IOU Respect - International Exchanges with HI-USA

International ExchangesHI-USA provides opportunities for young people to participate in formal international exchange programs. The number of programs, their locations, focus, etc. vary from year to year, but all are generally designed to provide opportunities for young people from different countries, cultures, religious backgrounds, ethnic heritages, etc., to come together to learn about each other and to sow the seeds of friendship, respect and peace on a personal level.

About the Program

Egypt, France, Germany, Lebanon, Tunisia, United States

The Experience of a Lifetime

Each year, young people from Egypt, France, Germany, Lebanon, Tunisia, and the United States gather for Hostelling International’s IOU Respect international exchange program. The two-week program prioritizes dialogue and interactive learning opportunities to bridge cultural divides and increase understanding and respect in its participants. Through a series of engaging, fun, and challenging workshops and time spent exploring the program’s host city together, participants build friendships while learning to approach the world and its people with open minds.

International Exchanges
International Exchanges

Videos from Past Exchanges

About Hostelling International

Hostelling International is a worldwide not-for-profit organization that provides 35 million overnight stays a year through more than 4,000 hostels in over 80 countries. In HI hostels, travelers are able to encounter people of different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences. HI hostels are a rich resource for learning and for building a better, more peaceful world. The hostelling associations of Egypt (EYHA), France (FUAJ), Germany (DJH), Lebanon (LYHF), Tunisia (ATATJ), and the USA (HI-USA) partner to ensure a quality, meaningful, enjoyable IOU Respect program experience for each year’s participants. These six sister associations take turns hosting the program.

Goals for IOU Respect

Hostelling International fosters intercultural understanding and open-mindedness through shared accommodation, educational programs, and community engagement. IOU Respect offers participants an intensive cross-cultural learning experience. The goals of this Western-Arab dialogue are to:

  • Increase knowledge about other cultures
  • Develop intercultural communication skills
  • Foster attitudes that promote mutual understanding
  • Encourage action for constructive intercultural exchange beyond the life of the program

History of the program

Shortly after 9/11, 2001, representatives of the Canadian, German, and American Hostelling International associations recognized a clear need to exercise HI’s mission of building peace through bringing people together in order to close the gap between the cultures of youth from Western countries and predominantly Muslim countries. The best way to accomplish this, they decided, was through a cross-cultural international exchange program which eventually came to be called IOU Respect.

This initiative was consistent with a worldwide campaign supported by HI, entitled "Youth Hostelling for Peace and International Understanding". The belief that hostelling has a contribution to make toward building a better world represents the motto of the campaign. In launching the effort, HI president Harish Saxena stated that: "Youth hostels feel that they too must find a response to the dramatic, violent conflicts that tear cultures and nations apart. Our responsibility is to make our own contribution to intercultural dialogue, and to educate for peace." IOU Respect has become one of the most impactful ways that HI meets this goal.

Who is eligible to participate?

Anyone between the ages of 18-23, has not participated in a prior Hostelling International exchange program, is fluent in English, is a citizen of Egypt, France, Germany, Lebanon, Tunisia, or the USA and is not currently employed by HI is eligible to participate. The selection process is a competitive one; candidates will complete a written application with references. Top candidates will receive phone interviews before final selections are made.

Participants for this program will be selected by each Hostelling International National Association based on their demonstrated motivation to support and live the principles of intercultural education, respect, tolerance and understanding that are at the foundation for building a culture of peace.

In order to maximize the outcomes of the exchange, selected participants will be expected to complete some preparatory work before departing for the U.S. They will also participate in one or more orientation/training sessions in their home countries (in person or via teleconference) prior to the exchange.

International Exchanges

IOU Respect 2014

This year’s IOU Respect program will be hosted by the Tunisian Hostelling Association. The program begins on August 17 and ends on August 31, 2014. The majority of the program will take place in Tunis and Bizerte.


On the ground costs, including local transportation, accommodation, meals, and site visit entrance fees, will be covered by Hostelling International. Each participant will be responsible for his/her transportation to Tunisia. Scholarships may be available depending on your country’s hostelling association.

To apply

IOU Respect Application

IOU Respect Reference

International Exchanges

For more information about Hostelling International’s IOU Respect program, please contact Megan Arlow, IOU Respect Program Coordinator at HI-USA. Email: or 312-583-2221.

Summer 2013

Meet 2013's American Participants

Antonia DeMichiel

I feel really fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel and volunteer abroad in a wide range of countries before I found out about the IOU Respect program. I also feel very fortunate to have been exposed to the beauty of hostelling from a very young age, as I traveled around the U.S. with my parents. However, when I began to reflect on why I wanted to apply to this particular program, I had a seemingly simple yet profound realization. In my previous experiences abroad, the Americans were always visiting the country as a homogenous group of individuals united by similar values and goals. My main motivation for participating in IOU Respect was to gain a true understanding of what “cross cultural learning” is and how it can be applied to real world situations. I wanted to see what this concept meant beyond being a buzzword in my college International Studies classes.

While in Germany, the broader understanding of what “cross cultural learning” means revealed itself in both the Dialogue Sessions and more informal interactions. Some of these more informal moments included navigating Berlin’s train system without knowing a word of German, teaching the group how to play the popular game Apples to Apples or talking with my Egyptian friend about the cultural importance of the hijab head scarf. In the Dialogue Sessions, we had a rare opportunity to dive deeper into various taboo topics such as religion, politics and stereotypes. Even though our personal experiences with each of these topics were vastly different, we shared a common desire to learn from one another with genuinely open minds. I’m grateful to HI-USA for giving me the unique opportunity to learn in this way!

Daniel Lacan-Bradley

In all my experiences, I have never connected so quickly, with so many people, who were so culturally different than myself, than I did in Hostelling International’s IOU Respect Program. Throughout the time of 2 weeks, I was privileged to have seen so amazing cities such Berlin and Dresden while also engaging in dialogue and discussion sessions with other individuals. I was challenged in my beliefs and views on certain topics but in a way that resulted in my individual growth. Through our daily conversations we also gained insight into each other’s lives back in our respective countries and, in a way, it felt as if we were connect to a part of each other’s lives prior to IOU.

In closing, I want to say that I will never forget this group of people and even now we all still remain in contact with one another through the miracle of technology. I firmly believe that you never meet someone just once in your life, you meet them at least twice, and I look forward to the future because I know I will see all these amazing people again.

Cailyn Kilcup

During IOU Respect, I learned that differences add color to our wonderfully eclectic universe. I learned that individuals are uniquely distinct from their country, religion, or government. I learned that harmful stereotyping and judgment can be broken down with an open mind and curiosity. I learned that every single person wants to be valued and acknowledged. I learned that singing, dancing and laughing together connects souls in deep, indelible ways. I learned that language is often unnecessary--just one desperate look into another's eyes can say, "Listen, I feel broken and scared with the world. All her hurt weighs heavy on my heart and I want to help heal that pain. I just wish for less hate and more love-- less hate and more understanding." And one fleeting flash of the eyes back can just as easily reply, "Girl, I feel you. C'mon... let's do this."

There are powers in place, entrenched systems and structures warning us of insurmountable differences, which make peace impossible. We are told that we are enemies whom shall never come together to change the world. What I learned through this program is that the rumbling of youth refusing to surrender dreams of universal peace and understanding is stronger and louder. It is contagious, courageous, and astoundingly powerful. C'mon... let's do this.