Thursday, 4 July 2013

My Workaway International Experience - Deon van Zyl

If someone asked me which words I would use to describe my working experience through Workaway International, the few that spring to mind would be: “Wow,” “Amazing” and “I would go back if I could!”
At the age of 19 I was a typical blond-haired, blue-eyed mommy’s boy who decided to jump onto a plane and fly 16,000km over the ocean to go and work in a foreign country.  Not knowing anything about being independent, I decided that what I make of this new and exciting challenge was up to me.  I arrived at JFK international Airport filled with excitement, and not to mention fear - lots of it!
Glen Oaks Country Club was the first club I worked at on the Workaway program.  Upon our arrival at the club, I could see the excitement and nerves that were battling it out amongst my fellow successful recruits.
At Glen Oaks, I worked in the kitchen which was a very big learning experience for me, bearing in mind all the different cultures in the USA.  What made Glen Oaks very special was that they really made everybody feel at home and that, although we were there to work, they ensured that we had an amazing time while doing so.

When we were not working too hard at the Country Club, we went sight-seeing and explored New York - from walking down Wall Street, to visiting the Statue of Liberty, to taking the bus tour through the Bronx.  We ate food from the local stands around the city – the hot dogs weren’t too bad, but a proudly South African Boere Wors Roll still doesn’t compare!

We took trips to Six Flags (an adventure park) and even went on fishing trips and watched shows on Broadway.  Glen Oaks was a fantastic experience which I will never forget.  Even after a long and hard season at the Country Club, they showed their appreciation for our hard work and spoiled us with big farewell dinner – the perfect way to end off our season at the club.
For some of us, Glen Oaks was not the end of the road as we were given the opportunity to sign up for Workaway’s Winter program and found ourselves on the sunny beaches of Florida.
In Florida we had the opportunity to visit all the Disney parks, Universal studios, Cape Canaveral, and the NASA Base.  Seeing all these places in “real life” was just spectacular.

When the Winter season eventually came to an end, I was not looking forward to ending my journey and going back home.  I spoke to the Clubhouse manager at Sailfish Point and they were keen to accept me on to their student training program, enabling me to work at the Country Club for another two years.  I was so excited to be able to stay on at the club and it was all thanks to Sailfish Point and Workaway International!
Working at Sailfish Point independently and not as part of the Workaway program, I had to get my own place and mode of transportation.  I found a great flat and a roommate, and I bought myself a motorcycle to commute to and from work. Everything was going perfect - I had the dream job, dream location and everything that I needed.

Tragically that all ended in a split second when I was hit by a drunk driver on 07 April 2006.  I was rushed to hospital where they informed me that my spine was broken and that I would never be able to walk again. This was a very tough time for myself, as well as my family who were back home in Cape Town.  After receiving the news they struggled to get into the US to come and see me in hospital.  Were it not for Bill Mayville and Workaway stepping in to help and arranging for my family to come out and see me in the States, I don’t think it ever would have happened. This proved to me that once you have been on the Workaway program, you are always a part of the family and they are more than willing to go the extra mile to help you out.

After spending three months in hospital it was time to say goodbye to my family at Sailfish Point.  The amount of appreciation I have for Bill and the Workaway team is indescribable. Without them I would not be the person I am today!
It was scary heading back to South Africa as I was not the same person I was when I first left, but I decided to pick myself up and I carried on with my life.  I sometimes feel that I am better off now than I was before.

Would I recommend this program to anybody else? 100% yes!  Workaway gave me the opportunity of a lifetime and you should keep living your dream no matter what.  Take the chance and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it!

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