Foreigners in St. Petersburg inevitably find themselves scanning local Couchsurfing events—a goulash featuring get-togethers in English peppered with Russian culture.
This time of year may be less romantic than walking through a white night, but the annual Black Days event in the Couchsurfing community turns the dark days into a social marathon.
Black Days is stretched out over five days, February 19th to the 23rd. Each day has a different event planned such as partying at a Russian Banya, touring the Vodka Museum, a city tour themed on the Romanov Dynasty, and a day trip to the city and World Heritage Site, Gatchina—to name a few.
This will be Anna Gordeeva’s third year hosting Black Days. “Every city has their own Couchsurfing events,” explains Gordeeva. “The idea came to my mind after one of the White Nights [events], to organize a winter event and to show that St. Petersburg is nice to visit in winter also.”
You will find Gordeeva at many of the weekly events as well. She was referred to by her colleagues as their “St. Petersburg Couchsurfing ambassador”. A worthy title. In addition to Black Days and the Thursday meetups, she’s promoting the 7th Tallinn Sauna Camp at the end of the month for those looking to travel outside of St. Petersburg.
Being a host on Couchsurfing for Gordeeva is like having friends over to hang out: “You invite [your friends] to your home but this time your home is not just your place, but the whole city.”
Black Days, the weekly meetups, and the Tallinn Sauna Camp are open to anyone who wants to participate.
Behind the Scenes
“I remember we had these German guys who told me, ‘You are so evil in St. Petersburg, you want us to do something cultural in the first half of the day and then party like hell into the morning’,” says Lena Titova.
Lena Titova, Elena Potashova, and Anna Gordeeva, the three women collaborating and organizing Couchsurfing events in St. Petersburg, all burst out laughing.
“In St. Petersburg, we always try to find a healthy balance between getting sloshed and getting at least a glimpse of culture,” Titova explains with a smile.
Titova describes herself as a “local local”, meaning that her family has been in St. Petersburg for four generations. She has been in the Couchsurfing scene for eight years, seven of which has been dedicated to organizing events such as White Nights*: “This year will be the seventh year of White Nights. It’s so fucking awesome.”
In St. Petersburg, we always try to find a healthy balance between getting sloshed and getting at least a glimpse of culture.
*Stay tuned here for updates on the White Night event coming this summer.
Every Thursday at 7:30pm, the Africa art-cafe is buzzing with a blend of locals and foreigners for the weekly Couchsurfing meetup. The drinks and food are set at a reasonable price and the place is full by 8:00pm. The bartenders are cool and let you order your drinks in broken Russian if you’re feeling up to it.
“I think our weekly meetings for foreigners who just arrived is to meet people and to ask questions,” says Elena Potashova, one of the local Couchsurfing coordinators. She smiles and adds, “But for me, it’s a chance to show my European friends, what is here. I really like seeing them here. It’s so scary, Russia!”
You can find all kinds of personalities at the weekly Couchsurfing events: a TCK, bikers and students alike.
Have you heard of a TCK? A Third Culture Kid?
A Third Culture Kid is a person, or rather a kid, who spent their childhood and adolescent years dotting the globe; a kid who shares a cultural identity to more than one location, while not having ownership of any. The term was coined by the the sociologist Dr. Ruth Useem in the 1950s in describing kids of immigrants growing up in the United States.
Stacy, a 27-year-old regular at the weekly Couchsurfing meetings, is Russian, or rather a TCK born in Russia. But she has never really felt Russian.
“When I came across this term, TCK, I thought, wow. This is the first time in my life I am able to relate to someone. I never feel like I am a local [in St. Petersburg]. I don’t feel like a local anywhere I live.”
Stacy comes to this weekly Couchsurfing event to mingle with her type of locals: internationals. As a kid, she attended boarding school in Austria and then moved to Hong Kong on exchange in 2011. “This kind of event is where I feel local, meaning international. An international atmosphere is the only place where I feel myself and comfortable.”
Don’t let anything hold you back. Just go for it.
Remco is visiting St. Petersburg for the first time, but he’s no stranger to weekly Couchsurfing meetups: “I’m also organizing Couchsurfing events in my own town in the north of the Netherlands,” he says.
Remco is a 41-year-old biker from Leeuwarden, Netherlands, a town of about 100,000 people. The Couchsurfing events he hosts are a lot smaller, and there are a lot less foreigners visiting Leeuwarden than in St. Petersburg. He shrugs and smiles, “but the atmosphere is the same.”
Remco has visited all seven continents and is planning to come back to St. Petersburg in September as part of a nine month motorcycle trip through Belarus, Turkey, Mongolia, and soon to be plotted countries throughout Central Asia.
English totally does not work in Russia. I haven’t spoken English here.
Ting Sheng lived in Taiwan for 22 years before coming to study Russian in St. Petersburg. He feels that Russian people are more accepting to the language barrier with the Chinese than Europeans are: “Actually, Russians are most open to Chinese people,” he explains. “They are more accepting [here] than in Europe.”
Last week was his first time at the weekly Couchsurfing event and it surprised him that the group turned out to be so international: “I didn’t know there were so many foreigners in St. Petersburg!” he exclaims.
For Ting Sheng, attending the weekly Couchsurfing event is an escape from the comforts of hanging out with people that share your own nationality: “If you live in the dorm, it’s all Chinese or all Russians or all Americans, so it’s not very easy to get to know people from other nations.”
Whether you decide to come alone or even if you bring your whole dorm hood, you can be sure that someone new will stop by to say hello.