Thursday, December 05, 2013

11 days in New York that changed my life.


Part one – My first ever Couchsurfing experience!

5th Avenue New York
This is the story about 11 days in New York that changed my life. No, it was not the sightseeing that made the difference, it was the fact that I tried Couchsurfing (courchsurfing.org) for the first time; went to the authentic and lets say more dirty areas of NYC; did “my thang”; met so many incredibly friendly and inspiring people; listened to live music and that I did the most energizing, inspiring and challenging seminar by Tony Robbins called Unleash the Power Within where I also walked on burning hot coal – yes I did the “Firewalk”.

Now I am back in Berlin again, writing this post from one of my favorite caf├ęs here in Mitte (St Oberholtz) digesting it all. I feel excited and nervous at the same time and both feelings reside in exactly the same place in my body – my tummy, yet one (fear / nervousness) is the key to stagnation in my life and the other can propel me ahead as I realize my biggest dreams, because that is what I am in the process of doing right now and that is why I decided to go to this seminar in NYC. I needed a final push, I needed leverage as Tony Robbins would say!
  
First time I heard about Couchsurfing
View of skyline from Brooklyn
Anyway, about 6 months ago I met a Mexican girl here in Berlin who was lost and needed directions. She told me she was couchsurfing and I had no idea what it was. When she told me that she was travelling through Europe staying with strangers who offered travelers their hospitality and a couch or guestroom for free my initial response was wow, what a brave girl. My friend who was with me was so worried on her behalf cause just think what could happen when a girl travels around alone and stays with strangers. I could feel that this meeting had sparked an interest in me and I found the concept intriguing yet also nerving, cause I never tried anything like it before. 

Its all about TRUST!
Just think about how much you can travel and see the world when you do it this way and all the friendships you make along the way. Many of you may also be thinking: how can you be sure you end up with a nice “host” that wont try to rape you, steal or your things, lock you in a room and make life miserable for you? Well, turn the scenario around for a minute. These people are opening their home to a total stranger who may steal things from them or be crazy! You see, it is all about trust; about wanting to help others;  about meeting new people; about learning about other cultures; about curiosity and contribution. I believe this concept makes us open more up to help strangers and maybe realize too, that in spite of living in different cultures we share the same dreams and fears and challenges in life. 

A New Yorker with style
The reason why I went to NYC in the first place was that I was going to this rather famous Seminar called “unleash the power within” by Anthony Robbins. He is the no. 1 coach in the world, and he actually invented the word “coaching” some 25 - 35 years ago (where people laughed at him and said a coach was someone who was in a sports team) and he now coaches presidents, top athletes & businessmen as well as normal people like me through seminars. I will write about this in my next blogpost. When it was time for me to plan my trip to NYC I really wanted to stay longer than just the 4 days the seminar lasted, yet my savings did not allow me to. I thought that there had got to be a way around this and I was gonna find it! I decided to push myself past my comfort zone and try Couchsurfing. When I told my friends I would do this 50% of them got a shocked look in their eyes and immediately shared all their thoughts on what could happen to me and the other half were as excited as me and loved the concept. 

How does couchsurfing work? 
I created a profile on couchsurfing.org with a good and honest description of me and I posted on the couchsurfsite that I was coming to NYC from 1.11 – 11.11. One day later the offers began pouring in, yes, they literally poured in. I read the profiles of the people offering to host me and the reviews other people had given them and then I just went with my “gut-feeling” or shall we say intuition. Only one week before my trip the final details were in place and I just had to stay calm and trust all would work out well. I was going stay with three different hosts.

My First Couchsurf host - Norm

Sunshine, Central Park and my host Norm and me
I arrived at JFK on the 1st of November and I found my way into central Manhatten on the Subway and from there to Upper East Manhatten where my first ever Couchsurf experience was gonna take place. I found the door and hesitated for a moment before I rang the bell. This was it. I was gonna stay from Friday until Monday morning with a real New Yorker who I never met before, just emailed a little with, and I felt a surge of energy rush through me. I was doing it. I had moved passed my comfort zone and embarked on a new adventure. I never tried to surf on the sea, but I could now call myself a couch surfer!

My host Norm, opened the door and greeted me with a big smile. He lived in a nice 2 room flat with his own garden at the back and told me he had many BBQ’s here in the summer. I can only imagine the thrill of having your own green spot in the buzzing city where the sun can actually reach the grass between all the skyscrapers. We sat down and had a tea and talked about why Norm hosted couchsurfers. Like me he enjoys meeting people from all over the world and getting to know their story. It so broadens life, acceptance of diversity and its fun while you also help people explore the world on a low budget. I had the living room and a huge fold-out couch to myself. What a luxury!

