Inspiration and Learning Along The Nile River

It was a steamy 105 degrees when I landed in Cairo for this year’s IOU Respect program visit. Any discomfort quickly vanished with the kind welcome I received from my Egyptian hosts and the easy collegiality evident among IOU Respect participants who two weeks earlier were virtual strangers to each other.  Yet my keenest take away relates to those who collaboratively deliver it.

IOU Respect at the Egyptian Museum.

IOU Respect at the Egyptian Museum.

IOU Respect is a partnership of national hostelling associations in Egypt, France, Germany, Lebanon, Tunisia and the USA.   College-aged youth from the six countries engage for two weeks in a professionally facilitated program that encourages dialogue and exchange while staying in hostels.

I travelled to Cairo because one IOU Respect tradition is that participants gather on the final day of the program to celebrate their journey together and share their experiences. I was there to represent HI USA, meet the participants and learn about their time together.

Every IOU Respect program seeks to incorporate the unique features of the host country, which this year led to a closing ceremony as part of a dinner cruise along the Nile River.   As the boat pushed away from the shore, conversation quickly accelerated.  I found this year’s participants to be an engaging group, well-spoken and intelligent 18-23 year olds who had made the decision to spend part of their summer in the exciting but challenging work of intercultural exchange.   That in itself distinguished each one of them.   But their common energy seemed their defining characteristic.   Conversations were animated, laughter easily shared, and insights beyond their years effortlessly expressed.

Yet a cultural exchange program like IOU Respect has many layers of involvement.

Leading up to my visit, the commitment of staff and volunteers across all six countries was front and center. These stalwarts communicate with each other virtually year round, culminating with each year’s program.   Afterwards they gather to evaluate program results and plan for the next year.  They take on the formidable job of securing visas (an arduous and sometimes quixotic task!).   And in joining together on a common program that crosses national boundaries, they build their own cross-cultural strengths for a greater good.

Here I am with Egyptian and Tunisian youth hostel leaders

Here I am with Egyptian and Tunisian youth hostel leaders

On the river cruise I also met several of this year’s IOU Respect “teamers.” These seasoned volunteers live side by side with program participants and are available for encouragement and support.    HI USA recruits outstanding former IOU Respect participants to serve as its teamers, creating an opportunity for leadership and a new level of cultural interaction.   In Egypt this multinational group seemed to find their own collective initiative and understanding.

The next morning came slowly as I shook off my jet lag.   Yet I was quickly invigorated by an afternoon lunch with Egypt’s national association leaders and joined by a Tunisian colleague.   Looking out over the Nile, we shared for several hours our collective aspirations for IOU Respect and the organizational importance of cultural youth exchanges.

In a discordant world, IOU Respect is its own language of teamwork, civility and reflection.

By |2018-01-22T08:52:48+00:00August 19th, 2016|Around the World, Thoughts From the Road|Comments Off on Inspiration and Learning Along The Nile River

About the Author:

Since 2000, Russ has been the CEO of Hostelling International USA (HI USA), a nonprofit, member organization founded on an enduring belief in the power of travel to foster a deeper understanding of people, places, and the world around. The HI USA hostel network is consistently recognized as one of the best in world by the International Youth Hostel Federation and by independent rating agencies. Russ has been a featured speaker at national and international conferences on topics ranging from experiential education to nonprofit management. Russ serves on the Boards of the UNWTO, US Travel Association, and WYSTC.