Ben Hanna ’07: Unlikely connections

As I walked off of Elon’s campus in May of 2007, I knew that my life had changed drastically. All of my responsibilities and ties to a physical location had just disappeared, and the future was wide open. The most common questions asked of every graduate are “Where are you going to live?” and “What are you going to do?” My answer was “Everywhere, and everything.”

I spent the summer working for an advertising agency in Greensboro while saving up enough money to travel. In August my freshman year roommate and I rode our bicycles down the California coast almost 500 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Upon returning home I sold my car, and left on a seven month trip around Asia.

Celebration of the King's birthday in Thailand

Celebration of the King's birthday in Thailand

Not wanting to be without a fall back for my travels, I joined a website called CouchSurfing.com, which facilitates cultural interaction between travelers and hosts by creating a free network of people who will let you stay on their couches around the world. I didn’t know it at the time, but this network altered the course of my career path.

After trekking to Everest Base Camp, exploring Buddhist temples, working in a Cambodian restaurant, climbing sea cliffs in Thailand, and meeting up with countless people who graciously took me into their homes and showed me their local hangouts and comfy couches, it was time to leave Asia. I had been designing web pages for hotels and other companies around Asia in return for free accommodation, free excursions, and discounted travel, but was still running low on funds.

During my final stay in Bangkok, Thailand, I ran into some of the people who were involved in the creation and upkeep of CouchSurfing.com. Inspired by their work, I interviewed with CouchSurfing, and landed a job as their new Web Content Coordinator.

View from the Everest Basecamp

View from the Everest Basecamp

CouchSurfing is a dynamic and unique organization. Being an online based travel network, there is no reason for the company to have a set physical office. Have laptop and internet, will travel. When I joined, the group was just relocating to a bluff 600 feet over Katchemak Bay, in Alaska. After three months in Alaska where I reorganized the layout and navigation of the site, we moved to San Francisco to set up a central location for training volunteers.

The company was small, about 13 of us running things full time with volunteers chipping in from around the world, but in the past few months we have expanded to fill 25+ positions, and after five months in San Francisco, I helped opened a satellite office in Costa Rica, where I am now.

On March 12th, we hit one million members, and have plans to set up satellite offices around the world. I am currently in charge of creating, leading, and motivating the User Interface and Design team here, and will be updating again with stories, tips, and images from around the world.

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