For 182 euros a week, volunteers give 20 hours of their time and get full room and board. This is an opportunity to fully emerge in French language and culture, while interacting with others from all ages and backgrounds.
Three week minimum commitment, and there are a range of jobs to do from construction to gardening, and much more.
former Volunteer — 19 February 2014, 08:00
La Giraudiere or: “Inexpensive” immersion into French life in an english speaking environment?
When looking for an opportunity to find an inexpensive way to spend a couple of weeks in France in order to improve language skills and experience for a while “real French life” and at the same time doing something useful, it didn´t take me long to find this project in Southwest France, which promises “immersion into french life” etc.
It is true that the project is located in a very nice area in a remote part of France with an open and friendly population, so if you have never been to France before and don´t speak any French, you might get something out of it, especially if you are a native English speaker. There are a lot of british people (including the project manager) living in the area and also the French people there are very willing to speak english, so you won´t have to feel like a stranger. But what about the idea of “immersion into rural French village life”, as promised on the homepage?
Despite of the fact that you will find positive reports about the project from other volunteers - mostly from overseas (who may not have been to France - or Europe - before and often didn´t stay longer than 2 - 3 weeks) I myself was very disappointed in the end and felt rather cheated by the man who is running the project. The longer I stayed, the more difficult it became to put up with certain things there, especially since I had the opportunity to gain some more insight in the way the project was run. And I was not alone - in fact, I experienced people leaving the place earlier - although they had to pay in advance for the whole time and therefore even lost money. Since I think it is very important that people who are idealistic and willing to help - and at the same willing to broaden their mind in an intercultural context - are not being taken advantage of, I would like to share some of my experience there.
The main problem for me was, that the project - manager (although he speaks of “we” on his homepage, the project is definitely a “one - man show”) is not very open to the needs of the volunteers he invites. E.g. he would never ask us whether everything was o.k. or if we needed anything and by no way is he open to any kind of criticism. Once people started asking for simple things (like some more fruit apart from apples or a proper place to dry your washing during - numerous rainy and damp - days or some heat when it was very cold) he often would become very impatient and even grumpy and unfriendly. Since a lot of the equipment and installations ( like showers, doors etc.) were very cheaply and not professionally done, there were constant problems (water from the shower flooding the kitchen!) - also due to a lack of maintenance. The manager continuously denied any responsibility and simply blamed it on the volunteers not taking care of things. When we left the apartment in the fall, we noticed that the walls in one bedroom that had been very humid from the beginning, were soaking wet inside!
He also promises things on his homepage ( and in the end makes you pay for them, since allegedly it is “included in the price”) that are not really on offer, like “3 meals a day 7 days per week”: Well - on the weekends the fridge could be quite empty and you were also expected to pay for your own food on sunday evenings when the group traditionally goes to a restaurant or on the outings that are part of the program.
Of the promised 8 bikes (which are quite important as a means of transportations in this remote area) only two were halfways functioning ( a situation that is already described by a volunteer in 2008!), the rest was rusty and rotten and could not even be repaired!
It is also claimed on the homepage that volunteers should bring their own ideas - according to their interest. I was interested in doing gardening and therefore had brought some books and ideas with me. When I tried to discuss this with the manager, I didn´t find him to be open to new ideas by any means, he would hardly listen and even ridicule or question suggestions.
In fact he made it very clear, that at this point he needed people to renovate the rooms in the back and that was it. Since I didn’t like this work at all, I asked him whether I could help at least with restoring some of the wooden items, which would have interested me more, but he wasn´t responsive at all. In general I and others didn´t find him very encouraging as far as people´s work and their interests and strengths were concerned. I also found him to be rather prejudiced and simplifying when it came to other cultures and nations. Luckily the other volunteers were very nice and open, so we supported each other and mostly still had a good time there with each other.
The manager also knew very little about ongoing activities, he basically only knew what was happening in the village (usually football, poker and petanque - boules) or occasionally a fleemarket or a village feast in the area. And there he wouldn´t even make this information accessible to everyone, he just told some people that he would be going there in his small car the next day and could take no more than 4 people. Since public transport was very limited, you couldn´t get to these places other than by car. When people were trying to find their way to some alternative activities, he would even make negative remarks about their initiative. When working on the homepage of the project, I and other volunteers began to find quite a few false - and somewhat unrealistic - promises and ideas there. (We also found that a couple of pages have been “currently under construction” since 2011!)
E.g. he promised - amongst other things - French lessons included in the price on the page of a 2013 Christmas project. At the very bottom of another page - completely unrelated to the Christmas activity - you suddenly could find a small hint to this particular project: “Please note for the Christmas program we may not have French teachers available as they also need their holiday but if so then additional excursions still be planned. Meals will be different (?) and some of the normal weekly events will not be available but these will be replaced by outings”
I am pointing this out, because - according to my experience - this incident strikes me as being very typical for the way he is running the place.
Despite of the fact, that the project is officially trying to serve a social purpose (like helping the local community, which is actually in quite good shape and functioning well anyway) the impression I gained was, that the goal of this project is basically helping the owner and manager of the place getting the place renovated and restored and at the same time earning some money via the volunteers weekly contribution in order to pay the debts he still has on this house. He himself admitted at some point, that the goal of receiving school groups from abroad in order to learn French is not very realistic - which I would fully agree to.