I came to the The HoBB after five months of traveling around Europe. It sounds like a cliche, but as soon as I arrived, I did feel right at home. As an Australian with British ancestry, I felt I was pretty familiar with the set up of the house, the kinds of meals I was eating and the general lifestyle. What I now know is that in many respects I was wrong.
When you travel, staying in hotels or hostels, eating out or cooking pasta with pesto in a poorly equipped YHA kitchen, it often feels that you are skimming the surface of a country; a spectator on a game other people are playing. When you volunteer at a place like The HoBB, you are right in the game.
Because I was living day-to-day with local people, talking with Helen and Grant about the shire, the country and the world, I came to see how many interesting differences there are between life at The HoBB and my own life at home. Differences that I would certainly have missed had I just been passing through on a tour, or even roaming around under my own steam.
During my stay at The HoBB I also learned more than I could have imagined about Chinese culture from talking to Yan. Working with other volunteers and learning about their backgrounds is like a fantastic lucky dip. You don't know who you will meet or what they will teach you, but you will always end up a better-informed, more well-rounded person on the other side.
So, do you know the history of the borderlands between England and Wales? Do you know what badgers and hedgehogs do at night? Can you fire up a forge? Have you looked out over two countries from the ruins of a bronze age castle? Can you tell when a wild blackberry is ripe? Do you know what hydroponics is? If you are traveling, have you had a proper conversation with someone from a different culture lately, that went beyond "Where are you from?" or "What did you see today?" Since visiting The HoBB, I can proudly say 'Yes'.