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two young men and two young women participating in an international exchange stand smiling next to each other while interacting at an aquarium

‘Tis the Season to Pause and Be Grateful

As do so many throughout the world, I find myself at this time of year reflecting on the importance of generosity, gratitude, and togetherness. At HI USA, those reflections begin with our donors, staff, and volunteers, and their incredible support in 2022 of HI USA’s mission to promote cross-cultural understanding. 

Whatever our connection to HI USA, over the years, I have come to recognize the commonalities we share:

  • Most of us at some point had a life-changing hostel trip that we never let go of because it was simply too important to ever forget. Mine was an extended backpacking trip to Europe early in my career, when I packed a lifetime of lessons into five months of study and travel and came back forever changed. 
  • Many of us share an additional link to HI USA, whether as a past trip leader, or as a current or former volunteer or staff member. For me, the time I spent as a local HI USA hostel volunteer after I returned home from my big trip ultimately led me to shelve my economics and finance career: I realized over the course of my three years volunteering that I could have a much bigger impact dedicating myself to the cause full time, and I’ve never looked back.
  • All of us appreciate the importance of cross-cultural understanding in this world and are intent on advancing it. I can still vividly recall a conversation I had with a young Croatian in a hostel common room years ago: when I asked her why she was traveling, she answered in precise English, “to find my place in a world I don’t understand yet.” Our hostels provide a safe haven in which that search can take place (and yes, our common rooms continue to host amazing people and the wisdom they share with others).
  • We all made it through COVID, and in doing so, better understand how isolation can foment apprehension and even distress. Ultimately, though, it’s now clearer than ever that friendships and shared values win the day. 

HI USA’s holiday season this year included #GivingTuesday, when we highlighted the re-launch of two cross-cultural exchange programs that we’d temporarily paused due to COVID: Travel Scholarships and IOU Respect. Both programs aim to build understanding across borders. Our Travel Scholarships provide financial and logistical support to young Americans who otherwise could not afford educational travel, both overseas and within the USA. Our IOU Respect program brings together young people from Western and Middle Eastern countries to explore their cultural differences and appreciate their undeniable similarities through facilitated dialog and shared in-person experiences. This past summer at our HI Chicago hostel, we hosted nearly two dozen young people from Egypt, France, Germany, Lebanon, and the USA, with overwhelmingly positive participant feedback.

In 2023 we will be relaunching most of the cross-cultural programming we had to shelve during the pandemic. In teaming up to deliver it, our donors, staff, and volunteers will be reaffirming their own generosity as we seek to build a better world together.   

Yet now is the time to pause and say “thank you.” We accomplished much this year, and we did it together. Our mission is important, and our future looks bright.  

Enjoy the season!