Post Grad Life of Katie Slocum, Series 1

As part of our new Post Grad Life segment in which we feature interesting stories from new college graduates and professionals about life outside the lecture halls, today we share the first in a series of post by Katie Slocum who recently graduated from UCSC and immediately jetted off to Europe to pursue WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms).


Thunder and lightning woke me up last night and, after a humid reprieve this afternoon, thick sonorous showers pelt down on the craggy roof of the 16th century Sicilian country house. The sprawling hillsides etched with vineyards and remnants of Greek temples in the distance are veiled behind the white hazy sheets of water. I'm alone. I've come to Sicily to pick olives and to rediscover who I am and what I want. I'm 25 years old and I feel like I traded everything important in my life to be here.

In June, I graduated from UCSC with honors in anthropology. My five-year live-in partner ended our relationship. I didn't get the promotion my degree had warranted at my job at a company I had once felt valued me. I quit. I packed up everything I owned and left all comfort and familiarity behind. I figured, student loan payments don't kick in for six months. Where could I go? Where will life take me? It's always been a dream of mine to see the world. I studied anthropology because people, architecture, language, history, all fascinate me. Who are we? Who are we becoming? How are we different? How are we alike?

I decided to try WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). WWOOF is an international volunteer program where hosts with farms offer free room and board in exchange for volunteer labor. Hundreds of countries and regions participate in this program, and I was tempted to go to tropical regions and just lay on beaches. But that felt too easy. I set my sights on Europe. I had never been before, and I had always imagined I would do it with friends or a lover, envisioning myself rich in laughter and love. Yet, I have to learn how to live in this world on my own. I knew I had to do this alone. As much as I long to see the world I know it's people, so too did I want to know myself. What have I learned? What stories and ghosts make up who I am today? How can I use my experiences to carve out a life that is wholly my own?

On September 9th, when I would have usually been starting school, I stepped onto the breach of post-grad life and flew to London, which would serve as a gateway to my European WWOOFing adventure. London was to be my five-week foray into cosmopolitan, touristy exploration. Here I would allow myself a buffer time to get used to being alone, relying on my own two feet, soaking up history and coffeeshops before retreating to the countryside to work on farms. In October I would travel to Sicily to help an elderly couple with their olive harvest but this time was for relaxing and enjoying leisurely spectatorship.

It was Alfred, Lord Tennyson who wrote, "I cannot rest from travel: I will drink life to the lees!" Taking these words to heart, I started hitting the pavement, choosing to walk as my main modality of transport, though the easy-to-use underground and bus system were very helpful for weary legs. I had at my disposal free time every day that I could fill with London's myriad free libraries, museums, beautiful architecture, pubs and specialty coffee shops. Lucky to have a friend who works in at a company who has a satellite office there, I emerged from the train station and into central London, where she had a flat round the corner from the British Museum.

On a rainy Monday morning, I took my first trip inside the towering arched lobby, where the ceiling is an ascendant white dome reminiscent of what I imagine the halls of Elysium might have looked like. Within, I wandered floors and floors, rows and rows of specimens, clocks, paintings and curiosities to satisfy any history buffs desire to touch the past, and beautiful enough to satisfy anyone regardless of familiarity with our ancestors. We ate dinner on the trendy Charlotte Street, which boasts many restaurants and pubs that were filled and buzzing, even on a weekday.

Not far from that street is my favorite pub, a rustic underground bar named Jerusalem, where the bartender gave me a kiss on the cheek and made me a drink called a "Bonbon." The night I first visited Jerusalem was the inaugural night of the Rugby World Cup, yet the crowd in the bar seemed apathetic toward the screens of men on the green field colliding into each other. The bars, the restaurants, and the streets were filled with young, well-dressed, professionals, and London seemed to attract diversity, beauty and elegance. A short walk from my friend's apartment was Regent's Park where I spent sunset jogs and afternoon walks among rose gardens, fountains, trees and wide-open spaces. Each morning I would grab an espresso and head out on foot, rain or shine. Being a barista at a speciality coffee shop back home, I bypassed the Starbucks and Prets on every corner and sought out gems like Tap, Store Street Espresso, Kaffeine, and Monmouth. London is a cultural conversion and an international city, so it only makes sense that it is brimming with cafes that take coffee sourcing, roasting and preparation seriously.

Some of my favorite places were Covent Garden Market, Seven Dials, Shakespeare's globe and of course, the iconic bridges and buildings lining the Thames. My most cherished memories of London are those where it was just me, walking solo on hallowed cobblestone sidewalks where hundreds of years of history and millions of souls have tread. London is a place where someone like me can feel as though I was touching the past, all while being thrust into the fast-paced cosmopolitan future.

Keeping up with the weight of the pound compared to my American dollar was difficult, however. London was so expensive and I even had the luxury of having a free place to stay. At the end of four weeks, I had one week left before Sicily and I began fearing for my budget. So, I used my WWOOF UK membership and I searched for hosts that had places near central London. I was fortunate to find this little family living in south London, in a neighborhood called Furzedown. The towering skyscrapers and hoards of tourists gave way to red brick suburbs, strollers and queues of elementary school children in hunter green plaid uniforms. Mike was the gentle and smiley father who rode his bicycle to school every day to teach electronics and robotics. Tania was the matriarch and WWOOF coordinator, in her early forties and spending her days as a child minder. She was spunky, with short auburn hair, square glasses and an affinity for the color purple. Everything was purple, from the front door of the flat, to her purse, the couch, even her gardening gloves were purple. She was an Irish-born, Scotland-raised former nurse who had left nursing behind to raise her two girls, Isabella who was eight and Sophia who was 5.

She took to watching other children when Isabella was still a baby and realized she had a knack for it. Her new profession also gave her a chance to have more time to work in the backyard garden and greenhouse, and tend to the two allotments the family had obtained in nearby fields. However, as the kids got older she found that she had less time and so became a WWOOF host to have workers like me pick up the slack. I spent a lovely grey week cleaning the greenhouse, harvesting tomatoes, grapes and apples, clearing wild arugula (or "rocket" as it's called in the UK), unearthing onions and preparing delicious vegan foods. They happily took me in as a surrogate daughter, treating me as an equal and trusting me to cuddle and babysit their daughters.

After dinner, we'd have tea and catch up on movies or British reality shows. I really felt cared for and part of the family. Out in the garden was a little cabin they'd built for WWOOFers and I got to sleep all cozy in that little wooden house, waking up to squirrels running across the roof. That week was such a contrast between the solitary fast-paced London I'd grown used to. Being at their house almost felt like being in a completely different city than London, felt like going back home to rural California. Then, just as suddenly as I got there, I left to ride the underground to Victoria station and the train to Gatwick airport. Sicily, its olives, strong winds, warm days, thunderstorms and pasta awaited me.


Stay tuned for more of Katie's adventure in Sicily. Email us at info@betterdorms.com if you have an interesting story to share.
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