With the goal of bringing international and domestic students cultural connections and friendship, a team of UA students proposed Dec. 6 to implement an on-campus hostel.
The group started the project nine weeks ago, said Laura Acosta, a junior from Ibagué, Columbia. Acosta joined the team because she struggled to make American friends and wanted a solution for other international students.
“All of my friends were internationals, and I didn’t have American friends,” Acosta said. “I always talked to them about that, then I just thought ‘this is a great idea,’ because it’s not a classroom where I just talk to them about homework.”
When Acosta first came to the U.S., she struggled to find common interests with Americans, and she thinks a hostel could bring in friendly people who want to meet others.
The hostel was one of many ideas that students pitched at the McMillon Innovation Studio’s Demo Day 2019 presentations. Other presentations included an on-campus condom delivery and a box that food insecure students can collect donated food from without going to the Jane B. Gearhart Full Circle Food Pantry. The groups presented in front of Doug McMillon, CEO and president of Walmart.
Chris Enslin, a junior, and his teammates want the hostel, nicknamed the “Hogstel,” to be a place where an exchange student could spend a weekend with a domestic student and share a space, much like a dorm.
Enslin’s group wanted to work on a project about mental health, and a hostel seemed like a great way for people to de-stress, Jonathan Calandro, a sophomore, said.
“(Improving mental health) was our main interest when we started, and we evolved to diversity and inclusion on campus. It was an amazing transition in such a short amount of time,” Enslin said.
Calandro thinks there are barriers that keep international and domestic students from connecting, like the assumption they do not have anything in common.
After having discussions about the student body, the project members realized there is a disconnect between international and domestic students, Calandro said.
“We’ve talked to psychologists and international advisors about ‘Hey, what brings people together,’” Calandro said. “We are doing more to design room by room the hostel, but the programs and actual features are designed to bring people together.”
The hostel’s designs depict a large, open space with a foosball table, an ice hockey table and eight bunk beds.
“I care about this idea, I believe in this idea, and I just wanted to share it with anybody who would listen,” Calandro said.
The first major hurdle the designers had to face was finding people to test the hostel, Enslin said. They wanted to test the hostel close to Thanksgiving break at the McMillon Innovation Studio, where they would invite participants to live together for a weekend, but nobody could make it so close to the holiday.
Enslin reached out to the Office of Study Abroad & International Exchange and had a brief discussion with Sarah Malloy, the director of study abroad, but she did not know much about the hostel, Malloy said.
“What I know is that there is a student who came to discuss this with me, and that’s kind of where he started and where it ended,” Malloy said.
Malloy thinks living-learning communities and dorms like Holcombe Hall already exist to serve international and domestic connections, she said.
Nur Madihaha Mahzan, a visiting student from Batu Caves, Malaysia, lives in Holcombe Hall, where international events like the Geography Series happen. Students from all over campus can attend these events to meet new people, but they do not happen all the time.
“That is an interesting idea I have never thought of, like, having a hostel on the campus,” Mahzan said. “It depends on the person. If people want to go, they will go.”
Mahzan thinks she would try the hostel for the experience and meet new people.
“What we hope to do next semester is actually pilot (the Hogstel) and test it,” Enslin said.
Their goal is to test it at the study abroad office, but they have other potential ideas of where to test it if that falls through, Calandro said.
If the study abroad office does not work out, they have alternative places to test the hostel, Calandro said. Further decisions, including financial aspects, will be made in the spring.