Talking with Gokulnath Ramu was not just about travelling and living as a digital nomad. It was also about experiencing the countryside. During his trip from India to Europe, he discovered many interesting places, but the most precious memories come from the coliving space Coconat in Germany.
In an interview, Gokulnath talks about his work as a volunteer and digital nomad in the coliving spaces, about meeting local people and about differences between Europe and India.
Author: Drejc Kokošar
Gokulnath, what kind of path led you to Europe?
My first time in Europe was right after I finished my master’s degree in India. I got an opportunity to come to France for six months as an Erasmus student. I just wanted to travel, as many people do, but as far as everything else goes, I didn’t have any other plans at the time.
Did you live and work as a digital nomad during that time?
No, I was on a four-month holiday when I first came to Europe. I just loved to travel, and I wanted to explore new places. I started by visiting different cities. I travelled from Paris to Helsinki and Stockholm. Even though I spent most of my time in bigger cities, I was always drawn to the countryside. For example, in Finland, I went to the northmost region of Lapland, near Artic Circle. Overall, I managed to visit 16 countries during the COVID period. Even though I have experienced different places, my heart will forever be in the countryside.
When did you make the transition to life as a digital nomad?
While travelling, I met different people who were also travelling and working remotely. When I was in Rovaniemi in Lapland, I met a fellow digital nomad. She was staying in Rovaniemi for more than a month. At that time, I was really shocked. I thought to myself, “This would be my dream!” I really loved Rovaniemi, but I couldn’t stay there for more than two days due to my other obligations. Knowing her made me realise I could do the same thing, work and travel simultaneously. Before the pandemic, that wasn’t possible, but now I can work remotely. I realised that if I could find an affordable place to rent for a month, I could work from anywhere in the world. So, I started applying for volunteering positions to lower my living costs by helping in European communities. I’m not going to lie; I was very sceptical initially and had many reservations about going to other countries. But that decision led to the best part of my life.
How did you search for volunteering positions? What tools did you use?
I used an app called Worldpackers. It allows you to find volunteering programs nearby. I only searched with simple keywords like volunteering, Germany or digital nomad. Coconat was the first search result, and it seemed like an interesting offer. I researched it further online and decided to apply. Luckily my interview was successful, and that was it. The transition was simple, coliving took care of everything, and all I needed was a valid visa. Living at Coconat gave me an experience of a lifetime. I was a newbie digital nomad with so much to learn, and yet I managed to end up in the best place possible. I got an opportunity to meet so many experienced people and learn from them how they travel and how to find and book good places to stay and work from. At Coconat, I met a woman who has been a digital nomad for more than 18 years, with real experience, unlike me. I only started during COVID. I hear that most people use the Worldpacker app while others use Workaway. They both work similarly, allowing you to see the reviews and talk to the people volunteering at the programs you’re interested in.
So, your first experience as a digital nomad was at Coconat. Could you describe your experience there?
Coconat is a coliving and coworking retreat close to Bad Belzig in the German countryside, just over an hour outside Berlin. I love Coconat because it’s a place designed with digital nomads in mind. Everyone staying there is a digital nomad, making it a very creative place. Before Coconat, I worked all day and went home to sleep. I led a very dull life compared to life as a digital nomad. Now I keep myself excited by always meeting new people. Everyone has a different story, and I love sharing my life with others. The location in the countryside is another pulse. Walking in nature daily is a great inspiration and makes me more productive. I even noticed that I achieve better results at work now.
What got you the most excited about living at Coconat?
Firstly, I am helping here as a volunteer, so my evenings are dedicated to assisting with the boarding of newcomers. I also plan different activities, like organising game nights. Other times we just play board games or watch movies together. One of my favourite things to do at Coconat is just to sit down and discuss different topics with people. I love listening to crazy stories from people that are very different to me. Everyone has something to share, so our conversations range from topics like colonialism to Bollywood movies.
Were you also involved in any kind of work where you shared your experience and knowledge with the community?
Yes, I have, and I would also love to do it in the future. When I meet people, I always talk to them, interact and share my knowledge. At Coconat, we had a unique system. For example, if you want to teach a class about management skills, you write it on a board dedicated to that. You write down all the relevant information about the content, time and so on. Interested people will come, learn from others and exchange skills. We even have a special festival here dedicated to sharing knowledge. Because we come from different backgrounds, we can organise diverse workshops with topics ranging from cryptocurrency to art design.
Did you work or cooperate with any other organisation in the area, like a youth centre or any other type of community centre?
Coconat is a place where most things happen. They provide coworking spaces, allowing locals and people living there to meet. It’s the volunteer’s job to engage with both communities by organising events. We brainstorm ideas for game nights, workshops etc.
Did you have any memorable experiences with the locals in the countryside? Did you talk to any young people from the village?
Yes, there is a village nearby where locals often celebrate different festivals. The first time I visited one of these events, I initially felt a bit awkward. Being the only Indian there, I didn’t know what to expect from the local people, but they were really welcoming. I was planning on staying there only for a few hours, but I made new friends, and they invited me into their home. We prepared some food together, and I ended up staying the night. It totally changed my mindset about people; I really enjoyed it. What I love most about the countryside is that there are fewer people, and once you interact with someone, they will remember you, unlike in the city where you wouldn’t be recognised again. I remember walking from the bus station in the town of Bad Belzig to Coconat. It’s about 5 km away, so you must either walk or take the bus, but unfortunately, it does not operate after 5 pm. Once, about a month into my stay at Coconat, while walking to the residence, I got recognised by one of my new friends from the village, and I hitched a ride with them. I love it when simple things like that happen. You only get that in the countryside.
Have you ever lived before in the countryside like Bad Belzig, or was this your first?
In France, I used to study in the countryside near Lyon. I loved the village atmosphere it had and the nature surrounding it was also magnificent. One of the reasons why I love the countryside is that people care for each other. For example, the bus driver in the city will never wait for you because everyone is always in a rush. In the countryside, everyone makes sure that they wait for you.
Did you grow up in a city or the countryside?
I was born and raised in what we call a town, meaning it’s not a big city like, for example, Paris. We could still grow some of our food and do some things that are more typical of the countryside. But because of my studies, I had to move to New Delhi, where this wasn’t possible anymore.
Have you had any interesting experiences where you realised that Europe differs from India? What were the most significant differences for you?
First, I’m from South India, and we don’t travel much. We travel a bit with our parents and then later when we get married. But we usually don’t travel alone, especially not on longer trips. That’s very different from Europe, where people travel right after they turn 18. That was a complete culture shock for me.
Did you experience any obstacles moving from New Deli, a big city in India, to the European countryside? In your experience, what are the downsides to living in the countryside?
Previously I only lived in the countryside during my education, and there used to be bad internet service, less access to activities, inadequate medical facilities, and overall, not much happening. But nowadays, this has changed. Here at Coconat, we used to go to Berlin on the weekends to experience some new things and to party a bit. But I prefer being in the countryside; it’s peaceful. In cities, people are always rushing. For me, things changed during my stay in Germany. Before, I was planning to go only to cities, but now, I want to travel to the countryside.
Did you have any problems travelling to Europe? What type of paperwork did you need?
It was easy for me because I came to Europe as a student. Others can first apply for tourist visas, but only for a certain period. Around the world, there are some exceptions now, like Bali, which announced a special visa for digital nomads. It’s one of the reasons why I’m going there next, as they’re very open to our community. So, I have high hopes for my next destination, and I hope it’ll be just like Coconat, where I originally planned to stay only for a month. After three months, I’m still sad to leave it behind.