Back in 2015, I was offered the wonderful opportunity to do a three-month internship in Europe. As I could not find a suitable accommodation, I ended up living in a hostel for an extended period of time — despite the fact that a hostel isn’t supposed to be a permanent residence. Hostels are meant for travelers and backpackers.
Between the impossibility of spending any time alone, the random roommates, and the lack of private space, I thought I would not survive more than two weeks (ok, two days). But it turned out to be a life-changing experience –I’ve re-evaluated relationships and learned so much about myself.
I am an introvert, someone who gets her psychic energy from quiet reflection and solitude. I like to be by myself at the café, the museum, and even the beach. I’ve been to memorable gigs alone and I’ve had great solo trips. I just love seeing things by myself.
But at a hostel, people come and go. Nothing is static. Travelers usually stay for one night or a couple of days. You get to constantly meet new people – from all ages and backgrounds – and interact with them. Being an introvert in that environment can be very challenging.
The most difficult part of living in a hostel is the impossibility of spending any time alone.
I went there believing that the lack of privacy would affect me — especially after an extended period of time. But surprisingly – very surprisingly! – it didn’t. Of course, there were tough times. Too many people, too many conversations, too many drinks, too many… everything. Some days, I felt like a drained battery by the end of the evening. But overall, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed meeting new people each day, people from all walks of life. I’ve also learned that there are many different ways to isolate yourself, to unwind, and to recharge.
I used to be an insecure twenty-something who wouldn’t step outside without any foundation on (to hide acne scars) or perfectly blow-dried hair (I’ve got very curly, unruly hair).
Sharing a small dorm room with random people made me realize that, yes, EVERY PERSON HAS “FLAWS.”
Crazy, right? People have oily skin, bad breath, cystic acne, crooked teeth, blackheads, cellulite, and so on. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with it!
Living in a hostel for three months didn’t turn me into an instantly confident and bold young woman — you don’t overcome your body insecurities overnight. It’s an ongoing process that’s going to take time. But I feel way more comfortable to go barefaced in public now, and I’m kinder to myself. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.
In hostels, most conversations start off with innocuous questions like “Where are you from?” Australia, Germany, Argentina, Poland, India… In the space of three months, I’ve had my morning coffee in the shared kitchen with solo travelers from all over the world. (Nobody really cooks in hostels. Kitchens are mostly used for socializing.) Of course, there aren’t many long-term relationships – both friendly and romantic – since people are always on the move. This is one of the downsides of living in a hostel (though it could prove to be an advantage, too).
I tend to get anxious in unfamiliar social situations, so meeting new people constantly took me out of my comfort zone.
It put me in a specific mindset. I’m not shy, but I need time to process and mull over ideas, to formulate an opinion, to speak freely to strangers, let alone to open up. During my stay, I met travelers with whom I clicked immediately. I shared meaningful discussions and oh-so-personal details with people I’d never seen before and would never see again. I talked politics with a guy from Buenos Aires and body image with a makeup artist from the Netherlands (the girl was James Dean cool. Literally.)
Mid-September, my summer internship came to an end. I packed all my belongings and left the hostel. On my way back home, I started reflecting on these last three months.
This experience was truly one of a kind.
I’ve grown in many ways. I’ve also learned a lot about myself in the process. And from now on, I know I can challenge myself in situations that I wouldn’t normally be comfortable in.