HI Norway is an ideal organisation with a long history. We had the chance to interview some of the people that help building it.
«Creating community across borders»
For this week’s interview we took a coffee with two very different persons that have one thing in common: their enthousiasm for travelling and hostelling. Both have been involved in HI Norway in different ways: one has just recently joined while the other has been around for 50 years. Meet Øystein and Fredrik!
Øystein is 72 years young and has been member of the regional and national boards for exactly 50 years. These boards help with the decisionmaking and the budgets of the organisation. Fredrik is 39 and has just recently joined the club. He’s an experienced traveller and backpacker, and has been working as a travel journalist for Aftenposten for a couple of years. At the moment he works at the National Archives of Norway, and he’s writing a book about Norwegian settlements across the world. He went on travels to USA and China to do research. Øystein and Fredrik have very different stories about HI Norway, but there are some surprising parallels as well…
Øystein was first bitten by the travel bug when he was 12 years old. “I went with my class on a trip to Germany. That was the first time I experienced how enriching is to meet new cultures”. It was this passion about travels that made him joining the board of Hostelling International in 1966. “Thanks to being a part of the HI board I got to see the world. The national and international conferences took me to places that otherwise I would never have seen, like Australia, Japan, India, Greece…”.
Back in those days, youth hostels were very different. Some of them were just open in summer time and there were no private rooms, but just shared dorms. “Once I went to a hostel in Switzerland. It was easy made; there were two giant matresses, one in the girls’ room and another one in the boys’ room, where everybody had to sleep on. It was such a funny experience.”
Øystein remembers the times when the organisation was run by volunteers: “We had a local group at the Haraldsheim Hostel and we took the tourists sightseeing; we could say that we were the first tourist guides in Oslo”. The Interrail was very popular in the 60‘s, and it was very common to see groups of students who travelled around Europe. Most of them did some volunteer work to get food and accomodation in exchange. “The hostels were perfect meeting places for people from all over the world.”.
Wanderlust has also marked the career path of Fredrik. During his travels, he collected a lot of memories. “I will always remember that small hostel in Singapore”, he says. “It was run by a local couple. It wasn’t the most luxurious or comfortable place; it was rather simple, but it had a soul. It was a really social place and it was easy to get to know the other travellers there”.
And this is actually one of the best things of travelling. “When I was in my 20s, I travelled as a backpacker for the first time in my life. That’s when I realised how enriching is to meet people and make friends all over the world”. Today the volunteers are a very important piece of HI Norway, to build bridges between travellers and locals.
These two guys clearly know what they’re talking about when they talk about HI Norway. That’s why we asked them for some advise: What so they think about the meaning and future of hostelling? After some thinking, both come with similar answers to that question. Øystein says: «A big challenge for the hostels around the world is to meet the competition from other hotel owners and organisations like AirBnB and Couchsurfing, that offer cheap or free accomodation.»
That is why a hostel is more than just a cheap place to stay, Øystein and Fredrik agree: “Hostelling International started in Germany in the 1930s. It’s true that a lot of things have changed since then. But what stays the same are the values of the organisation. It’s a place that brings people together. People who come from different countries, different cultures… They meet up, talk to each other, become friends, exchange ideas, experiences, and all that can be done under the roof of hostels”.
Photo top by Brandon Satterwhite
Article by María de la Cruz Gutiérrez and Robin Van de Walle