A volunteer studying agriculture at the University of California, San Diego who worked at Yeonsan Ogye Farm for over half a year

Volunteer Farming as Work Experience

How many job applications did you submit before landing your first full-time job? In South Korea, it is perfectly normal for new graduates to submit over 50 applications just to receive their first offer. When everyone has the same educational qualifications, it is difficult to stand out from the crowd. Internships, summer jobs, and study abroad programs are just some of the many ways college students these days make potential employers notice their applications. These temporary work experiences demonstrate to employers that the applicant has learned the skills necessary to be productive employees worthwhile of investment.

For people not planning on joining the agricultural field, farming may seem like an odd skill to add to a resume, but farming is much more than planting seeds or weeding fields. Young people who have joined volunteer farming programs like WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farming), Work Away, or Helpx realized that through working on farms, they were able to flex their leadership skills, to learn how to adapt to different circumstances, to gain new skills, and to practice collaborating. Although these are useful skills in any situation, they are especially useful on job applications. By leveraging the experiences and skills gained through farming, anyone can make themselves more appealing at their next interview.

Egg collecting in Namyanju (left); A British volunteer fixing a water trough (right)

Capacity to Lead

Working on a farm is not so different from working in any job in that the most successful people are the ones that take the initiative in their work. Farming volunteers who are able to make the most impact for their hosts are the ones who are proactive about tasks. During the day, hosts are often preoccupied with a variety of problems in and outside the farm. They do not have the ability to give volunteers detailed instructions for every task or to immediately give out new tasks as they are finished. Because of the busy and spontaneous nature of farm work, the most effective volunteers recognize what needs to be done next and follows through with the task without being asked. This eagerness to go beyond what is explicitly stated makes many farming volunteers great leaders who can be trusted with the reins of a task or project and to lead it to a successful completion.

The Park Family finding a clever way to collect pine cones on their farm

Ability to Adapt

People who apply to work on farms are usually motivated by a desire to explore a foreign country. As such, volunteers often work in an alien environment in which they may not be well-acquainted with the local language or culture. They must also live with a local family who may or may not have had much experience interacting with foreign cultures or speaking in the mother tongue of the volunteer. In order for work and daily life to continue smoothly, volunteers must quickly learn the gist of the language, using basic words and gestures to get ideas across, understand the unwritten rules of the culture, and be able to react quickly in the event of misunderstandings. This ability to navigate unfamiliar situations that is often culturally and socially complex makes farming volunteers exceptionally skilled in other circumstances that require flexibility and empathy.

The matriarch of the Park Family freeing pine nuts from the cone using simple tools

Experience Learning New Skills on the Get-go

Presently, farm work is not a common childhood experience among young adults, and so many young volunteers must constantly challenge themselves with unfamiliar tasks on the farms they have chosen. Whether the duty is caring for animals, learning how to handle produce, or working in a restaurant kitchen, volunteers find themselves being challenged with new responsibilities every day. Even if they do not have an inkling of how to perform a certain task, they must try and be able to quickly complete it well lest they create more work for their host This drive to constantly learn new tools and skillsets despite the lack of background knowledge makes volunteers valuable employees who are able to keenly solve problems on short notice and often with little instruction.

Two volunteers from Hong Kong planting sprouted pumpkin seeds in Hwaseong

Skill in Collaboration

Working on farms also means constantly teaming up with fellow volunteers who come from diverse backgrounds, abilities, and tolerances. Despite any differences or barriers to communication, everyone must work together to complete tasks for their host. Although simple enough in theory, this ability to collaborate with unlike people is not a natural talent for many. Farm volunteers, however, find themselves flexing this skill on a daily basis and leave with a detailed understanding on how best to work with others.

Volunteers working and eating together in Nonsan

Although farms are not a traditional way of gathering work experience, the qualities that the most outstanding volunteers must exercise are also the ones that are needed to be successful at any job. No matter the field, anyone can use their farming experience as a way to show potential employers that they are well-worth the investment or to simply grow themselves to be a more exceptional individual.

A Korean volunteer experiencing farming for the first time

How to Join

Interested in farming but do not know where to start?

WWOOF offers programs in over 61 different countries, with hundreds of hosts for about $10–40 USD per year; Work Away has over 24,000 hosts all over the world who offer work from teaching to farming and everything in-between; Helpx offers mainly work in hostels or guesthouses, but there are plenty of farming communities and farmers looking for help as well.

No one is too inexperienced to join, so consider adding farming to your next trip as a way to not only bolster your resume but to gain a new and unique experience as well.

Still not convinced? Listen to tbs eFM Koreascape’s piece on WWOOFing in Korea (WWOOFing Trend in Korea) or watch the episode about WWOOF Korea host KIM Heon-sik (무릉리의 특별한 겨울이야기) on KBS Documentary Empathy (다큐공감) to learn more.

An American and Korean volunteer working together collecting pine branches for grafting