Couch-surfing is a risk worth taking

By Itzel Basualdo
Stories Abroad / Columnist is a platform that allows you to find free accommodation all over the world in the form of a couch or spare mattress offered generally by good Samaritans, but in the eyes of many Americans, this is just asking for trouble.

I first learned of this website last year at FIU. My professor was showing us a couple of successful start-up companies, among them CouchSurfing. As a class, we were mainly shocked that anyone would feel comfortable enough to crash on a stranger’s couch. However, despite the possible risks and imminent threat this posed, along with my lack of interest in consorting with strangers, I had a probing curiosity about how this thing worked.

According to a study conducted in 2010 by the University of Michigan, the ratio of positive to negative evaluations on the site is a mere 2,500 to one. I was unable to find any CouchSurfing-related criminal incidents on the Internet, so, I figured, why not?

My first couch was in Bournemouth, England, a small beach town I knew nothing about until I actually arrived. The entire purpose of my trip was to attend a Bombay Bicycle Club concert I didn’t even have tickets to.

I sent a polite message to first-time-host Stefan Karkashian, who, according to his profile, is a 22-year-old with good references from people who had hosted him in Japan, Italy and Slovenia. My promising potential host asked me if I had a Facebook profile, “so I can convince myself that you aren’t just some dodgy geezer.” It seemed we were on the same page.

He asked me and my friend to meet him at around 5 p.m. that evening in a populated space, so I proposed the café where I was having an afternoon snack. He arrived on his bike straight from work, a nearby school in an impoverished neighborhood.

Karkashian was well dressed and sported a newsboy hat along with a vibrantly friendly attitude. He told us his roommates were not completely comfortable with two foreign girls having keys to their place, so the Cambridge grad proposed we meet after the concert for drinks with his friends and coworkers.

Karkashian accompanied us to the concert hall in freezing weather and made great conversation even though his place was in the other direction.

Afterward, he cheerily introduced us to all his coworkers who were recent graduates working as teachers for a charity. I felt entirely out of place, not just for lacking a college degree, but because I looked homeless – sweaty from moshing, dressed in the same clothes for the past fifteen hours and carrying a tattered jean backpack; I was in no condition for the public eye.

Despite my deplorable appearance, I never once felt uncomfortable due to our host or his friends. On the contrary, his slightly drunken friend made me feel better about my situation by encouraging me to take off my shoes with her, but I politely rejected her invitation because I wasn’t about to go pata sucia in the UK. After some booty-popping, bar-hopping and gin-and-tonics, we arrived at a rock bar where Karkashian claimed we could swing dance.

And we did, or attempted to in our tipsiness. To end the night on an even crazier note, we bumped into Bombay Bicycle Club; Karkashian introduced me to the lead singer, pretending he had attended the concert himself. He told him he enjoyed the show and changed the subject with “But, this is my friend, Itzel, and she came all the way from Barcelona just to see you!”

Soon after, we made our way back to Karkashian’s place, where he had our sleeping arrangements ready for us to crash onto. He offered us tea and biscuits and told us we could play some tunes on the turntable. The mini-party soon ended when his roommate banged on the wall, signaling us to shut up.

Though my friend and I had proposed to make breakfast together, we woke up too late to cook anything, so we left without offering anything in return except our presence and loudness the night before.

With the world falling apart and lousy people like us trying to couch-surf, why would anyone want to offer potential serial-killers a place to stay?

According to Karkashian one of the millions of CouchSurfing hosts from 365 countries with a great heart and intriguing stories to tell, he simply wanted to give back – and not only by offering a place to stay. After working for this charity in the UK, Karkashian hopes to travel to Malawi and volunteer as an educator.

If you want to travel for cheap, if you’re up for an adventure, if you want to connect with people from all over the world, exchange experiences and experience something you will never forget (for better or for worse), couch-surf.

Itzel Basualdo attends two different schools in Barcelona, the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, and the Escola Massana, a school exclusively for art and design. Basualdo is double majoring in journalism and fine arts, with a minor in art history. She writes weekly columns for The Beacon about her experiences and encounters abroad.

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