I recently did a weekend trip to Brussels and stayed in a hostel for the first time. It was a unique experience: much like backpacking, hosteling has in recent years entered the verbiage, connoting not only a particular type of accommodation, but a certain culture – twenty-something Lonely Planet types trying to transcend the mundane, bonding over late nights and early departures. In the past, for convenience’s sake, I’d always booked hotels (or not traveled at all), and certainly, hostels are short on that quality – with twenty bunks to a room, it can be hard to get a shower in edgewise. But I discovered that you meet people at hostels in a way that you simply can’t when you rack up Starwood points at the Hilton.
Especially for those traveling alone, hostels can mitigate the feeling of being an outsider in a foreign place, and they are immensely social. Minutes after my arrival, I was with several other guests, trying samurai sauce on Belgian fries and dodging cyclists. On a free walking tour the next morning, I met several girls from Iowa who were studying abroad in Valencia (in hostels, everyone is coming from somewhere cool and going somewhere cooler). When the tour ended, we continued sightseeing, eating croissants, and generally behaving like tourists. They were very welcoming, and a lot of fun, but maybe one of the best parts of traveling with strangers is that there’s no commitment of any sort, no expectation that you will continue to spend time together. So after dinner, I went back to the hostel, sat by myself, and learned about parametric architecture from a Brazilian exchange student. Read the rest of this entry »
What does the ideal date look like? According to this New York Times article, it begins with a phone call from a stranger (initiated by the guy). A time is agreed upon (ideally a week or two in advance). The man shows up with roses, and he treats the woman to polite conversation at an expensive French bistro followed by dessert and a movie.
The article equates romance with financial expenditure. It views informality as a sign of indifference. It plays up the importance of gender roles and tradition. If that is courtship, then good riddance.
I suggest that we fill the void, not with the author’s much-maligned hookup culture, but with meaningful friendships. Viewed through the lens of meeting new people and establishing new relationships, a tardy “want to meet up for a drink or whatever” in the early hours of Friday morning, doesn’t seem so incriminating. A “hey, come join me and my bros at the froyo social.” doesn’t seem so dismissive. Spending time with someone in a casual setting (hiking, drinking, volunteering), allows you to learn about their values and how they allocate their time. Meeting their friends allows you to learn about the company they keep, which is one of the best predictors of their own personalities. Read the rest of this entry »
When I got into colleges, I called a friend of mine from Mathcamp who was completing his first year at Harvard. I asked him for advice. What courses was he taking? What were his peers like? More than my experience visiting campuses, this correspondence painted a picture of collegiate life and informed my decision to attend Harvard. In addition, his recommendations about specific professors and textbooks enabled me to plan for freshman year.
When gearing up for a new experience, the first thing I often do is contact someone who has had that experience, someone who is in a position to help me prepare. For instance, if I want a job at Facebook, I will try to find someone who has worked there and who I can talk to about the company and the interview process. This is straightforward if I have a friend who worked there the summer before, but what if I don’t? Well, there’s a good chance that one of my friends knows someone who did. Or my computer science professor can put me in touch with a former student. The point is, if you can find someone’s name, you can ask for an introduction. Read the rest of this entry »