If you can afford it, a volunteer work placement is a great way to gain an insight into local culture. Typical volunteer jobs include working on conservation projects, participating in research programs, or helping out at animal-welfare centres. In some cases volunteers are paid a living allowance; sometimes they work for their keep; and sometimes volunteers are required to pay for the experience, typically from about US$300 per week.
Lonely Planet's The Big Trip provides advice and practical information on volunteering and working abroad.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (www.wwoof.org) International organisation that puts volunteers in contact with organic farms across the world. In exchange for your labour, you'll receive free lodging and food.
Go Abroad (www.goabroad.com) Huge site with information on hundreds of jobs and volunteer opportunities.