One thing we’ve learned about hostelling is that there’s always a chance you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the different kinds of people that you meet. Folks from all walks of life tend to flock to hostels, where they can share stories and experiences with people who they may not have met in ordinary life.
If you were staying at HI San Francisco Downtown hostel in the last week of January 2018, you might have encountered a unique group known as the International Community of Artist Scholars. The network of artists from Canada, Mexico and across America were in town for their annual international conference while also participating in the Great Hostel Give Back. HI USA’s yearly program, which invites groups to stay overnight for free in exchange for volunteering in the local community, was a great way for ICAS members to get together and share ideas while getting to know San Francisco a little better.
Founded by Astrid Kaemmerling in 2016, ICAS is made up of artists who are also scholars involved in research and higher education. The organization was started after Astrid noticed there was a lack of community for people who were straddling the worlds of art and academics, and while she was thinking of a way to bring them all together to network and envision their field together in an impactful way, she thought of the Great Hostel Give Back program.
During the day, the coalition would walk several blocks down Market Street to a meeting space where they spent productive hours in discussions and seminars, and for their volunteering, they’d return to the hostel and help local non-profit Simply the Basics put together hygiene kits for the homeless.
“We walked every day, and we’d see the problem in the neighborhood, so a big conversation point was the homelessness: where are they coming from? Why are they here?” says Astrid. “The participants reported back with a kind of gratitude that they could volunteer with Simply the Basics because they felt they contributed to benefit the community.”
Most of the group had never stayed at a hostel before, and while they may have been a little apprehensive at first, they found staying together in dorms meant that relationships were able to develop quicker than if they were staying in separate hotel rooms like in a traditional conference setting. Members of ICAS also got to network and make connections with hostel guests whom they’d end up in conversation with in the hostel’s kitchen and common spaces.
A few even ended up falling in love with hostelling and extended their trip to explore more of California, ending up at the edge of the Pacific Ocean at HI Pigeon Point Lighthouse hostel, or taking an extra day or two to see more of San Francisco.
For Astrid, it was awesome to bring people together for a gathering that was outside of the conventional conference format, especially since they were working on breaking into unconventional fields. And for an organization like ICAS that hopes to foster a meaningful community by bringing different people together, there’s no better place than a hostel.