences!
Howzit! I’ve chosen the Penguin Conservation Project because the idea of working with these little black and white buddies sounded awesome to me. Also, South Africa sounded like a very attractive travel destination.
However, I didn’t think that I was going to have such a fantastic experience here and that I would friends here, for whom I’d love to be able to stay longer.
My name is Jan, I’m 20 years old and a volunteer at the Penguin Conservation Project in Port Elizabeth. My job here is to feed the penguins, to prepare fish and other foods for them and to wash and hang many, many towels 🙂 Beyond me actual tasks, helping hands are needed anytime at the centre – whether to clean up or the help the staff with their various tasks and activities. The daily walk to the beach is definitely one of the best parts of this project.
For me, life outside of my volunteering project is also a very exciting experience: We live in a large house with about 17 volunteers, located only 5 minutes from the beach. Every morning at breakfast I enjoy the beautiful sea view. Together with the other volunteers I cook every night and do all sorts of things together and it’s a wonderful experience to meet all these people from different countries. In fact, in the past weeks I’ve gained at least three very good friends here, and the first plans for meetings back in Europe are already in place.
I’m here in South Africa during late autumn and yet there are days with over 25°C and we can enjoy our free time on the beautiful beach of Port Elizabeth. I cannot list all my activities here, but the best ones were probably a bungee jump from the highest bungee jumping bridge in the world, a safari in Addo Elephant Park with buffaloes, zebras and elephants just a few inches away from our car, various weekend trips (including a few sometimes challenging, but still amazing hikes and breathtaking views at the end) and ultimately many fun and unforgettable evenings spent together with my new friends.
All in all, I highly recommended this experience and I am very grateful to have made my decision of coming to South Africa. Since my placement is now over, I will spend my last week here in Cape Town and then start my journey back home.
Best regards from PE!