Working Holiday Experiences

By : Chase Davidson 

In this next feature, I’ve decided to not only include my personal experiences with a Working Holiday situation, but have also gained valuable insight from others who have gone on to experience a whole new opportunity in life. Each of the next few people who have gratefully answered some major questions are from perhaps different backgrounds, nationalities and therefore offer different opinions.

“Get out there and just do it! Don’t hesitate!”

Let me first introduce you to Jelena Avekvist. Jelena is 23 years old and from the nordic country of Sweden. She was first introduced to skiing at the age of 12 by her father before eventually switching over to snowboarding in recent years because she “thought it looked cool.” Growing up in Sweden, Jelena explained that snowboarding isn’t quite as popular as it is in Canada where she did her one and only Working Holiday Visa.

Before her Working Holiday experience took place in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Banff, Canada; She had worked a previous two seasons at a small resort called Branäs approximately five hours from the city of Gothenburg, Sweden. In these two seasons, she worked as a ski instructor working primarily with kids aged 3 to 12. The path to becoming an instructor inevitably allowed herself to become more outgoing, and have more comfortable conversations with both children and adults alike. A valuable experience that she then carried over to Canada.

Once in Canada, she acknowledges she partook in more social outings in order to create new friendships within the community. Canada being her first true living experience abroad, she admits she was nervous to begin speaking English and making mistakes. Upon arriving in Banff, she stayed a few weeks at a local hostel which helped her to meet other like minded individuals who were traveling abroad or across Canada for the upcoming season which helped ease her in to the culture. If there is one thing she would like to express to others wondering how to fit in or become comfortable in a new location, is to go in with an open mind.

The hardest part she remembers about getting her WHV to Canada was the gathering of information needed to apply for the visa. With her ski instructing background, she then applied for two separate jobs in Whistler and Banff (Sunshine Village), the latter in which she took. How does one choose which resort could offer a better experience? Jelena decided to go with Banff because of the high volume of candidates that would be in Whistler. Whistler is known to employ over 1,000 instructors compared to Sunshine Village employing just over 100.

Jelena believes that a community makes all the difference when it comes to an experience both over seas and at home. She’s now done two more additional seasons in Branäs since her travels abroad and what she loves about Branäs is in fact, the community. A tight knit community where everyone knows each other and gets along becomes a family of sorts.

After having experienced 5 snow seasons already, she’s anxious to continue progressing in her desired field. Albeit not having gone to a post secondary institution, she has found a passion with working with kids and has such been leading children’s activities in Branäs since returning back to Sweden. She still has a desire to attend a post secondary education when the time is right and also sees herself doing another season abroad in perhaps Australia or New Zealand. At this time however, she feels comfortable home in Sweden.

Jelena hopes to one day make the trip up to northern Sweden to experience skiing under the midnight sun at Riksgränsen. What’s her advice to anyone looking to do a Working Holiday visa for the first time?

“It makes you grow in ways you couldn’t imagine if you never take the chance.”

The next person I’m going to introduce you to is from South America; Chile to be exact! Tomas Cienfuegos is 28 years old and has been living the snow life for a decade now with five full seasons under his belt. Having done board sports since he was a little kid, it was no coincidence that he decided to pick up snowboarding over skiing.
At this moment, Tomas has just made it over to the stunning country of Austria where he continues to put his geographic education to good use. Upon his university graduation in 2017, he quickly jumped on his first Working Holiday destination. He chose Canada out of the love for the mountains and from there, he was able to meet a ton of new people that eventually lead him over to the land down under for another season at Thredbo, Australia.

He explains that most of his snow seasons back home in Chile were often times going to uni throughout the week and then venturing up into the snow on the weekends. He has ambitions to continue on travelling via the Working Holiday visas before he returns back home up until he can no longer do so due to the age restrictions that accompany said visa. Tomas has already got a few destinations on his mind, including France, New Zealand, Japan and the possibility of returning to Canada. Luckily for Chileans, he’s got another 7 years of experiences awaiting him!

