When I arrived in Cebu City, Philippines I literally didn’t know anyone. It was my first time in the country and I had no social, educational, or organizational contacts whatsoever. While I had a cheap hotel room for a couple of nights, I had no leads on finding an apartment for the duration of my stay. And on top of it all, it was rainy season here, hot and humid, and poured every day. In short, it seemed like it would be an uphill battle to make things happen in this bustling, soaking wet city.
But sometimes when traveling to a new country or location, one person you meet can make a huge difference to your experience there. And lucky for me, I soon met just such an individual. My first night in Cebu I saw that there was a “couchsurfing” event. For those of you who don’t know, couchsurfing.org is a social networking website for travelers, which basically gives them the opportunity to connect with travel-minded locals and save money while traveling, by literally sleeping on people’s couches. The organization also holds social events like the one I attended my first night in Cebu.
At the event I met and made friends with Alex Kissa, a Russian national who works locally in Cebu for QQ English language school as a liaison for their students from Russia. Since English language schools are one type of organization that Bent Marble seeks to partner with, we on the spot decided to try to set something up with QQ English. Over the next couple days Alex made a promotional flyer for our creative documentary workshop program and advertised it in his school, one of the biggest in Cebu with hundreds of students and teachers alike. And within one week our first workshop series had begun with a class full of bright and interested adult students from around the world (including a free Russian co-facilitator and IT tech)! Thank you, Alex.
But I still needed a place to stay, sleep, and conduct Bent Marble’s daily office work. And it initially was looking quite hard to find a flat. Well Alex again came to the rescue, and took half a day of his time to show me half a dozen apartments around town. Indeed, for his work with foreign students, he sometimes has to help them find long-term accommodation, and this capability of his came in very handy. Within 24 hours of beginning our search I had found a wonderful place to call home base for the next month! Thank you again, Alex.
As the saying goes, “all work and no play makes Jacks a dull boy” (and I might add a bit bored and sad too). Indeed, being in a new country, or large city without social connections can be a daunting downer. Well unsurprisingly, Alex again helped out by inviting me to more official and unofficial events with members of the couchsurfing community, as well as social activities offered by his own school. He also regularly took me to dinner after the workshops in different restaurants around the neighborhood, and even provided me with a gym membership with QQ English’s affiliate gym. And you know you can’t be sad or depressed when you’re working out. Thank you, again and again, Alex!
So for all his assistance, in so many aspects of my life in Cebu, both professional and personal, I really am indebted to Alex. In his kindness and generosity, he is an exemplary representative of the couchsurfing spirit, which is founded in friendship between people from different countries and cultures. He truly took me under his wing and facilitated every aspect of life here. So with great gratitude and respect (and a tiny bit of humor too), I dub him “Mother Russia… in Cebu”.