Tonight P and I were research subjects. We don’t get to be research subjects everyday, so I thought it might make for a different kind of post.
A local professor contacted us for an interview about “CouchSurfing.” She explained that she was taking some time away from teaching to focus on writing a book on technology, social networks and travel, and she had spent the better part of the summer (and now the fall) looking for “CouchSurfing” subjects to interview. P and I just happened to live down the road.
Many of you might be asking, “What the heck is CouchSurfing? Is it a sport? Is it a game? Is it a bird? Is it a plane?” however I am sure some of you readers are probably CouchSurfers yourselves. P and I are definitely CouchSurfing novices, but it was fun to connect with the professor and tell her about our experiences.
According to their website CouchSurfing “is a worldwide network for making connections between travelers and the local communities they visit” and the tagline of the website is “Participate in Creating a Better World, One Couch At A Time.” In the stats section of their website it mentions that there are over 1,413,520 CouchSurfers around the world. Pretty impressive!
I heard about CouchSurfing a few years ago while traveling on a train and decided to check it out. People can put up profiles about themselves and their “couches” (which can be any number of things… an actual bedroom, a couch in a living room, something random to sleep on, sometimes it isn’t even a place to sleep–you can say “meet for coffee” for instance) online and other travelers can search destinations and find a profile of a place they might want to stay. There isn’t any monetary compensation for this, the whole point is more about the interaction between people (although cheap/free accommodation is definitely a motivating factor for some).
I thought it was a neat idea, and when I had to go to a workshop shortly thereafter I decided to try it out. A lot of the people I talked to about this thought I was crazy (“how do you know they won’t kill you or something??!?”) but P also thought it sounded fun, so I made a profile, checked out a few people where I was traveling, and contacted them to check space availability. Lo and behold, it worked out great and I had a wonderful time. So P and I decided to open our place up to other CouchSurfers.
I haven’t always been this open. I fancied myself social enough when I was younger, but it wasn’t until P entered my life and the Nepali social networking thing (“Nepali ho?“) became a daily ritual that I really loosened up. I admit, there are times I really like personal space and quiet time, but I’ve grown quite used to the constant stream of visitors we seem to attract at our place (I’m sure I’ll write more in detail about this some other time). When it came to CouchSurfing we figured why not throw a few more people into the mix?
Lucky for us, where we live is not a bustling tourist destination, or we would probably have CouchSurfing requests all the time, but we do get them occasionally. The joke is that more people find P interesting, probably because he is Nepali, so most of our CouchSurfers have come through his profile instead of mine. However all of our CouchSurfing experiences have been very positive. We have met interesting people, with different stories, backgrounds, and personal goals from all over the world. People have brought us wine, have shared with us their photography skills, taught us magic tricks, and even connected with us in other places–I keep running into one of our CouchSurfers at an annual conference that I attend.
In fact, the first time I went CouchSurfing, I was talking with one of my colleagues during the workshop coffee-break about where I was staying and literally someone from across the room heard me say “CouchSurfing.” He enthusiastically called out, “Hey! CouchSurfing! I used to have a bunch of CouchSurfers when I was in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan!”
How random is that?
Anyway, as we told the researcher today, our interest in CouchSurfing, more than anything else, is probably networking and connecting with great people from around the world that we wouldn’t normally get a chance to meet. CouchSurfers are a pretty cool set of people (I guess I’m a bit biased here) with an interest in multicultural interactions and travel. Intercultural relationships or not–I’d recommend checking it out.