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Cultural Exchange & Educational Programs

Travel is learning by doing. Meeting people from places you haven’t (yet) visited. Diving head-first into novel experiences. Tasting different flavors. Learning about other cultures. And learning about yourself along the way.

HI USA’s mission is to help all gain a greater understanding about the world and its people through hostelling. We offer unique experiential learning opportunities to travelers, so they can learn about themselves while gaining a deeper understanding of the world around them. In 2018, we were honored when the United Nations World Tourism Organization recognized HI USA as a world leader in travel-focused learning programs. Today, each of our programs is designed to align with the Association of American of Colleges and University VALUE rubrics in intercultural knowledge and competence, civic engagement, and global learning.

Our educational programs foster HI USA’s core values of Community, Integrity, Respect, and Relationships while furthering our Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion.

Because the hostel stay is our widest-reaching program, we put a great deal of care into designing it: we’ve put intentional thought into designing our hostel spaces, activities, and amenities so they create the perfect setting for cultural exchange. In our hostels, guests interact with fellow travelers, share perspectives, and challenge their own worldviews. For groups, particularly school groups, our hostels serve as “travel classrooms,” providing endless, organic opportunities for learning about other people, places, and cultures.

Whether you’re new to hostels or have been using them for years, you’ll find so much more than just a place to stay with HI USA.

Our Signature Programs

From intensive cultural-exchange programs like IOU Respect, to domestic and international travel scholarships, to free hostel overnights for groups doing community service during our Great Hostel Give Back, our annual signature programs shape young travelers into community leaders. Sign up for our Programs and Events emails below to be notified when program applications open.

IOU Respect is a two-week intensive cultural exchange program bringing together young participants from the U.S., France, Germany, Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia to explore their cultural differences and appreciate their undeniable similarities.

This deep-dive program is professionally facilitated, with discussions and group learning exercises designed to foster attitudes of mutual respect, understanding, and tolerance, leading to long-lasting friendships that span countries and cultures.

Applications for this program open each winter. Please subscribe to our “Programs and Events” mailing list to be alerted when applications for the next IOU Respect program open.


Sometimes, you just need a little help kickstarting your travel dreams to turn them into reality. That’s why HI USA created the Explore America Travel Scholarship. For young novice travelers with demonstrated financial need, Explore America offers $1,5000 travel awards and free overnight stays in HI USA hostels across the country.  

Applications for this program open each winter. Please subscribe to our “Programs and Events” mailing list to be alerted when applications for the next Explore America program open.

We believe travel is a great teacher, but we know that not everyone has the financial means to make it possible. Each year, HI USA’s Explore the World Travel Scholarships award $2,000 scholarships to help young adults finance international trips incorporating a service or educational component. For young Americans who have never held a passport, HI USA offers additional financial and logistical support through its Explore the World: First Passport Edition scholarships.

Applications for this program open each fall. Please subscribe to our “Programs and Events” mailing list to be alerted when applications for the next Explore the World program open.

Each January and February, HI USA offers groups of 6 or more a chance to earn free overnight stays at our hostels across the country in exchange for volunteer service in our communities. Whether you’re an alternative break group, sports team, club, or simply a group of friends looking to give back, the GHGB is here to help you make your volunteering trip more affordable.

Applications for this program open each summer. Please subscribe to our “Programs and Events” mailing list to be alerted when applications for the next GHGB program open.

Each year on September 21, HI USA (along with a growing number of HI hostels around the world) celebrates the UN’s International Day of Peace by hosting intercultural exchange activities in our hostels and in their surrounding communities. We call this annual program “Say HI for Peace” in recognition of hostelling’s power to facilitate the intercultural interactions that lead to the spread of tolerance. We are honored that this has become a worldwide initiative supported by the UNWTO.

Please subscribe to our “Programs and Events” mailing list to receive updates on upcoming Say HI for Peace programming.

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Virtual Programs & Events: free online travel education for all

Discover new places, explore cultures and appreciate diversity — online! HI USA virtual events cover timely topics like BIPOC travel experiences, women traveling solo, travel planning tips, and of course, hostelling. Join the fun, from game nights and presentations to interactive conversations. Not sure where to begin? Our monthly New Traveler Series events are a great place to start!

See All Upcoming Events