5 Lessons I Learnt Doing A Work Exchange In Norway People of Interest

After stumbling on an article about how to travel on a budget, Lim Yi Rui, 26, went on a work exchange trip to Norway that changed his life. 

Lighthouses have fascinated Lim Yi Rui for as long as he can remember, and he was actually searching for lighthouse wallpaper when he came across a friend’s Facebook post about how to travel cheaply. That eventually led him to Workaway, a site that connects hosts and volunteers. How it works: Volunteers give their labour and time on a certain project in exchange for food and lodging.

After doing a little more research, Yi Rui knew exactly where he wanted to go: Litløy Lighthouse on an island located close to the village of Bø, Nordland in Norway, which is in the Arctic Circle, where he would help restore and renovate the property, and make the island accessible to visitors. Here’s what he learnt after two months there.

The lighthouse

The lighthouse

1. Be grateful for acts of kindness and pay it forward

“Just five days into working on the island, a freak accident led me to break one of my index fingers. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, and I continued working. After a week or two, however, I realised that I could no longer ignore my injury. My finger was swollen and started to become infected, and I knew I could no longer put off a hospital visit to get it treated. After the treatment, I headed back to the island to continue working. I was afraid of what the hospital bills would cost, and that I would be kicked off the island because I was deemed to no longer be ‘useful’. In the end, the dire circumstances meant that I did have to leave the island earlier than I had planned.

I carried on working for another couple of weeks, but had to visit the hospital again as my finger was not healing well – in fact, I was pretty sure I had broken it again. The doctor that treated me this time was extremely kind. I had to be anaesthetised to undergo the surgery and as such, a stay at the hospital was necessary. I told the doctor that I didn’t really have the means to do so. When I came out of surgery, I found out that she had had the expenses taken care of – I didn’t have to pay a single cent for my surgery or the stay in the hospital. Imagine my surprise as there was no real reason for her to help me out, and yet, she did. That kindness really left an indelible mark on me, and it was a crucial reminder that it was really the simplest acts of kindness that make the world go round. It broadened my horizons and opened my eyes to the plight of people who have it worse than I do. Everyone, in one way or another, has their own struggles we may not always know about, and it doesn’t hurt or cost anything to be kind.”

The Midnight Sun from a mountain top

The Midnight Sun from a mountain top

2. Learn to appreciate the little things

“Another thing I learnt is that I actually don’t need that much to be happy … just food, a roof over my head, and good company. One of the Couchsurfing hosts I stayed with taught me how to dumpster dive. Yep, for a few days, I literally lived off food that I picked out of the trash. My host showed me some of the best places to go to do this, usually the dumpster closest to a supermarket or bakery. You’d be appalled at the just how much food is being wasted. Stuff that is perfectly edible is thrown out every day just because it’s reached its ‘use-by’ date. Of course, I was filled with apprehension when I first did this … but after feeling perfectly fine after feasting like a king for a few days for practically nothing, I had newfound appreciation for this way of life.”

3. Go with the flow … but always have an emergency plan in place

“I could not stay on the island as long as I had planned due to my injury and surgery. But things always happen for a reason. Because my work exchange was cut short, I had the chance to visit so many places in Norway that I had not initially planned for. I couchsurfed, worked on a farm cleaning out barns, went on spontaneous hikes, stayed in a lighthouse on my own overnight, visited a university that I had always wanted to visit … all that because I broke my finger. But while I am all for going with the flow, I highly recommend being sensible about it too. Yes, go on that spontaneous adventure … but make sure you buy travel insurance first.”

Lofoten,  one of the places Yi Rui visited on his trip

Lofoten, one of the places Yi Rui visited on his trip

4. Travel needn’t be a pricey endeavour once you get creative about it

“I had always cited a ‘lack of resources’ as one of the reasons I didn’t embark on such a trip earlier in my life. But travel is so much more than fancy hotels and checking things off a planned itinerary. Having Couchsurfed my way through most of this trip, I would say that it’s now my first-choice method of seeing the world. The unpredictability of it is really exciting. It helps you meet people you wouldn’t normally meet, and experience a country’s culture and quirks through the eyes of locals.”

5. Travelling on your own helps you see the forest for the trees

“Before embarking on this trip, I would say that my life was pretty ‘formulaic’. I wasn’t really the sort to rock the boat, so to speak. Since returning from this trip, I have a clearer idea about what I want to do with my life. I had initially planned to further my studies in Australia, but I have since decided to apply for a place in a Norwegian university – the one that I had visited on my trip. I’m also learning the Norwegian language and found that I really enjoyed carpentry – all thanks to my experience working on the island. I’d say that the trip also instilled in me a kind of quiet confidence; I had overcome so many physical and mental challenges there that I know I have it in me to do so much more with my life than I have so far.”

If you are interested in a work exchange programme, check out Workaway here.

She may have been born and bred in Singapore, but Denise considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and needs to make a yearly pilgrimage there to maintain her sanity. Competitive by nature, she enjoys combat sports and is currently obsessed with Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which she picked up just under a year ago. To no one’s surprise, the country currently at the top of her travel bucket list is Brazil.

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