The past few weeks we have been attending several conferences and parties affiliated with Couch Surfing. It has been a life saver in this new city and has aided in making this time in Istanbul feel more like a home.
What is Couch Surfing? It is a database where people can connect from anywhere in the world and experience a cultural exchange.
What kind of cultural exchange? Through Couch Surfing you can find anyone in any country who is willing and/or able to host you (let you sleep in his/her home.) Nothing is expected in return besides that when you are able to, you provide a place for traveling Couch Surfers.
Still sounds funny, doesn’t it?
How do you know your Couch Surfer or host is trustworthy? The site provides various features to check on the host or Surfer’s validity. You can review profiles that provide specific information about the person as well as references left by other members. Other components like “vouches,” where other members can attest to the character of a host or person, can prove legitimacy. It is a phenomenal resource for travelers and anyone who likes to meet people from all over the world.
A way I like to think of it is a type of “pay it forward.”
Through the website we have been able to find meetings and parties that the Istanbul Couch Surfing Ambassadors throw. This has been an amazing resource for meeting people and making friends in this new city.
My first Couch Surfing experience was in July 2010. My ex and I were in Athens, Greece waiting to begin a job at a B&B we found through Work Away. The job wasn’t to start for another week and we could not afford to continue to stay in a hostel. I had heard about Couch Surfing from a friend or acquaintance (I really don’t remember where I first heard about it!) years ago and had signed up but never used it. The website at the time was very basic and honestly seemed sketchy. I was nervous to try it out. However a week before when we were in Crete and met a guy in a coffee shop that was Couch Surfing on the island. I told him that I was a member but had never tried it. He began to rant and rave about Couch Surfing and I became easily convinced this was the best way to travel and see a city or town. In Athens, I contacted 4 people (my profile had no references, vouches, or verifications.) Out of the four I messaged, one was able to host us. It was serendipitous that this was the first time they used Couch Surfing too! They were our first hosts and we were their first Surfers!
Stella and Giorgos are some of the coolest people I’ve ever met. They lived near the Thissio Metro station. Thissio is one of the hippest neighborhoods in Athens and full of cafes, bars, and restaurants.
We went to Stella and Giorgos apartment and talked for several hours. We talked about music, New Orleans, food, and the Greek language and literature. We were getting to know each other and everything about our different cultures.
Stella is an incredible artist and you can find her creations here Stella’s Shop.
It is not an exaggeration to say that I speak with Stella via email or Facebook more than 3xs a month since we first met over a year ago. She and Giorgos travel a lot and so we are always trading stories and hopes that our paths will cross. I never really gave Couch Surfing the credit for my friendship with Stella but obviously we never would have met without it.
A distinct question Casey, the creator of Couch Surfing, asked at the conference was, “How can we make a better world?” I could not help but think, “How DOES Couch Surfing make a better world?” He continued to explain how the process reminds us that there are people all over the world who share common thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. The group is for people who WANT to make a better world and who want to connect, meet new people, and learn about different cultures.
I asked myself if Stella and I made a better world with our friendship and thought about how I feel when I make a new friend. Not just any friend but someone that taught me and showed me hands-on a different way of life. How do you feel when you learn something new about a person or a culture? These are easy experiences resulting in higher self-esteem, self-confidence and living a happy life.
So even while Couch Surfing creators work on “changing the world” they still know how to party….
Oh yea. We were on a boat, going fast and riding up the Bospherous Strait. There’s nothing like an all night dance party of Couch Surfers starting on a boat and ending in a club.
I suggest that you risk getting to know a stranger. If you cannot travel, bring the world to you. Host a Couch Surfer and hear their stories and be inspired. This idea of hanging out, sharing your home, or staying in some ones home who is a stranger might sound risky to some. But are we not all strangers? This is the way life used to be. We used to trust each other. That is another strong point Casey made was how Couch Surfers TRUST. It’s a new way of looking at life, people, and different cultures and I LOVE IT.
“A person needs a little madness, or else they never dare cut the rope and be free.”
-Nikos Kazanzakis (Zorba The Greek)
Jordan, me, Cem, and Todd at CC conference. Cem, who is from Turkey, met Todd through Couch Surfing in New Orleans. He has been an incredible ally showing us around the city!
Cem, Casey (creator of Couch Surfing), and Jordan at CC party.
Couch Surfing dance party on boat.