The White House Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship was a big deal. The Summit showcased the importance of the travel and education communities individually and collectively. And some of the most influential travel bloggers in the world were in attendance.
Since the bloggers were largely hand-picked by HI USA, most already were acquainted with us (but there’s always more to know). For some, the event provided a wonderful introduction to our organization and our mission of intercultural understanding. But everywhere, the questions flowed. Here are the five I fielded most often:
1. How did HI USA come to partner on the White House Summit? We see our hostels as playing an integral role in encouraging study abroad and building global citizenship. So when the First Lady announced the Administration’s study abroad initiative last March and shared her own hostel stay experience, we reached out to the First Lady’s staff. A bright, creative staffer named Fran Holuba saw particular promise in outreach to travel bloggers, and the idea for a White House Summit was born.
2. Why is HI USA interested in study abroad, anyway? Our hostels have for years hosted students from overseas who are touring the United States while studying here. Yet our facilities also are a terrific resource for communities where young adults, as volunteers or hostel guests, can come to experience intercultural exchange close to home. Think about it: last year our hostels hosted over one million traveler overnights from more than 100 different countries. That makes HI USA hostels a unique place to refine language skills, get a feel for cultural diversity, and test drive the idea of study or travel abroad for yourself, before ever buying an airline ticket overseas.
3. What about hostel romances? Yes, a topic first introduced by Travel Channel celebrity Don Wildman as part of a story he shared during HI USA’s Summit luncheon at the National Press Club. I polled the audience afterwards and found hostel romances indeed are a bit of a phenomenon (which is not at all surprising if you hang around hostelling types – many, including me, met their partners through hostelling and travel). Curious, adventuresome, interesting people use hostels; why shouldn’t there be an attraction? In fact, our hostels are such a great place to find love, that we published an article on it!
4. Why is it important that HI USA is a nonprofit organization? HI USA has a mission to create a more tolerant world by inspiring a genuine understanding of people, places and cultures. This is achieved through the hostel stay, as well as through education and engagement programs that are all about reaching out to the community and furthering cross-cultural interactions (and they are memorable too!). All monies raised from operations are reinvested in the cause. And members of our board of directors are elected from and by the community of travelers.
5. What’s it like in the White House and the Executive Office Building? The White House was splendid, all decked out for the holidays. The Executive Office Building, where presidential staff work and the Summit briefing was hosted, was ornate but functional. And while I’m not suggesting either is like a hostel, here’s a similarity: the buildings are memorable, but it’s the ideas and personalities within the four walls that move the world.
You can learn more about the Summit by visiting HI USA’s website. And you’ll see how this nonprofit builds on the Summit’s impressive outcomes in future blog posts.