No, I am not an armchair traveler, and I don’t promote the idea so much; the best way to experience and learn about the world is to see it for yourself, firsthand. However, there are times when I become completely immersed in another culture without even leaving my city. I live in New York City, one of the most diverse cities in the world – linguistically, ethnically, and culturally. I leave my neighborhood and venture into another and I am often enveloped by the tastes and smells and sounds of what seems like a foreign city.
But then there are times when I receive such a stimulating sense of another culture without having to even leave my front door.
I am a strong advocate of CouchSurfing. With it, I have gotten the chance to not only save money, but see the world through the eyes of a local. When I am a guest in another’s home while traveling, I eat the foods they eat, see the sites that they recommend, and learn all sorts of valuable inside tips and information about their city.
Then I also host CouchSurfing guests. I am not able to host often, but when I do, I usually just provide a bed and guidance and directions in exploring the city. Sometimes I will have a nice chat with a CouchSurfer over dinner or drinks, solidifying a friendship that allows me to feel not so alone the next time I decide to visit their country.
However, one time as I hosted, I became so engrossed in German culture that I felt as if I was the guest. Last Christmas/New Year’s holiday season, I went with one of my best friends, Joseph, to Italy to visit some of our other best friends. During that time, my friend at home in New York, Helena, told me that her friend, Anne, was coming to visit for a few weeks, and she asked if I could provide a place to stay. I agreed, amused at the fact that there would be people at my home partying while I was away.
When I got back, on New Year’s Day, I met Anne and her sister Jenn, who decided to come at the last minute. Along with Helena and her sister Miriam, who also wanted to stay over while their friends were in town, I had a full house of Germans. My good friend, Bob, rounded out the gang, and we all cohabitated for a week and a half together.
I loved coming home from work during that time; I knew that I would have something delicious to look forward to, followed by hours of entertainment and amusement that was worth the shitty way I felt due to lack of sleep each subsequent morning. We made glühwein many nights, that wonderful, warm German version of mulled wine. We played cards, watched movies and infomercials, and fell asleep on the couch together.
In addition to all the fun I had while my four Germans were there, I quickly picked up bits and pieces of German culture. When the girls talked to each other, it was often in German, since they constantly forgot that they weren’t in Germany. It was wonderful to hear it like this, and though I couldn’t understand most of what they were saying, I was able to form some general correlations of some German words with the English language by context.
The week before that, with three of my best friends in Italy, was probably the most amazing week of my life. However, this following week, with my house full of Germans, was right up there, allowing me to have a smoother transition from my travel highs back to the mundane pace of everyday life. Don’t expect to reap so many benefits if you host a traveler, but, just the same, don’t doubt that your life would not be positively impacted by a CouchSurfer either!