Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Culture of Couch Surfing Amongst Students

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posted on 2021-12-07, 13:19 authored by De Ruysscher, Denzel

This thesis explores ‘couch surfing’ as it becomes more prevalent within the tertiary student experience. In recent years, there has been a significant decline in the availability of housing in all major cities in New Zealand. Rental accommodations been particularly hard hit with the number of properties available for occupation under increasing demand. Despite this shortage universities have continued to expand, offering an increased number of positions to students. This dichotomy has impacted university students looking for ‘affordable accommodation.’ This has led to a recent surge in students undertaking studies without fixed abodes for either short time periods or in some cases for the duration of the university trimesters or year, commonly referred to as ‘student homelessness.’ The students are faced with a new reality; a reality of relying on short term peer support for accommodation, known as couch-surfing. This research considers the impact of accommodation uncertainty within the tertiary student experience and specifically asks what impact the current global phenomenon of couch surfing is having on either alleviation or amplification of the physical and/or emotional stresses and strains associated with attending university. This study interviews students who have experienced uncertainty around their accommodation arrangements and as a result have engaged in couch surfing practices. The aim of this study is to gain a holistic overview of the impact this experience of uncertainty and temporary accommodation has on a student’s life and uses photography as a tool within human-centred and participatory design approaches to assist in the expression and interpretation of the couch surfing experience during university study.  At the outset, more portrait photography approaches such as model headshots are used to illustrate the student couch surfer and their accommodation experience and surroundings with the purpose of capturing the couch surfers in the moment in mind. Following on from this the study introduces the ethnographic method of Photovoice and asks the couch surfing student to record their own accommodation experience through the taking of more self-focused photos that include their surroundings and expressions of the experience. As a final experience, a workshop was designed and facilitated to synergise the student voice on the experiences of couch surfing. This experience was also documented through photography.  The culmination of these research approaches is a visual output in the form of a photobook that will showcase the overall narrative of the thesis. The main objective of the thesis and visual output is to explore the lifestyle and experiences of student couch surfers and to visually amplify a collective student voice that speaks to the emergent and unique phenomenon of couch surfing, that has had an impact on their university experience.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Design for Social Innovation

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Design Innovation

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Alternative Title

An investigation that reflects on the experiences of homelessness for tertiary students within a contemporary and challenging lifestyle

Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Design


O'Sullivan, Nan