New to Berkeley? SWiiFTly make new Friends!

As a former I-House resident, I remember the rush of emotions from the excitement about a fresh start and the opportunity to meet new people in the US. I had just landed at my dream destination, filled with excitement for adventure, but I had so many questions. “Where do I start? What do the locals do? How can I meet people and tap into the culture?” Google definitely couldn’t answer that one. As a student traveler, I’ve often struggled to answer those questions due to the lack of accessible local expertise. This struggle inevitably led to a sense of frustration which I called travel FOMO. In moving to Berkeley, I was fortunate enough to have the I-House community, but not everyone gets the privilege to live at International House.

Personally experiencing this travel FOMO is what inspired me to team up with Max Monange and our Berkeley Skydeck team to create SWiiFT – a platform that connects travelers with locals to swiftly make new friendships abroad. Think about it: when was the last time you randomly connected with a local while you were abroad? For members of the SWiiFT community, that is the highlight of many trips. Might it be on a night out exploring Berlin’s nightlife, during a cultural expedition in Rome, or trying to find Indonesia’s finest surf waves, most travel lovers have had an encounter with a stranger abroad that changed the course of their trip for the better. On many occasions, those strangers have become life-long friends. The SWiiFT team has assembled a community of like-minded travelers and locals who thrive on travel’s inherent power to bring unlikely pairs together, and we’re launching an app to facilitate the process for our community. Our value proposition is simple: make local friends abroad and experience the best that any city has to offer thanks to your local’s expertise – all for free. We are excited to invite the I-House community to join before our launch in August!

Meet the SWiiFT Team

Back row, from left: Samuel Ruiperez-Campillo (me), Community Co-Lead; Aayushi Sanghi, Product lead; John Thomson, Finance Lead;
Front row, from left: Shanna Fitschzang, Marketing Intern; Max Monange, CEO; Jasmine King, Community Co-Lead

The SWiiFT app

Joining the SWiiFT community is easy! Take a short personality test and fill out a personalized traveler profile. That’s all the SWiiFT app needs to give you suggestions on which locals you’re most likely to be compatible with during your next trip. Our defining goal is to match the right users together. And our compatibility algorithm was designed to do exactly that. Combine the excitement of travel, new local friends, and their expertise, and your trip can’t go wrong. It’s never been that swift to make friends abroad!

Feeling bored in your hometown? Reverse the experience and become a local. Our app offers dual usability in a single click! You’ll meet travelers with compatible interests, personalities, and profiles visiting your city. Think about showing some Cal Bears what makes your hometown special! We enable our locals to expand their network of international friends and provide them with the opportunity to share the wonders of their home cities with the rest of the world.

On top of facilitating connections with locals abroad, the SWiiFT app acts as a social network for its traveler community. Picture this: You meet a witty local in Dublin and the two of you end up having a crazy pub crawl experience. Am I the only one this has happened to? Can’t be! Share your experience with the rest of the community on our dedicated feed page, in the form of a blog or picture post! Unlike traditional social media, the SWiiFT feed page was designed to be a safe social space for travelers and locals, to highlight new friendships and adventures from the community, in line with our core values at SWiiFT.

If all of that wasn’t enough, you can also use SWiiFT to help you plan your next trips. Looking to go to France next week? Just zoom into the Paris map to check out members of the community there. You’ll be able to start selecting your favorite locals even before having set foot in the City of Lights! Looking for a specific experience during your trip? Find a local with expertise! Filter locals by selecting one of SWiiFT’s five travel modes: food & drink, daylight city exploration, nightlife, cultural discovery, or group adventure. Not picky? Stay in free-mode and go for an improvised experience with a local. All in all, the app caters to your needs as a traveler. It’s truly personalized to the user. All you have to do is to be ready to meet awesome locals excited to share the true essence of their city with you.

Every user on the SWiiFT app has a verified profile, together with ratings and reviews to keep the platform a safe environment for its community. As the community scales up, the product team has additional safety features up its sleeve that they will be releasing to make sure every meeting experience goes as smoothly as possible, all while ensuring quality time.

The SWiiFT Team and the International House

One of the beauties of our team is that it is 100% UC Berkeley-made! The core team is a melting pot of five graduate students, from four different nationalities, who speak six different languages, and collectively have studied in eight different countries. What do we have in common? We’re all avid travelers who are passionate about sparking friendships between travelers and locals.

A couple of months into starting my Master’s at UC Berkeley, I met Max, who had laid down the foundation for SWiiFT and the SWiiFT app based on his life experiences. His stories were amusing and captivating! After having lived on three different continents and traveled to more than 40 countries during his teenage years, Max has built a network of international friendships from his experiences abroad and is now fortunate enough to have friends all over the globe. I resonated with him in many ways because of my diverse international background, having studied in three different countries, and frequently lived with the many problems that SWiiFT plans to solve. Together, we founded SWiiFT with a team of engineers and Max as CEO.

“Wherever I travel now, the odds are that I will have a couple of friends to take me out, show me around and have fun with. I rarely have to deep-plan my trips anymore. I just know I’ll have truly authentic experiences and lots of fun because I’ll be with my local friends. Our goal at SWiiFT is to give every traveler the opportunity to experience new destinations in that same manner.”

Max Monange

Max (right) with a local friend in San Diego

While living in the International House, I felt inspired by the values of respect and multiculturalism fostered in the community. Thus, the SWiiFT team decided to offer I-House residents the SWiiFT experience to help them make the most out of their time in the US.

What’s next? 

After spending the summer in the renowned startup accelerator program SkyDeck, SWiiFT will be releasing its app on the UC Berkeley campus in the fall. The team will be specifically focused on helping incoming Cal students find new local friends in Berkeley and San Francisco. Before you know it, SWiiFT will be coming to your city too!

In focusing on the incoming students at Cal, specifically international students, we thought that I-House residents would benefit, given the overlap in our values. This has been a great opportunity for us to test our value proposition of providing new students a genuinely local experience around Cal. Our first campus event was a hit! I-House residents loved it! If you or anyone else that you know is interested, our next I-House event will be on August 19. Be on the lookout! You don’t want to miss this next one!

If you’re a traveler and you love meeting new friends abroad, join the SWiiFT community. You can follow us on social media (Instagram / TikTok) to check out the awesome local tips we regularly post, SWiiFT (LinkedIn), to find out more about our launch events, or simply join their waitlist to download our app when it comes out this fall.  

And don’t forget… travel the right way, experience with locals.

Max and the I-House students getting to know some of the UC Berkeley traditions.
Our locals meet I-House travelers and show them their favorite spots on campus.
Some of the I-House summer residents on an I-House campus experience with SWiiFT locals.

Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below, or contact us on instagram

About sruiperez

Hey! I'm Samuel Ruiperez-Campillo. Born and raised in Spain, I did my studies in Biomedical Engineering, BSc, MSc, MEng in Switzerland and the U.S. Lover of classical music, researcher at @UCBerkeley and @Stanford, and redefining the way of travelling as a SWiiFT co-founder. Join our community at (IG) and SWiiFT (LinkedIn).
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