999 Surfers – The Goossens from Dendermonde, Belgium

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Name: Lieke, Peter, and kids
Dendermonde, Belgium
Hosted 999 surfers

Words of Inspiration: “We think it is important not to teach our children about hospitality, but to show them. We want them to know that all people are equal, no matter what skin color, religion, ethnicity, culture or language they speak.”


The Goossens have been hosting since 2007, and to date have hosted an amazing 999 surfers (1,000th is already lined up!). Lieke and Peter decided to start hosting to show their children that the majority of people are good, no matter the color of their skin, their religion, culture, or language. In addition to hosting, they host sing-alongs and other events at their home. Their experiences, perspective, and stories is nothing short of inspiring. Read more about them below!

What made you decide to start hosting?

Lieke: We started with Couchsurfing in 2007. At that time we were already house exchanging to go on holiday with our family of 4 kids. This was an easy, cheap and safe way to travel. But, you do not actually meet your guests. We think that is very important, so I Googled the words ‘hospitality’ ‘travel’ ‘meet’ ‘friends’ and found Couchsurfing.

We do not wish to raise our children to be anxious, not trusting the world.

We see a lot of racism in the world and are convinced that this is related to the fear of the unknown. We do not wish to raise our children to be anxious, not trusting the world. We think it is important not only to teach our children about hospitality, but to show them. We want them to know that all people are equal, no matter what skin color, religion, ethnicity, culture or language they speak. People are good and willing to help and share. Of course there are ‘bad people’ out there, but the majority is good. We want to show them our faith in the world, because then you will receive it back. We had no money to travel the world with our 4 kids, so we decided to let the world come to us. We opened our house, our hearts and our lives to strangers. A lot of them became friends for life.

Couchsurfers from all over convene with the Goossens for a Sing Along evening.
Couchsurfers from all over convene with the Goossens for a Sing Along evening.

How did you choose your first guest?

L: At first we had to understand the website and how it worked. We were on holiday in Denmark and had a spare room. On the website, we found an American Muslim pilot who needed a place for the night in Denmark. We hosted him on our holiday.

When we came back to Belgium, we hosted a fantastic couple: a young girl from New Zealand with her little son and a guy from Nice. They were amazing! The little boy was disabled. Seeing the love this young girl had for her son was incredible. It probably inspired our daughter (then 12, now 21) to work with disabled people.

Now that you are an experienced Couchsurfer, what do you look for in a guest, especially as a family?

L: It is different to host as parents than as a young backpacker. We are not searching for the party animals, going out all night long; Of course, this is great too, but not for us. We often host single girls, it feels safe for them being hosted by a family. Also larger groups, since we have a big house with a lot of rooms. But mostly couples or other families with children.

We don’t ask our children to join all the time when Couchsurfers are here. Our kids are willing to give up their rooms for strangers (they sleep in the room of their brother or sister then). At the table we ask them to speak English, so conversations are possible for everyone. This way they learn their languages. And sometimes they actually play with the Couchsurfers, swim in the pool or jump on the trampoline together. Depends a bit on the Couchsurfers too, of course.

We love sharing and trying new things. So the first evening we will cook for our guests. We ask them to prepare something from their country the second night. We have a very international kitchen 🙂

For safety reasons we want complete profiles and personal requests. We want to know who we are hosting and why they chose us. We are not a free hostel. We love sharing and trying new things. So the first evening we will cook for our guests. We ask them to prepare something from their country the second night. We have a very international kitchen 🙂

How has hosting on Couchsurfing changed your (and your kid’s) perspectives?

L: In the beginning we expected to have great moments with our surfers and hosts. After every Couchsurfer you want the next experience to be even better. Of course, that is not possible. Now we’ve learned not to expect anything. Everything you receive then is a gift. We’ve shared wonderful experiences we would never expect. All great, all different. For our children, we know Couchsurfing can be one of the answers against racism. An example I would love to give:

One of our first guests was an African-American basketball player: long, tall, huge, black. Very impressive when you open the door as a 4 year old boy. Our son, Bavo, loves sports and this man became his ‘big’ friend. As Bavo was sitting at the table, his little white hand rested next to the big black hand. I asked my son, ‘Bavo, do you see any difference in both hands?’ He looked at me with those wondering eyes, looked back at the hands and started counting the fingers. Is that what mum means? No, he has 5 fingers, just like me. Hmm, then the twinkle in his eyes appeared as he found it! ‘His hand is bigger than mine!’. He made me so happy that day that colors didn’t exist.

Who is going to be your 1000th surfer?

L: We’ve had surfers from all over the world: mainly Europe, a lot of Asian and American, Australian too, even the Middle East, but never from Africa. It is very hard for Africans to get a Visa to travel to Europe. So we are very happy that our 1000th surfer will be from Ghana. He has a medical internship in Hamburg. We’re curious and excited to hear his stories and experiences.

Can you share some memories or tell us about a few of the surfers that have stood out for you over the years?

L: Over the past 10 years, we have organized several sing along parties at our house. About 30-50 people came here, bringing some food and drinks and music instruments if they wanted. We provided booklets with lyrics to well known songs. If you wanted to sing a song, just scream the page number and we all sing and play together. There, the Couchsurfing song was born.

A lot of them surfed our place after the party. One evening, we had 36 people sleeping over. The kids woke up in the morning and came to our room: “Where can we play? There are people everywhere!”

Over 36 people stayed over after the singalong! Here they are pictured having breakfast.
Over 36 people stayed over after the singalong! Here they are pictured having breakfast.

One of the guests was Stijn, a Couchsurfer from Belgium. He is one of our best friends now. Enea, our youngest daughter, was only 1.5 years old. when he first came to our house for a barbecue party. She gave him one of her story books and looked at him. He sat down in the doorway to the garden and started reading for her. When they finished the book, she gave it back to him, so he could read it again and again and again. This continued for about an hour. From then on, he was her best friend, she wanted to marry him!

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Stijn reads to Enea.

What advice do you have for families who are interested in hosting?

L: Do not hesitate. Make a clear profile and take your time to look at the profiles of your future guests/hosts. Join the Family Welcome Group, it can help you finding hosts and guests.

When we travel with the whole family, we’ve stayed at wonderful places, but we also make sure to combine it with hostels, house exchange, etc. Children also want some private family time. When we are surfing, they have to share this time with our hosts, which is great, but they also need ‘family time’.

When we stay with another family with children, we bring the game ‘Jungle Speed’. You do not need any language for this game and it still gives a lot of interaction. So we explain the game, (with help from the other parents to translate, if necessary) and off they go. From then on the kids will find a way to communicate and play.

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One Reply to “999 Surfers – The Goossens from Dendermonde, Belgium”

  1. Dendermonde likes to be known for its decennial procession, featuring the heroic horse, Ros Beiaard . Legend has this horse saving his master and his three brothers from capture by Charlemagne .

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