You can experience almost everything with Couch Surfing, but you can experience it also without Couch Surfing. If you are travelling, you are always going to find some kind people, who will be happy to let you stay at your home. People are much more open-minded and hospitable against strangers as you thing. Last weekend I had the pleasure to visit the really nice Sensability conference. It’s was about social business, but more about it in a separate post.
So I hat to find a place to stay for two nights. I was thinking of course to stay with Couch Surfing, which might be quite difficult in the small city of Vallendar. But the conference organizers thought about us and proposed that everyone stays within a student from the WHU Business School, who is willing to host. So I’ve obtained a place to stay for two nights. At the conference I’ve discovered that I will stay together with two more guys at the same host. This information could have been annoying for some of the conference guests, but not for me. I’ve thought that it will be great, because I’ll have the possibility to meet more people. And I was attending the conference not because of the conference itself, but because I was sure that such a conference will attract a lot of nice people worth meeting. I was more than right. My roommates and my host turned to be really nice. And not only they do.
It is a little pity, but we’ve seen our host – a small cute first term graduate student – only for about five minutes. She only managed to tell us that we can feel at home and that she is happy with her studies and she had to go back and help further at the conference. She was in bed at 1:30 and she was still not there. At 7:00 in the morning she had already prepared the breakfast for us and disappeared. Such a great voluntary dedication for the conference and the attendances! So, we couldn’t really get to know her, that’s why I’m saying that I’ve stayed without a host. And she is not in Couch Surfing, so that’s why it was a real CS experience without CS. But it does not matter if it is with or without Couch Surfing. What matters is the principle. It is the hospitality to let strangers at your home. Even alone and giving them your keys.
The place was really cosy and a mere luxury for a student. Ok, I must admit, that the students in WHU are normally not the poorest guys. Nevertheless, it was an experience without a couch, because there was only one couch and one mattress for three of us. Someone had to sleep on the floor. And that was me. I suppose that I was the best trained of the three. The other two were a young girl, who perfectly fits in the couch and a middle aged man, who better sleep on the mattress. Given that situation, the best solution was that the girl takes the couch, the man the mattress and I the floor. It was actually more than comfortable, because I used a rug, two camping mats and a sleeping bag. But it was not a couch 😉 In order to be honest, I seldom used a couch when I stayed with couch surfing hosts. It is mostly a bed or a mattress, which is much more comfortable. And sometimes I’ve slept on a couch or just on the ground or something else. The sleeping surfaces are as different as the hosts are, but mostly as comfortable as possible for the guest.
After the conference all other participants left, we had a lot of free time and there was nothing to do in the small city of Vallendar, so we spoken about the conference, about agriculture, about history and many more. I can’t list all of the topics here, but it could be interesting for you to read some of them. The girl was born in Germany, but her family comes from Sri Lanka, a Tamil family, so it was nice to learn something about this unknown for me culture. She’d done a one year voluntary work in the south of India, teaching small kids English. It sounds good the whole programme was a disaster, as she told me. It was a good intention, but it was one of those good thought and bad implemented charity missions. The kids couldn’t speak a single word of English and all of the voluntary students couldn’t speak a single word of the native language. She was the only one, who speaks their language and managed to teach the children at least something. But it was at least a nice holiday for all those young people and they have now a better view of the lifestyle and the culture of the people in this region of India. It’s an experience for a lifetime.
And they’ve seen what a bad way to help is. Or what is a way not to help. It is an important know-how as well, because we give so much money for charity, but we change so little. Only a good intention is not enough. We need good concepts as well. We need sustainable concepts. Giving and sharing is nice and we should give and share, but we have to do it in a sustainable way. If we give chicken for the starving people in Africa it is ok, but on the same time we must be carefull that we don’t ruin the small farmers there. And we have to check if they really need chicken or something else. We managed to spent so much money with so less impact. If you check the ratio, it’s so bad; it’s even negative in many aspects.
So, what is the problem? Why is it not working? One of the main reasons is that we think that we, the people from the western world, from the developed countries, know better. Even if we accept that it is true, then there are still so many cultural, regional and local differences so that you can’t directly apply what you know. And actually we are not smarter and we do not know better. And we are always not only trying to help, but successfully creating new problems. So the first thing is to stop creating problems for the people! And the second is to stop pretending that we are helping. No one can help you, if you don’t help yourself. It’s like studying and exams. I can’t always do your job or write your homework. You have to do it alone. And even if I can, at the end you’ll fail at the exam, because I won’t be there to help you. So we actually not even need to help people, but to show them or learn them how they can help themselves. To open their eyes for the truth and they will find it alone. They’ll find much better solutions for their own problems.