Illustrations of human diversity

Anthropology: Ethnographic Study of Hostels and Cultural Exchange

What is culture?

Most anthropologists spent an exponential part of their academic lives trying to discover a proper definition of what culture is. When further analyzed, it was discovered that there is no such thing as a unique concept of culture, because each one is a construction made by the people that shared the same culture as their own.

Although the concept is not unique some definitions elucidate how culture can be represented. According to Clifford Geertz culture is: “a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms through which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes towards life”. This definition makes clear that culture is symbolic, i.e., it represents an important change towards the people that perpetuate its traditions.  Therefore, showing that all cultures portray meanings that go beyond what society expects of them.

Hence, culture is been made every day. When different groups and spheres of societies are bound together.  When cultures collapse and form a network of singularities. That is why, after years of traveling, I have found myself intrigued by the environment provided by hostels all around the globe. Thus, its correlations with the process of making and transforming culture.

Hostels and Cultural Exchange

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Hostels are defined according to the Cambridge Dictionary as “places where people, especially young people, can stay cheaply for short periods when they are traveling, with shared rooms“. This leads to my amusement. Even though they are located in different countries with cultures that would diverge from each other they had one thing in common: they offered a safe environment for multicultural exchange.

The hostel discourse

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Comparing the concept of hostels closer with the term applied by Edward Said of imagined geographies, which refers to the perception of a space created through certain imagery, texts, and/or discourses, it can be perceived, that hostels were multicultural spaces created to disseminate a certain type of discourse. But what is a discourse? And more precisely what is the hostel discourse?

According to Michael Foucault discourse refers to “ways of constituting knowledge, together with the social practices and power relations which inhere in such knowledge and relations between them”. Therefore, proving that hostels are made of the combination and creation of knowledge – a cultural creation of knowledge.

Going further on the meaning Foucault discusses, the hostel discourse diverges when it comes to power relations. As analyzed it illustrates that hostels do not have power relations well defined; they are simply forgotten and somehow every person in that imagined geography is on the same level as the other. Hostels are places where no hierarchical preset is construct upon its “habitants”.

It does not matter how wealthy you are outside of the hostel, in the end, you are sharing the same environment with people from different economic backgrounds that have paid the same amount of money for the same room.

The invisible agreement

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Hostels can be interpreted as well as micro or subcultures. That means distinct groups within a larger group that share some sort of common trait, activity, or language that ties them together. The larger group being represented as guests of Hotels or people outside the tourism bubble. Therefore, it leads us to observe that when staying at hostels all of those people signed an invisible agreement. This states that they are open to the discovery and learning of what hostels have to offer and what people inside have to share. What ties them together can be the passion for traveling, the openness to new cultures, and meeting new people or it can just be a need to try something new.

Gender-Age Friendly Environment

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It can be said what mostly differentiates hostel guests from hotel guests is the age gap. Most hostels are considered places for young people. Although my travel across Europe showed me that in each hostel room I was, at least three to four women appealed to be older than 40 years. Most of them were solo traveling. This can explain the changes in the social mindset concerning the hostel’s environment. What was before exposed as a dirty and dangerous place where only young people could afford to stay – now it is a place where all ages can meet, for an affordable price.

When I asked one of my roommates in a hostel in the Netherlands why she decided to travel all alone after her 50’s, she told me that she had all of her kids grown up living their own lives. She had no longer a husband. And finally had seen the opportunity to discover what this world has to offer. She always wanted to see many places but thought she could never afford such luxury. This leads us to a certainty, hostels took traveling as a luxury idea and transformed it into something real and approachable to all.

What made me feel safer while sleeping in hostels was the offer of only women’s rooms. It is perceived worldwide that after the creation of this policy more women were encouraged to solo travel. Even though I did not know any of those women sleeping with me they, without even knowing, brought me safety.

The hostel cultural dynamic

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Hence, something that can only be explained by the people who stayed at hostels is it’s dynamic. Since most people are staying for a short period of time the room is always changing. It is like a different “buffet” of nationalities every day. The girl sleeping next to you is from Bulgaria. Across your bed, you have two sisters from South Korea, and the other day their beds are empty and ready to host another nationality. This dynamic can be easily understood by all since we live in a globalized society. Globalization not only made this dynamic real but easy to comprehend and interpreted. If compared, it was unbelievable hard to encounter people from outside of our neighborhood or village, today most of us are considered citizens of the world just by stepping out of our comfort zone.

Hostels such as cultures are symbolic spaces and in understanding the importance of place we can understand that the meaning does not reside in the place, but rather in the cultural knowledge and discourses created.

Hostels, airports, and Brazilian games

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They provide a multicultural environment like no other place on earth. Comparing them to airports. Although they have one aspect that makes them unique, the connection that you make with the other guests. At the airport, everything is fleeting through your eyes. People have almost no time to connect with others in their surroundings. When sharing a place to sleep and the same goal of traveling hostels are responsible for deep connections as well as the blend of cultures.

