Laure Virco was our coworker and fellow WorkAwayer while we stayed at Hopewell Lodge in Marlborough Sounds.
Laure Virco, 27, cannot sit still. She is constantly in motion, wiping down kitchen counters and straightening couch cushions, long after her work days are finished. Each leaf on the veranda is a menace and every book must be upright under Virco’s careful eye.
Virco is working at a hostel in New Zealand for six months in order to improve her English. She hails from Vesoul, in the north east of France, near Switzerland.
“It’s not a famous town,” she said with a wink and a click of her tongue.
A thick French accent, expressive eyes and charismatic grin make Virco’s stories engaging, even when her English trips. When she finds something ridiculous she shakes her head and utters, ‘Ai, ai ai.’ She has an easy and eager laugh, ready to turn her sharp wit on any nearby recipients.
Virco cultivates a large collection of New Zealand wine, always counting down the hours until her daily glass of riesling and slim cigarette at 5 p.m. sharp. When the cliche is pointed out, she laughs and replies, “I am French!”
Virco was supposed to come to New Zealand last June, but her plans changed last minute.
“I had scooter accident in Vietnam,” Virco said. She mimed her hands colliding together and laughed. “I have crashed with a man. We have hit together, two scooters.”
Her broken finger meant that Virco could not work and had to return to France for two months before flying to New Zealand.
In September, Virco moved to Hopewell Lodge in Marlborough Sounds at the very northern part of the South Island. She will be there until March through a work exchange program called WorkAway.
Virco knew very little English when she came to New Zealand and is mostly self-taught from 6 a.m. study sessions. Each morning she sits in the Common Room for an hour or more, pinching her cheeks and speaking with her tongue at the back of her teeth until guests start to wander in.
At 9:30 a.m. her workday begins. She strips beds, folds laundry, cleans bathrooms, and prepares bedrooms for three hours a day in exchange for free room and board. She is typically done with work by midday, much to Virco’s dismay.
“Usually it is five or six hour per day when you are WorkAway. I need, I prefer. Three hours and after what?” she said, gesturing to the dark clouds outside. “It’s raining!”
On sunny days, Virco enjoys swimming, hiking and “taking the sun.” In January, she plans to hike and camp one of the famous New Zealand Te Araroa treks.
“I will take two weeks, or three weeks, to walk in the South Island with my tent,” she said. “I would like to walk from maybe St Arnaud to Arthur’s Pass.
She has no other plans to explore New Zealand. She is not a tourist here, she is a student. Excepting those two weeks in January, Virco will stay at Hopewell until she flies back to France in March.
“I study the Design Interior by correspondence and I have to pass a test in May,” she explained. “I have a big — how do you say dossier — a project to prepare. Like a house or something like that.”
She is not done traveling. Virco will work in Switzerland for six months, save up some money, and then head somewhere new.
“I would like to learn Spanish when I come back. I like to learn,” she said with a shrug. “I need to practice every year or every two years […] because after you lose the word.”
Virco looked around the Common Room, nodding to some guests making breakfast.
“Maybe I will come back here in next winter,” she paused, and then winked and clicked her tongue. “Or I will be studying the Spanish in Colombia or Argentina.”