What Volunteering at ITH Meant to me

Zack Garhart
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To whom it may concern,

When I first left for California, I had a very loose idea as to what I would be doing with the next few months of my life. Initially, my reason for driving out to the west coast was to take up an apartment in Los Angeles that a good friend was going to be subleasing while he went away for work for the year—only to find out two days before leaving town that the apartment was no longer available, and he had simply forgotten to call me to let me know. Naturally, I give people the benefit of the doubt, and don’t let myself get too down when things don’t work out, but this was undoubtedly a challenging twist to the plan that I had laid out months prior. With the car mostly packed, I read the text message out loud to my brother as he sat next to me, and asked him what I should do. 

“Send it,” he said. “You’ll figure it out.”

While I had a place for the month of February, on the central coast, I had nothing beyond that, and it was just reaching the end of January. I decided that my brother was right—if I wanted this bad enough, I would make it work. So, we finished packing up the car and drove more than 1,000 miles before landing in San Diego before going our separate ways. After spending the week with him in San Diego, I left my brother to stay at hostels in the city—he is a strong advocate for the hostel life, as it so happens—while I cruised up the coast and tried to figure out what exactly I was going to do with myself. 

After a few weeks of apartment hunting in San Luis Obispo, to no avail, I was starting to worry that I would have to make the long trip home, seemingly empty handed. All the while, my brother had been pushing me to consider volunteering at a hostel, and, after doing a little research and contemplation, I decided to again “send it”. What I didn’t expect is to receive a response back so quickly from the owners of ITH, once I did put in my application, saying that they were interested in bringing me aboard. We agreed on a month, to start.

In a matter of days, I went from jotting out a leisurely road trip up the coast and then back to Colorado, to winding up at the doorstep of ITH Adventure Hostel in Little Italy. Immediately, I was greeted with a warm energy from the managers—shout out to Santi and Nathan—and in just a few days I was put in charge of running my first event, Taco Tuesday. What I didn’t realize is that this would be the start of what would become three-plus months of living one of the more interesting stretches of time in my adult life. Don’t even get me started on Taco Tuesday—it quickly became a staple to my week.

Living in a hostel comes with its ups and downs. The constant carousel of people coming in and out is something that inspires so many things—from thoughtful conversation, to long-standing connections with people all across the globe. I have learned more about other cultures—and our own, here in the States—than I have anywhere else. Admittedly, there were also moments where all I wanted was a space to hide so that I could get some work done, or read a book, because it was, without fail, to be expected that someone would sit across from me in the lounge and spark up a conversation, even if I had my headphones in while deep in an assignment.

While this often meant I would be cramming for a deadline later in the week or even that day, countless instances like this would lead into an insightful and lengthy conversation with this new stranger about what life is like not only in America, but also on the other side of the planet. I can’t stress the word countless enough, as this happened almost on a daily basis.

The people I met, from the guests to some of my fellow volunteers, are what has left the greatest impression upon me. There are a handful of faces that I know I will see again, even if it seems or sounds farfetched to say, given that they will soon be living on another continent. But, the truly good things in life are worth the effort, and that includes people, especially. Without having the exposure to these different walks of life, I wouldn’t feel the need to travel to such faraway places, or countries I would not have otherwise considered.

I have no reservation in saying that I have grown more these last few months than I have in perhaps any other point in my life. I have made life-long friends, and I feel incredibly fortunate that I had the opportunity, and open mind, to say yes. Now, as I reflect on my experience, a few days removed from leaving ITH, I have to be diligent in drawing out an itinerary for when I am ready to travel overseas and contact many of the people I met while volunteering at the hostel. I don’t want to miss anyone.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, or have thought about either staying or volunteering at a hostel, I highly recommend trying it.



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