What I mean by the blend of cultures is, for example, when playing games with different people in a hostel you realized that the same game is played differently by different nationalities. When you realize you are playing an originally Brazilian game. Brought by the Portuguese. But with Colombian rules mixed with Italian drinks. Sometimes, you see yourself taking others’ cultures as your own. Just by getting to know the people where those cultures originate from.

Prejudice free atmosphere

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Thus, the most important thing hostels taught me was to forget my preconceptions of cultures behind. This means hostels make you more sensitive towards other cultures, more open to accepting what is different from you. They provide an environment where prejudice does not play a role.  Brazilian anthropologist Roque the Barros Laraia notices that hotels are cultural systems that need comprehension without prejudice.

“In conclusion, each cultural system is always changing. Understanding this dynamic is important to mitigate the shock between generations and to avoid prejudiced behavior. Just as it is fundamental for humanity to understand the differences between people of different cultures, it is necessary to know to understand the differences that occur within the same system. This is the only procedure that prepares man to calmly face this constant and admirable new world to come. ” – (Laraia, Roque de Barros, 2001).

Even though I have never been to Israel meeting my dearest friend from Tel Aviv and hearing the stories about her country made me one step closer to that place. At the same time you are in a hostel in Spain you are getting to know more about Bolivia, Japan, and Germany. This makes me believe that individuals are the agents and disseminators of cultures more than anything else.

“Understanding a people’s culture exposes their normalness without reducing their particularity…It renders them accessible: setting them in the frame of their own banalities, it dissolves their opacity.” – (Geertz, C., 2012).

A step closer to our culture and who we are

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Globalization and its wonders

This statement shows that we, as human beings are only a few steps closer to knowing others. Therefore, we use the concept of hostels as the catalyzers of human interaction and culture-making. They have an intrinsic ability to bring us closer to our own culture. Forcing us to question our nation, the conception of our country. Forces us to collaborate, cooperate. Find similarities instead of differences between all the diverse nationalities. Hence, still keeping our uniqueness and essence that makes us who we “really” and “authentically” are.

Especially in our globalized world, this skill is more important than anything else. Hostels give especially young people with different backgrounds, that have most of their lives ahead of them, the chance to get to know themselves. To engage, question, and create their opinion. Different individuals from different areas of the world, act as agents or representatives of their own nation. Forcing them to question their own position in society.

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An example of that is the amount of knowledge I’ve acquired after being in more than 20 hostels. Every single individual regardless of their political opinions has something to share about their country. If they do not fancy political conversations they go for culinary, music, or language. The scope of topics is limitless and because of that, I know a bit more about Germany’s refugee crisis, Barcelona’s traditional festivals, and how to make the best carbonara in all Italy.

Mere travelers become citizens of the world. Constructing their thoughts and opinions based on the experiences they lived and the people they met. In the end, we are the sum of all the people that passed through our lives.

An anthropologist’s opinion

“In the new era of globalization, people become much more concerned about the uniqueness and particularity of their own culture. Cultural identity provides the global significance of local knowledge and the sense of self, community, and nation. Points that cultural identity answers the questions of “Who am I ?”, “Where are we going ?” and “What do we Have ?” Since people construct their identities through their cultures, they will defend them. Actually, globalization brings much more aware of cultural identity than before.” – (Deng, N., 2005)

We must learn to grasp what we…

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There is a phrase I once heard that only made sense after I discovered the true essence of hostels, which is: ‘’we are made of the union of those who have passed through our lives’’. And because of that, we can never be considered self-made individuals. Every person no matter how brief it passes through our lives leaves a trace. To share paths and to meet is something intrinsic to us humans. Hostels made cultural encounters more significant. They not only facilitate the meeting of people but as well the creation of new cultures. Being facilitators of a new movement that advocates for cultural acceptance and understanding, they provided an equalitarian environment. Making it possible for people to pursue their own path according to cultural beliefs. Hostels taught me that I must learn to grasp what I can not embrace.

7 thoughts on “Anthropology: Ethnographic Study of Hostels and Cultural Exchange

    1. Desert riding undoubtedly has its pleasures. One of them is that the footing is frequently suitable for a bike at a quick speed. Another is that desert regions are rarely populated, have few fences, and low traffic, all of which have prevented riders in contemporary times access to many locations.

  1. Wow! Never thought a simple topic as hostels could be so deep and interesting… kudos for the lovely illustrations as well!

  2. Congrats on the text! It reminds me of when I traveled and stayed in a hostel, a unique and incredible experience!

  3. Desert riding undoubtedly has its pleasures. One of them is that the footing is frequently suitable for a bike at a quick speed. Another is that desert regions are rarely populated, have few fences, and low traffic, all of which have prevented riders in contemporary times access to many

  4. Desert riding undoubtedly has its pleasures. One of them is that the footing is frequently suitable for a bike at a quick speed. Another is that desert regions are rarely populated, have few fences, and low traffic, all of which have prevented riders in contemporary times access to many;

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