Why have potlucks? Why on the 3rd Sunday of every month?
Here's something for newcomers to the group who might not understand what I'm trying trying to accomplish and why.
First, a little about myself...
My name is Derek Wallace and I joined The Couchsurfing Project in mid-2006. My first exposure to the network was a meet-up in Los Angeles, where I had been living for the past five years. The group needed a place to host the event (the CS Los Angeles Gathering Part Deux), so I offered up the pool courtyard of my apartment complex as it could hold several dozen people, had tons of patio furniture for people to sit on and even two propane grills for cooking. So, to make it easy, we turned it into a potluck meal so that nobody had to spend a lot of money and so that we could have a good mix of food.
We had people there from all over the world - many who had come to town JUST FOR THIS EVENT! But what really impressed me was the number of people who lived in town but had never even met! Here were neighbors and kindred spirits whose paths had never crossed simply because they were too busy with their 9-5 jobs or perhaps because it never even occurred to them that they didn't have to travel to far-away lands to experience cultural immersion. As I sat there, talking and laughing and sharing stories with new friends, both domestic and international, I vowed to help recreate that experience for as many people as I could in every city I visited.
Because to me, potlucks encapsulate everything that is at the heart of The Couchsurfing Project. Every time I see a potluck happen, I also see new friendships blossom and group excursions soon follow (for example, seeing a band play, checking out a cool restaurant, hitting the lake, doing a museum tour). In addition, it's a GREAT way for newcomers to see what we're all about, hear travel stories from people who are experienced with the network and to get advice on how to use the website. To me, it's actually one of the most fundamental yet often-times overlooked aspects of the entire Couchsurfing community.
In 2006, I traveled across the U.S. and put together meet-ups in such cities as Charlotte, Chicago and San Francisco, but none of them had that same magic that initial potluck had (mainly because the events took place at restaurants, where you are stuck in one seat most of the time, can't interact with everyone freely, have to watch the volume of your voice and worry about what you say in public, and then the dreaded problem of SPLITTING THE BILL). So I decided, upon my return to Los Angeles, to make that meet-up a potluck instead. And ya know what?
It was the best one we had, with the highest turnout and the most favorable reviews afterward!
So in 2007, I was awarded Nomadic Ambassador status and made it my goal to not only use the Couchsurfing site for traveling and for hosting travelers, but also for networking locals in every place I visited. For me, it's about being more conscious and more involved in where I go. And hey - I can't deny that I've had some of the best food I've ever eaten at CS potlucks! ;)
So now that I've addressed the question of "why have potlucks?", I'll move on to why I'm working at having them on the 3rd Sunday of every month...
In Los Angeles, I belong to an independent filmmakers' group called "Channel 101" (www.channel101.com), which meets on the last Sunday of the month, every month. That's when we get together to screen the new films we've made, and to socialize with another. For me, it was great because knowing that our group meeting was a constant helped me to plan my schedule and it made me feel good knowing that if I missed a screening one month, I could always catch it next month. The idea is that though we may get wrapped up in our daily lives, we know that there is at least one day of the month where we can come together and see one another.
But, the funny thing is that these once-a-month events actually help new friendships blossom and group activities soon follow (for example, everyone getting involved to make films together). This system worked so well, that it's how I spent the vast majority of my time for the three years before I found Couchsurfing.
Because what I didn't realize at the time, even though it's obvious now, is that it was ALL ABOUT COMMUNITY. So many of us are locked away in our cubicles or in our apartments that we just NEED to experience more human interaction that is real and unique. For many of us on this network, that translates to traveling to a new area. But the funny thing is that you can travel in YOUR OWN CITY and get that same experience!
For example, I lived in "the valley", which is behind that mountain that the Hollywood sign is on. I got so wrapped up in working and making films and hosting people in my neighborhood and taking them to the beach and places they wanted to see that I never really explored the Chinatown of Los Angeles - even though I lived within a few miles of it for SIX YEARS! So one day, I contacted some local hosts about surfing with them. Obviously, they were a little confused at first, until they learned that I wanted to come stay with them so I could be in the area for Chinese New Year's. Surfing with them, and then meeting their friends who lived in that section of the city, and then exploring Chinatown and having AMAZING food while the festivities went on around us was exactly the reason I had moved to Lo Angeles in the first place. But I had gotten so wrapped up in my own little life that it slipped right past me for so long. I had that whole "oh, I live here...I'll see it next week" mentality. And "next week" kept happening, until six long years had gone by.
But the power of local community helped counter that.
That's why I'm currently working with ambassadors all around the U.S. to help make 3rd Sunday Potlucks happen in as many cities as possible. In 2008, I'll be traveling across the country, visiting cities like Phoenix, Austin, New Orleans, Birmingham, Knoxville, Atlanta, Orlando, New York, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Portland and Oregon to work with the ambassadors so we can catalyze Third Sunday Potlucks.
The reason I have focused on the 3rd Sunday of every month is that it avoids the hassles of the work-week and allows for a longer event to take place (for example, noon until sun-down) so that people can make it, at least for a sort while, even if they have chores to run or have to go to work that day. Plus, having been a professional event planner before I switched to video journalism as a career, I've seen that this is statistically the most open weekend for people to do things. Many plays, festivals, movie premieres and such open the first or last week of a month, but that third week is always neglected.
Now, while those are the immediate reasons for having them on the 3rd Sunday, the big picture is to have a global "Couchsurfing Day" happen every month. You know that at the same time on the same day each and every week, the new episode of your favorite television show comes out. And you know that the same time on the same day every two weeks, you get your paycheck from work. Well, imagine knowing that the same time, once a month, every month, there is a huge CS event you can attend! And just imagine if this event is concurrent in every city in the United States, so that no matter what city you are in that 3rd Sunday, you can find a potluck to join! And just imagine if that spread out to the entire globe, so that no matter what city in the WORLD you are in on the 3rd Sunday of the month, you could find a potluck to join! Imagine knowing that at least once a month, you will get to meet locals and meet travelers from all around the world! Now tell me that you're not smiling from ear-to-ear thinking about it! And the best part of all is that these potlucks will spur more weekly events as well, which also lead to more community involvement! It's like a perpetual motion machine of community bonding, cultural immersion and exploration!
Anyway, this is quite literally some "food for thought" and I look forward to working with you so we can have more successful 3rd Sunday Potlucks!
Peace and health,
It's all so true, and makes so much sense.
I love your spirit, your giving and sharing. I'm so looking forward to adding to that in my own way. Thanks for everything you're doing in the world!
best to you...
Thanks, Kathleen! Can't wait to meet you next time I'm in town (which will be this summer)!
I'm so glad we've finally got this thing going again instead of spending all that time writing about why we should or should not do it and when and where and why and how. I love this site, but those posts debating it were making me wish i would never hear the words potluck again, so kudos for just getting it together and making it happen - that's what the couchsurfing experience is all about. I'm really looking forward to it if the weather is right.