Arthur's Tavern NYC with GREAT liveband!
Norm is a successful business man and when I was not out sightseeing during the day he showed me around Central Park; took me for a birthday meal at the ShakeShack (Famous Burgerbar) as I had just had my 33rd Birthday; took me to hear the best ever band play Motown songs in Arthur's Tavern, as I had asked before I came if we could listen to some livemusic; took me to a fantastic Puerto Rican restaurant; took me to the best ever Open Stage with amazing singers at Village Underground, where I heard Maria Careys vocal coach Melanie sing her heart out (Wow – I will never forget this).

Norm and I hit it off well and talked a lot. I was to learn about his lifestory and how he too had made some big changes in his life to be where he is today. Norm knows a lot about the jewish Orthodox community in New York which I found so interesting. Later that week when I was to visit Brooklyn and walk through the jewish Orthodox community (feeling very much like the odd one out) I had a total different view on the people there and I understood why they all looked away when I passed them on the sidewalk. Had I not known about their customs through Norm I would have been deeply offended by the fact that no one returned my smiles and hello’s on the street. I could write a lot more about this, cause I find it fascinating, yet this post is about couchsurfing ;)


My 2nd host Edgard

Harlem - NYC
After 4 amazing days with Norm and getting to see the New York Marathon too, I left to stay with my next host Edgard, who is from Puerto Rico but lives in New York and works as a business consultant. He was a bright man and a lot of fun too. I only stayed for one night and Edgard told me he hosts couchsurfers in periods to meet people from all over the world and have fun. He happened to live just one street away from Norm, which was very convenient for me and my heavy suitcase. He had a two floor flat and also here I had the livingroom to myself and a foldout couch. When I went to the bathroom the door jammed so I had to ask him to let me out every time, which we both found rather funny. On the day I arrived I had a strong Purto Rican morning coffee with Edgard who gave me a list on what to see and do as I was going sightseeing in Harlem with a friend of mine who drove me around the areas of this very diverse place - this was raw!

In the evening Edgard took me to a nice restaurant and after that we went to see the views from the absolutely outstanding Standart Hotel in the meatpacking district. As the bar was closed we ended up in the bar from the film Coyote Ugly, but this I did not realize before I was back in Berlin and someone told me about this very trashy bar full of bras and waitresses serving us in just a bra and tight trousers and cowboy boots. What an adventure to go from the Standard Hotel Boom Boom room to this trashy bar ;)

My third host
Watching the sun set over Brooklyn from the rooftop
My third host I will keep anonymous cause I think he would prefer this. He was a talented musician living in Broklyn and what a cool flat he had. We talked a lot about life, music, travelling, about trust and fear and spirituality. He grew up with couchsurfing being quite normal in his country (he was not from USA) and he thought it was funny that so many people did not practice this as normality. He was used to people welcoming and helping strangers since he was a child. 
I was in for a real treat, cause he was so kind to write to scores for a song of mine, which he grew fond of as we both played our songs for each other. In the morning after we had woken up I enjoyed listening to him play guitar and sing in the studio while I got ready to go sightseeing in Brooklyn and enjoy the views over the Manhatten skyline. I stayed for 2 nights and felt so relaxed. In the evening we watched the sun set from his rooftop terasse and I felt so blessed to be around yet a wonderful person who welcomed a stranger into his home.

Not only did I have a wonderful time experiencing New York, but I also got to meet 3 extraordinary and kind people who gladly open up their home to host a total stranger and share life stories. I have three new friends and I am so glad I did not stay in a hostel or a cheap hotel with other tourists, but that I decided to move past my comfortzone and feel New York from within. It made me feel so alive! I will never forget this experience and these wonderful people and the places I were and the feelings I felt as I embarked on this adventure.

After my last host I went to New Jersey where yet a life changing adventure was awaiting me – a 4 day intense (9.00 – 23.00) seminar called “Unleash The Power Within” by Anthony Robbins. How this seminar was and what it “did to me” I will write about in my next blogpost, so until then:

Stay warm, stay grateful, practice smiling daily and never stop dreaming BIG dreams and even better… realize them!

Happy 5th of December all of you beautiful people,

One Love

Nina