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Cars on road in line of high rise building during the day

A New Couchsurfing Experience

We planned a one night stay in Buffalo, New York. This was the first time on this trip that we would be staying with a  couchsurfing host from another country. Amin and Yasmin are both from Iran and were very excited to be able to share their food and culture with us. They are fairly new to the Couchsurfing community but you’d never know it. It was a joy and an honor to meet them and share this experience with them.

Dinner Time

We discussed and agreed to arriving at 6:00pm. Our intention was to prepare food for them, but Yasmin had other ideas. She wanted to share a food from her culture with us instead. I am a foodie myself and I was ecstatic to try some new food and learn about another culture. In America, we do everything over food so I found that this is one great way to start bridging the cultural differences between people. You can always share a conversation about food over a meal. Yasmin had fixed us an authentic Persian meal of Kuku. This is a form of vegetable patty made from a base of potatoes. The potatoes are mixed with spices and other vegetables before being formed into a pancake and cooked. Yasmin served the KuKu with a dinner roll, lettuce, tomato, spinach and radish. It was absolutely delicious!

Yasmin was gracious enough to share the recipe with me. Now I can make it at home too. If you’d like to try it out I’ve linked a recipe here

Person eating Gaz

Sharing Traditions

Another way couchsurfing can help us bridge cultural differences is participate customs from other places. It is much easier to discuss and share in cultural customs when you’re in someone’s home rather then when meeting someone in a public place. For example, after dinner we moved into the living room to visit. They had a dessert tray set up that contained some of the Persian sweets that Yasmin had brought back from her last visit home to Iran. It is customary to sip hot tea and share sweets after dinner in Persian culture. Angie and I were blessed to experience this during our stay.

The sweets that Yasmin had for the evening were Sohan and Gaz. Sohan is a brittle, but in the tin it is a spoonable dessert made with rose water, saffron, and pistachios among other ingredients. It was less sweet than the candy we are used to getting here in the states. It’s also much harder to find here in the United States than Gaz

I would describe Gaz as a nougat with pistachios in it. The closest comparison I could make would be to divinity with pistachios in it. The ingredients to make both are the same aside from the nuts; however, Gaz is much chewier and softer than divinity. Angie said her favorite of the two was the Sohan. Everyone else preferred the Gaz. Even better than the candy and dinner was the wonderful conversation that came with the experience.

Gaz a Persian candy

A Deeper Understanding

It was amazing to learn about Yasmin and Amin’s culture, but at the same time heartbreaking to hear about the difficulties they’ve had since coming to the states. In sharing about food and traditions we were also able to go a bit deeper in our conversations. They talked about the difficulties they’ve had in moving to a foreign country. Couchsurfing can allow for the natural flow of those conversations and gives us another way to bridge the perceived differences between cultures. Both Amin and Yasmin shared that they’ve had a hard time making friends and finding real connections to people here in the states.

Yasmin explained that in Iran, when you go to the market, the vendor talks with you like you have been friends since childhood. She compared it to her experience here. Her observation is that it’s different here. People seem to just have surface conversations without making those “real” connections when you’re just out shopping. This has made it a struggle for her to form friendships here. Learning a new way to form relationships can be challenging. Yasmin has found it difficult to ease the loneliness that comes from leaving all of your friends and family behind when moving to a new country.

Luckily they have found something that helps. Amin is going to school for engineering and Yasmin works from home doing animation and illustration for Iranian authors. Yasmin had a very hard time staying home alone at first so they started fostering dogs. They found that having a pet around helped to ease her anxiety. They decided to adopt the dog they were fostering because of this. Their new dog, Minnie, was very sweet but what we learned is that it is not common for Persians to have dogs in the house.

Embracing Differences

The cultural view of dogs in Iran is causing some additional strain on Amin and Yasmin’s experience here. Some of the few friends they have made in the United States that are from Iran will not come into their home. Mostly because they are afraid of the dog, but the benefits are still worth it to them to keep Minnie.

This was just one of the struggles that they shared with us on our visit. Others included visiting home, the tensions between the US and Iran, and situations with their families. It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. We also learned about the life that they are building for themselves, had the opportunity to admire Yasmin’s art, play with the dog, eat the delicious food and get recommendations on the next part of our adventure.

Once again, couchsurfing gave us the opportunity to easily get advice about our travels from someone local. Amin was very knowledgeable and helpful in helping us plan our stop at Niagara Falls the next day. He also suggested that we stop and see the five finger lakes as we make our way through New York. We both really wanted to go but it just didn’t work out with the driving distances, stops and timing. Although we were taking as much advice from our hosts as possible to have the best experience, we still agreed that we only had 1 month to be gone on the road this time so we had to pick and choose carefully. 

My Biggest Takeaway

I think the biggest thing I learned during my stay with Amin and Yasmin is that we are really not that different, we all want to be loved and surrounded by people who care about us. We all need those connections to thrive and we all get lonely when we don’t have them. Maybe if we could all sit down and talk and share, over a cup of tea and sweets, we could all find some love and compassion for one another.

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