The jobs that he has found throughout the seasons abroad have been a way to continue saving money and giving him the freedom to pursue his passion of videography. Tomas looks at each new destination as an opportunity to learn not only more about the different cultures, but also to look within and learn more about himself. He thrives on the feeling of impermanence. The idea of building a life for only a set amount of time before letting go and moving onto the next provides a feeling like no other.
Of course, with building a life and letting go comes the goodbyes of family and friends. Tomas looks at these moments as a life exercise. It allows him to live life with gratitude, and appreciate every moment with the people you have around you knowing you may or may not ever see them again.

With a bright future ahead and plans of future Working Holiday visas, a piece of advice he gives to others who are looking to escape their comfort zone is give it a try. The more he’s travelled, the more appreciation he’s built not only for his home country of Chile, but gains him an appreciation for himself in realizing how lucky we are to be able to choose this life.

At times, there are situations that hold you back but Tomas admits that choosing to travel alone has been one of his greatest choices. The freedom to move about and try new things really opens your mind. Welcome in the bad times that are sure to arrive, but understand that these situations are there to help you in the long term. When it comes to choosing where you’d like to work, he can’t stress enough to escape the city and head into the countryside. Enjoy the nature that a new country shows you. Don’t panic when it comes to making new friends, and embrace the opportunity you have by yourself. Tomas agrees that finding a job can be quite difficult at times within a new country, but by being open minded and allowing oneself to be money mindful, he is still able to save money to invest back home.

For Chileans, it can be a bit of a pain when it comes to getting a WHV in some countries due to the popularity that has arisen. For countries such as Canada for example, one must enter into a type of lottery in hopes of being chosen but if you never throw that line in the water, you may never get a bite.

“Don’t be picky with your jobs, and embrace each of your opportunities.”

As you know, Australia isn’t quite known for their abundance of snow. However, in the southeastern area bordering the states of Victoria and New South Wales is the astonishing Snowy Mountains. This next person I’ll be introducing has found her passion in the snow to be life changing and if not for her Working Holiday Visa experience in Whistler, Canada, she doesn’t know what she’d be doing otherwise. Let me introduce you to 28 year old, Courtney Evans of Australia.

Courtney first took the Working Holiday leap back in 2015, but unlike most others that found themselves working in the ski industry, she chose a different path all together. She had attended university prior to the WHV, and obtained a bachelors of business. Her desire to travel eventually lead her out of the homeland and across the globe to the United Kingdom. She found that by working abroad, she was able to save a significant amount of money by building into the economy versus spending continuously on travel. The allowed her to see more of the country in spurts rather than one giant mission. 

London was to be her base of sorts while she explored the countryside in her free time. She states that there was quite a difference in the music & arts culture which she adored. With Australia being so distant, it’s often harder for bands to do tours where as in the UK, Courtney admired the amount of gigs she was able to attend a lot more frequently.

 After two wonderful years in Europe, it was time to head back home but that didn’t mean she was taking the next direct flight back. While in England, she obtained a WHV next for Canada where she found her true passion in the snow. Like most Australians that go to Canada, she opted for Whistler and began learning to snowboard with her friends. When asked why she decided to choose snowboarding over skiing, the answer was simple.

“All my friends were doing it, so I just followed."

For the past three years now, she’s been living her dream back in the Snowy Mountains at Thredbo Ski Resort where she works as the restaurants and functions manager. With a long term boyfriend and adorable six month old pup, balancing the work life and social life can be difficult at times. She enjoys these life challenges that continue to come year after year. As a new season begins, she sets goals on how she can improve both on the side of business, and personal growth. Even though Thredbo provides quite the village life, her escape back to the lakeside town of Jindabyne lets her keep a healthy distance from her workplace.

The passion for the snow shines throughout her restaurant as she carefully hires accordingly. When the time comes for interviews, Courtney aims to build a family of sorts within her department and looks at both experience and attitude equally to gel the workplace together. By organizing group rides, celebrations and various other activities, the idea is to let everyone leave with the greatest memories possible. Of course, it must be a bit strange having to always hire new people year after year but Courtney loves it. The thought of a fresh new environment and the chance to meet all different types of personalities and nationalities is exactly what she enjoys about the hospitality industry.

