Of all the days that I could have picked to be outside of the USA in another country, September 21 would not have been a preferred choice. Those within the Hostelling International community know that the date marks the UN International Day of Peace, and importantly for HI, Sleep for Peace Day. It’s a day of mission activity and awareness-building at hostels within the United States and around the globe.
Yet in other ways, I can’t imagine a more fitting place than in Belgrade at the World Youth and Student Travel Conference. Serbia has a history of being in the middle of international conflicts, as recently as the NATO bombings of Belgrade and the Kosovo war in the late 1990’s. With the region now calm, World Peace Day seemed to hold a special significance. And WYSTC, an event that promotes student and youth travel ideals and programs, also held its own unique relevance.
My Huff Post blog article, World Peace Day in the Balkans? captures my day at the conference and some takeaways from it. Certainly the whole experience was heavily shaped both by being part of the conference’s kickoff panel, discussing “Political Unrest, Youth and the Media: Risks, Opportunities and Destinations on the Fringe” and by being elected the day before to the international board of the World Youth and Student Educational Travel Confederation, the nongovernmental organization that sponsors the annual event. Both were invigorating in their own ways.
As you might expect, the three takeaways I note in my Huff Post blog were just the tip of it. That’s exactly what you’d expect when you are in the middle of a convention center shared by more than 500 youth and student travel professionals, including adventure tour operators, au pair agencies, cultural exchange programs, language schools, international education programs, volunteer and work abroad programs and, of course, hostels. Plenty of thought-provoking conversations and ideas!
When midnight struck in Belgrade, nine hours still remained for the UN International Day of Peace on the USA’s West Coast. A few hours later I crawled onto a 5:30 am plane back to the United States. Along the way home, I checked my iPhone for Sleep for Peace updates. And soon all the images and data transmitted an unmistakable message: 2016 was its best year ever — congratulations to our hostel managers and engagement staff!
Looking back, it was an exciting day on both continents for all of us who believe in the power of travel to engage and inspire.