CouchSurfing: The Benefits Of Hosting

Posted on November 26, 2012


“We don’t really have a lot of culture, here in Holland”, I heard myself saying. And I was completely convinced. Of course, we have our obvious clichés: clogs and cheese, windmills and tulips, sex and marijuana. But anyone who spends longer than a week in the Netherlands knows that this has little to do with Dutch culture.

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t what he was hoping to hear. He had traveled over 14,000 kilometers, all the way from Singapore, looking forward to learning more about different cultures here in Europe, and here I was. Disappointing him. He laughed, though, and said he was just happy to be here and wanted to see what we normally do on weekends.

The beginning of a new friendship

It had been a mere hour since I nervously picked Sam up from the station. It was my very first CouchSurfing experience, and I had no idea what to expect.

I had been curious about CouchSurfing for a while now; the concept of opening up one’s home to others and connecting with people from all over the world seemed both exciting and scary to me.

The CouchSurfing network is built on trust, which means that the more active you are, the more engagement you’ll have. I quickly learned that it’s important to have positive references, since that is how people “grade you” and it’s generally one of the first things people look at when scanning your profile. It’s verification by the good ole word of mouth, but while this is a good way to make sure that someone is trustworthy, it does create a bit of a challenge for newcomers.

I had created an account and because I wasn’t receiving any requests I decided to reach out. It felt like going through the newspapers’ personal ad section; browsing through profiles in search of people whose personalities I felt would click with mine. I found it in Sam, a young male from Singapore who was traveling Europe for a few weeks and who was looking for a place to stay near Amsterdam. Sam has traveled extensively around South East Asia, hosts many events in his hometown and has over a 150 references from other travelers – all positive. Perfect!

BBQ in the Vondelpark

BBQ in the Vondelpark; doesn’t get any Dutcher than this

“Did you know chewing gum is illegal in all of Singapore?” Sam asked. He continued to explain how the government had banned it after some douchebag had stuck a piece of gum between the doors of a brand new metro system. We were on our way to Amsterdam for a day of sightseeing, and had chatted all morning, discovering more and more about each others’ habits and way of life.

We spent the entire day walking around Amsterdam. We wandered around Chinatown, bought cheese at the Nieuwmarkt, cruised the Red Light District and checked out the flea market at Waterlooplein, where we sat down for a soda and frikandellen among the seniors who spend their afternoons socializing at the market. “Oh this is typically Dutch!” I said, and not for the first time that day. Throughout the entire day, we were able to point out dozens of little things about Dutch culture that came to mind while exploring.

Amsterdam CentraalThat’s the thing about CouchSurfing. It brings people from different cultures together, allowing people to teach as well as learn from each other. It’s the tiny differences that make you not only more aware of cultures and habits of faraway lands, but also invites you to see your own culture through the eyes of someone else. For me that resulted in a newfound appreciation for my homecountry and I had fallen in love with Amsterdam all over again. I’ve lived here for so long and I’ve been so eager to go travel that I’ve become jaded, almost blind to all the things that makes us Dutchies, well… Dutch. To see our country through the eyes of someone who lives on the other side of the world was refreshing to say the least.  CouchSurfing offers a different way of travel, in invites you to take someone by the hand to explore your own backyard.

But the greatest thing that CouchSurfing has brought me is a close friendship. Sam and I are still friends to this day and we will see each other again in january 2013.

Have you had any experience with the CouchSurfing network? Sharing is caring!