The idea of doing another Working Holiday Visa still lies in her mind but due to her previous experience, she has found comfort in where she is at in life. Quickly stating that if she hadn’t taken that initial step, she may still be looking for what she has found. 

As for others looking to escape into a WHV, the best advice she can give is to just give it 100%. Go for it, don’t look back. You’ll always be able to go back home, but you’ll never know what you could have had if you don’t try something new. If it’s the worry of making new friends that scares you off, Courtney suggests staying in a long term hostel to start. That way you will meet others and have nightly plans to socialize. Perhaps it’s the thought of having to search for a new job once again. If that’s the case, jump into the hospitality industry because not only is it another great means to meeting other individuals but there is always room for improvement. Remember, we are humans; Be yourself, ask questions and don’t be scripted.

“Get some distance from your everyday life.”

The final person that I’ll be happily introducing comes from none other than Deutschland aka Germany. At 24 years old, Laura Castillo has completed one Working Holiday Visa and has since been studying at the university of Trier. She aims to complete a bachelors of science in psychology, a subject she has always shown great interest in.

Laura obtained her WHV for Canada back in 2017 after carefully researching a few other potential destinations. Why did she decide on Canada in the end? The beautiful nature it presented matched with the immense size of the country allowed her to believe there was much to see. Like many before, she had no intentions of doing a snow season upon landing in Vancouver. Her initial motive was to buy a vehicle and travel up to Alaska, That she did!

When she returned back to Vancouver after the unforgettable experience, she had a deep desire to live in the snow covered Rockies. Thus is when she applied to work at Sunshine Village directly in the heart of Banff National Park. A simple choice that would not doubt shape her perspective more than she could ever have anticipated.

It was in Banff where Laura got her first opportunity to ski and snowboard. Both sports are often associated with a wealthy life in Germany and can be difficult to do not only due to the costs, but also the distance needed to travel for supreme terrain such as the Alps in Switzerland and/or Austria. She decided to start off with skiing with no real motive but eventually switched over to snowboarding within three months because as she states ‘The turns just felt so much better on a board.

"Before the move to Canada, she felt as though she was working in an unhealthy, yet well paying office job, but it was working as a day cleaner in Banff that allowed her to feel joyful each day. Having the opportunity to socialize with guests and friends while she moved about her daily chores allowed her to meet interesting people from all over the world and hear their stories. With a couple days off each week, she felt she never had to worry about making plans. Living in such a surreal location gave her the freedom to do what she liked in any given circumstance.

Of course, there is that party mentality that we’ve all heard so much about when it comes to a ski season. Laura was able to cope with that by finding a steady balance between a healthy social life and work life. As a cleaner, she knew what kind of mess she might have to endure the following morning which helped her stay inside, using that time to relax and focus on her future goals.

The one thing she can’t stress enough to someone looking to obtain their first WHV experience is to ignore organizations that are there to help you. Do the research yourself. Independency is something we must all eventually obtain through life, and she believes that first step dealing with all the paperwork is the perfect first approach to just that. Jump into it head first but carry zero expectations along with it. When entering a new life phase such as this where you may not know anyone or the culture that accompanies said country, it’s best to keep an open mind and take things as they come.

Just as others have suggested, Laura also recommends first moving to a hostel in a city in order to meet other like minded individuals. Some of whom could be seasoned veterans when it comes to a Working Holiday and others who may be in the exact same boat as yourself. Be social, open up to others about your travel plans and who knows, maybe your future travel buddy is just waiting for the same opportunity as you.

While she continues her education in Trier, the thought of a future Working Holiday still looms. New Zealand has been a country at the top of her list for years and after meeting so many wonderful Kiwi’s over the years that have shown her the beauty of the country through photographs. It’s perhaps just a matter of time before she makes the jump yet again. With an interest in opening a café or hostel, maybe you’ll get the chance to meet Laura for yourself one day and share your own story.

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