Q & A with Andres Zapata, Colombian Couchsurfer

IMG_2089We students are always vaguely aware of the fact that our collegiate days are numbered. As undergraduates, we find ourselves in a particularly interesting developmental stage: an in-between period where we are no longer kids, but at the same time, we’re definitely not full-fledged “adults.” Adulthood, we might assume, is something akin to moving out of the family home. That, of course, means we go out and find some respectable jobs. Out of the classroom and into the workforce we go, well on our way to happiness and financial security. The option to “take time off” for travel after schooling doesn’t fit into this ideal very neatly. In an age where the only difference between living independently and living under Mom and Dad’s roof is a decent job, taking time off seems particularly daunting. Still, the practice lives on for many. Recently, my roommate and I signed up to host what are known as couchsurfers. Flash forward three weeks and we found ourselves living with a twenty-one year old Colombian graduate named Andres Zapata. With my own graduation a few months away (and no jobs to show for it), I decided to interview Andres about his experiences as a college graduate traveling the world and living in the Bronx.

Tell me a little about how you got here, on my couch.

Well, I had recently graduated from Colombia’s Universidad del Norte in Barranquilla and I knew I wanted to travel abroad. I was looking to have some fun and see some of the world. As far as how I got here, I took a plane.

Planes are pretty expensive. So is living in New York City. Where is your money coming from?

I worked at a very rich country club in Barranquilla that paid alright. I saved up some money over a couple of months. I also got a little from my family for graduating. Easier than you might think.

So this wasn’t something you had been working towards for a long time?

Well, I started thinking about traveling before I finished school, so at least a year. But I only started saving money a few months ago. Not rash though, obviously. It is like I said, easier than you might think.

What drew you to couchsurfing?

I looked at WWOOFing for a little while before I found the couchsurfing website. My friend had used it before and recommended it.

WWOOFing. The organic farm thing right? Labor in exchange for housing?

 Yes, but I decided to couchsurf because I knew I wanted to see cities more than I wanted to work on a farm. New York City was my number one choice. If you visit to America, New York City is the obvious choice.

When we first talked over email you seemed a little worried about coming to living in New York. What were your concerns, if any?

Getting lost, mostly. Not so much crime, which I know the Bronx has a reputation for. This neighborhood has been nice though, I like walking around.

Could you say a little more about that?

The Bronx is interesting because it is so diverse. I really like the buildings, here and in Manhattan. Before I had never really seen…what is the name…art deco buildings. Very cool, they are. It is also interesting because I have met people from Colombia here already, and is weird to share little moments with people from your same country. You become friends very quickly.

What’s been your opinion of Fordham?

Very beautiful campus. I was unfamiliar with many of the trees and plants, we don’t have all of them in Colombia. Same as before, the buildings were very cool. Very different from the Bronx though, much richer.

Does that strike you as odd?

Well I was surprised by the large gates and security. It seems like they don’t want anyone coming in, which I guess is true.

And us Fordham kids?

Everyone you’ve brought here has been cool. The people downstairs [at Howl at the Moon] are beginning to get on my nerves though.

Oh yeah?

Just very loud. And it seems to attract different types of students. Last night I heard two women fighting over a spilled drink. And some man’s motorcycle kept me up. He made noise for twenty minutes. It’s funny. A very different “party scene” here.

Than in Colombia?

Yes, more clubs in Colombia. But that is part of why I wanted to travel, to see how things were different in other places. People in New York are very private, very focused. I’m hoping to go visit Los Angeles next.

That’s another popular one. Looking to compare beaches?

Yes! In Colombia, I went to a beach called Tyrona National Park, the only place to find mountains directly next to the ocean. It transitions from jungle to beach, but you need to walk for two hours to get there. Crazy but fun. Here’s a picture! I hear California has nice beaches too.

Tyrona National Park, in all its Instagrammed glory

Tyrona National Park, in all its Instagrammed glory

How much time have you afforded yourself to travel? Are you leaving at a certain time or staying until the money runs out?

Right now I have a travel visa that is good for a couple of months, so I plan on going home once that ends. Like I said, Los Angeles is next.

You’ve got a couch waiting in LA?

Yes, two very nice guys. I’m staying here for a few weeks and then I’ll leave. I think it’s good to take your time but also not to just stay in one place. I wanted to travel to see many places, not just stay at one. I think that is the point. To travel.

What are your plans once you go home? Look for a job?

Yes. As wonderful as it has been traveling though, I am feeling homesick. I think that’s something you do not expect, to really miss your country. When I left I could not wait to visit somewhere else. Traveling has given me some good perspectives on my life. I feel better looking for a job now. I feel more worldly because I have seen Colombia from inside and out. It’s a great realization.

How has being abroad affected your thoughts on your nationality? As an observer in a foreign country, does you idea of home change?

Not change, but definitely a clearer image. I would suggest that everybody do it. Probably good for you Americans, honestly. It’s funny how American America is.

What do you mean by that?

Flags are everywhere, and politicians on television are fun to watch, the way they argue over things. You notice another country’s nationalism very easily, more than your own, I think. Travel will probably help me see it more.

It sounds like you’ve learned a lot about yourself from traveling.

I have, and I can tell you what if you’d like, but I think it is more important to think of what you can learn about yourself. That sounds cheesy but it’s true. I think it’s a personal thing. Despite my homesickness, it will be hard to go home after such a long time of relaxing.

Do you think you’ll find a job back home?
Hopefully.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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