Charlotte, 18 The party-loving student had never washed a dish in her life…
Why I went: I wanted a simpler life. I was bored with the pressure to look a certain way: to wear make-up and clothes that were quite flaunty in order to fit in. I wanted to draw back from our society.
It was a struggle at first. I missed putting on my make-up — it usually takes an hour — and setting out a new outfit, because it was kind of my religion, my routine. But I soon lost that need when I realised that for the Amish, it’s all about inner beauty. They taught me not to judge people on their appearance, but to get to know them as they really are.
Doing the chores: It was a shock that, as a woman, you have to do all the cooking, cleaning and laundry, and look after the children. I remember thinking, “How do you wash a dish?” At home I never had to do any housework.
At first I left a lot of food on the plates and Marietta [the Amish woman she stayed with in Ohio] asked me to scrub them again, but she taught me to love chores, and how to quilt — I had never sewn anything before. The women cherish the home and want it to be perfect for when their husband comes back. I would never have thought cleaning would make me happy, but it did.
No touching: At home I might meet someone in a club, over a drink, but the Amish find a mate through activities such as playing volleyball. I loved their way of dating; it was so innocent. Because they have a no-touch policy, they have respect for each other. It was so pure and lovely to see how they didn’t need to sleep together, they could just chat things through and that made their relationship stronger.
Daily prayers: I struggled sometimes, when I got very tired, because we got up early and worked really long days. But the love and care of the Amish kept me going. I wasn’t religious before, but their faith wore off on me. Every morning we had devotions, and they’d read a Bible passage and we’d reflect on that. At night I prayed that I’d be able to get through the next day. Every morning, even now, I still read the devotional book I was given; it helps guide me through my day.
Back home I was very sad to leave Amish-land, even though at times I thought they needed more freedom and choice in their lives. For example, it was a shock to discover that children’s education stops at around 14.
When I got back to England I didn’t like it at all. But while it was hard settling back, I’ve got used to it. I found I have more respect for my parents, and it’s helped me to become more independent. I don’t think I’d have coped at university without that experience. I really want to go back.