Friday, August 17, 2012

An Aside about CouchSurfing

I really enjoy how accommodating people from CouchSurfing seem to be, even if I have only had one visit so far. Everyone is so open to meeting new people and learning about new cultures, it's great! (Here's an awesome video I found about a guy planning to go around the world through CouchSurfing and some others who use the site.)

The way I see it, CouchSurfing, is a website for some and an entire way of life for other. It’s like karma, or Christianity, or anarchy, or socialism. I think different people have slightly different motivations for doing it. Some are just looking for a free place to stay. Others are intrigued by what amounts to a mini cultural exchange. Ideally, you don’t just stay at other people’s houses, you host them as well. Not necessarily the same ones though. Here I don't have the room to offer a place to stay but I am always willing to meet in the city and show people around or go for a meal. Paderborn is small though so you don't have such a diverse group coming and going often. There are also groups within the site that you can join like the one specifically for Paderborn where they have monthly get gatherings to celebrate just being different. 

This, perhaps, is the most appealing part of it. It isn’t just a cheap accommodation. It’s the experience of seeing a place through the eyes of a local. It’s the experience of having someone by your side to share it with, rather than traveling alone as I will be doing most of the time. You make your judgment to stay with or host someone largely based on the person’s online profile — including feedback other people have left after staying or hosting. But still, the idea is a bit odd, especially coming from what I am now seeing as a superficial American culture. Staying with people you don’t know. Welcoming them almost without question, that doesn't just happen anywhere and it surely doesn't happen on its own.

CouchSurfing is basically like everything your mother told you never to do. A stranger is on your doorstep and you say to him, come in. Or sometimes you are that stranger going to the home of someone you don't know to sleep, share a meal, and make a new connection. 

On a more businesslike, more commonsensical, and down-to-earth note, you should probably also have a mobile phone that works in that country, be clear about when you’re meeting and where, and once you get to your destination, be respectful and organized with your stuff. I also suggest having a backup plan for a hotel or hostel to stay at in case you're not comfortable in the situation. Make sure to share your life (and your chocolate) as much as you can; that’s kind of the point. It's not about money or gifts that some people will bring from their home land, but more so, making a new connection, a new friend, and exploring yourself while you explore new cultures.

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