The Hostel Perspective
By College Tourist of 06/16/14
Open yourself up to proving your stereotypes wrong. You might become friends with someone you never imagined.
Guest Article by Netanya Trimboli, Hostelling International USA
“I don’t like that man. I must to get to know him better.” – Abraham Lincoln
Have you ever seen someone in class and immediately decided you didn’t like him or her? Maybe you thought he/she look snobby or arrogant, and you just knew you didn’t want to have anything to do with that person. But then you were forced to work together on a project. And much to your disbelief, it turned out your nemesis was actually pretty cool.
It’s amazing how just one conversation can completely dismantle preconceived ideas.
Think beyond the guy in the back of class who never combs his hair. What about your preconceived ideas of what people with certain political views are like? Or religious affiliation? Or nationality? What would happen if you could just talk to them, peer-to-peer, and get to know what they’re all about? If you’re willing to have the conversation, there’s a place for you to meet people from all different walks of life who have certain preconceived ideas of what you’re all about too. It’s called a hostel.
When I graduated college wide-eyed and eager to take on the world, I went to Europe with 3 friends on our first backpacking trip. We heard about hostels as an affordable way to travel and meet cool people, but I had more to learn about what they were actually capable of. We stayed in hostels just about everywhere, but in Germany we ended up in a hotel. In retrospect, that’s where I could have used a hostel the most.
As a descendant of Jews who fled Poland and Russia just before the Holocaust, I felt uncomfortable being in Germany. Sure, the war was over 50 years behind us, but that history kept finding its way to the surface during our stay. I remember taking a bike tour in Munich and our guide stopping us in a plaza that was once draped in Nazi propaganda. Concentration camps were a “must see,” although I couldn’t bring myself to go. The whole city was a factory for Nazi activity and my presence would have meant death a half century ago.
What was haunting me is that I couldn’t understand how any Germans could have stayed in there during the Nazi reign. Who were these people walking down the street who had a heritage that wouldn’t flee? Were they descendants of genocide propagators? Since we were staying in a hotel, I didn’t get to meet too many other people to discuss their perspectives, and I especially didn’t have meaningful conversations with Germans either. But I figured we wouldn’t have that much in common anyway.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I went backpacking again, this time in Australia. I relied solely on hostels and met tons of cool people – including Germans. I didn’t talk to them about my experience in Germany, because it wasn’t necessary. They were friendly. And generous. And fun. By becoming friends we learned about each other’s cultures through natural conversation, including sore points in history. I soon realized that everyone I saw on the streets of Munich had as much to do with World War II as I did with Civil Rights.
I haven’t had the chance to go back to Germany yet, but I know it would feel different. Because now I know the people, not just the history. Looking back, it seems silly. I didn’t know any Germans, but was carrying this huge baggage about their entire populace. I’m just glad I had an open mind and enough sense to rely on hostels for my future travels.
Here’s why the hostelling experience works:
Each year, tens of millions of young travelers from more than 100 different countries pass through Hostelling International’s (HI) doors, a collection of more than 4,000 hostels worldwide. They’re each their own melting pot, offering communal living for young travelers anxious to experience new places as a local. With the majority of rooms being dormitory style, with anywhere from 4-10 beds, your roommates could be a pair of students on a school break from Indonesia, a young professional on a work break from Australia, and a 5-year wanderer on a life break from a home town that doesn’t matter anymore. There’s likely someone who speaks a different language than you and someone else who dresses differently. As you cook your meals alongside other guests in the self serve kitchen, you’ll notice how everyone’s plate looks very different. But none of that matters.
It’s not like high school, where you stare in fear for an open seat in the dining hall and hope someone doesn’t make fun of your lunch. It’s not like college, where conversation is venting over exams and gossiping about what happened at the party the night before. It’s taking a genuine interest in the people around you, getting their advice on what to do and where to go, and trusting them even though you barely know them. Before you find out their political views, religious affiliation, and nationality, you’ll find out what you do have in common. And by the time you get to that other stuff, you’ll be old friends sharing stories instead of rival nationalities debating issues.
Let’s admit it: we all have preconceived notions about other people. But the question is, are you open to proving your stereotypes wrong? On your next trip – even if it’s in your own country – consider staying at a hostel. You might become friends with someone you never imagined. And when that happens, there’s something that feels so good about being totally wrong.
Netanya has worked, volunteered, and enjoyed life around the world, from the Australian Outback to the micro French island, Ile D’Hoedic. During her travels, she stayed at dozens of hostels and still has friends that she made along the way from more than 10 years ago. She is lucky to now be working for Hostelling International USA (HI-USA) as their Communications & PR Manager and encouraging others to have the same life-changing experiences she did. Netanya holds a Masters in Advertising from Boston University and a Bachelor’s in Communications from the University of Michigan.