Everything I Learned Working in a Hostel

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This is a personal story about people and about what I learned during my work in a hostel. Although I only worked there for seven months, this experience helped me to develop my social and communication skills, especially not to have prejudices because everything may be considered, but nothing must be judged.

Working in the hostel
Photo: Personal archive of Carolina de Sousa

Working in a hostel is a story about people

I have worked in various fields such as language lecturing, serving in a pub, running social networks, promoting events, party guiding, and copywriting. And all of those jobs entailed working with people of different ages in the field of customer service support.

But working in a hostel as a receptionist was more than customer service support, and unlike anything that I had done before.

Being professional is more than a word

Before I started working in a hostel, I thought that the receptionist’s job must be pretty easy, nothing to worry about. Anybody could do it:

  • just occupy the chair,
  • wait for the guests,
  • give them their keys,
  • write something down on the computer,
  • deal with the money,
  • give back the change
  • and keep an appropriate distance between me and the guests.

That is something that I had considered part of being professional. But I didn’t realize what actually is the true meaning of the phrase “being professional”.

To bring you closer to my mindset, I imagined my role exactly like this: Good afternoon; please, your name; here is your key; goodbye, maybe a smile or two – depending on my mood, and that would be it.

But as you may surmise, the job turned out to be completely different from what I had expected.

Sometimes I can’t get away from myself, but I can keep trying

It was more like a professional curse of learning how I should deal with all types of people and to forget my own personal life and problems, outside my official job at the reception desk.

Immediately, I was supposed to delete my personal map, forgetting the ways I usually behaved and acting the role of a calm and fully understanding person who can solve any kind of problem. I felt like a good mother who was in charge of all the guests. Eventually, the phrase “being professional” took on a new meaning.

I believe I should emphasize that I am not the most humble person in the world, filled with understanding for everybody.

One of my guests, a dear and smart fellow called Chandler, described me best after he got to know me better: “Your conscience is strongly present in you, but it is constantly rushing to repair the damage you have done with your overreactions. “

So true, I couldn’t say it better than Chandler did.

Hostel in Prague
Photo: personal acrhive with guest Edward

Invisible work is part of every profession

The first day in the hostel started out looking like a regular shift and a usual day:

I was learning how to use the reservation program for the check-in and new bookings, trying to remember the map of the huge hostel and its seven floors – to make it clear, I am the kind of person who gets lost easily. I am just not able to read maps no matter how hard I try, maps do not work for me.

In the first month, I couldn’t find the way to the hostel without google maps. But sometimes even that wasn’t helpful. Once I got lost in front of the hostel, and of course, I was late because I just couldn’t find my way to the front door, which was in front of my nose.

There were many things to learn and all while running nonstop the whole day, showing rooms, repeating the same information all over again to every single guest.

How many unfounded expectations I had about my new job position, it seemed that it would be easy, but around the corner, just behind you, there was hidden work. Well known like invisible work that no guest would notice or see.

This is part of every job. Behind the facade of every profession, there are many tasks that we cannot imagine. The most important thing that I learned from this experience is to appreciate every worker and every single position. All of them are making this world functional;

And the more something looks simple, the more certain you can bet that a great deal of work is going on where you can’t see it.

You cannot help everyone no matter how hard you are trying

On my second day of working, almost at the end of my shift, a woman came to check-in, and from the very beginning, something about her was really strange. She was upset, confused, scared, without a mobile phone or a passport.

She was begging us to wake her up in the night because she needed to go to work and to call her when her boyfriend came. The way she was acting might have seemed suspicious to a more experienced receptionist, but not to me.

She was exhausted and terrified. I assumed that this was a regular thing in the hostel. When her boyfriend showed up, I went to wake her up, and when I said, “Your boyfriend is here”, she immediately opened her eyes, got up sharply and jumped out of bed. She was sweating and trembling.

Then I got it why that man was treating her badly. She left with him, but in an instant, I saw that what was happening in front of me was human trafficking. The next time she came to the hostel, we tried to help her, but instead of being helped, she was more scared than ever and simply ran away and was never seen again.

I couldn’t sleep for days. I was thinking about what I should do. How I could help her. Time passed, and there were similar situations that helped me to realize that I cannot help everybody. No matter how much I would like to.

But still, keep trying to help as much as you can

At the end of the day, it is essential to help people as much as possible. The most important part of the receptionist’s job was helping people, understanding their needs, answering all their questions no matter how many times I had done it before. Being polite and helpful are crucial communication skills.

One afternoon at the hostel, a man came and asked if I could help him find his hostel. I was super surprised. I had never seen him before. He was lost even though he had tried all night long and into the morning to find his way to his accommodation.

He didn’t have a phone. No social media, and didn’t even know the number of his friend.  The only clue we had was room key. And that didn’t help at all. I also didn’t have a Facebook account for him. So I decided to make a new account and break my own one-year experimental diet with social media. Because people are the greatest value in the world.

I have a strong belief that we all should share solidarity whatever our position or circumstances. Hopefully, he found his friend on Facebook and the rest is history. The next time this fellow comes back to Prague, he will stay in my hostel for sure.

Put labels on food, not on people

From time to time, guests would act aggressively. Usually, they weren’t bad people, just lonely people whom nobody understood or at least didn’t try to do it. I think that giving labels to people such as: being aggressive, spoiled, weird, stupid or bad is useless because it blocks communication.

Once, a couple came to check-in, and they didn’t speak English. I tried to explain to them in their own language that they would be sharing the apartment with other guests, but it was no use, my words were simply lost in translation.

They started to behave really aggressively because they thought that I wanted to steal their money and trick them. The situation wasn’t under control, it became more serious, and I had to call the police.

When I saw their sad faces while they were going out of the hostel with a policeman, one in front and another beside them, I was pretty certain that there should be something more that I could do for them.

But I didn’t. I should have tried harder.

Psychologists are not wrong when they proclaim loneliness as the main challenge of the 21st century

During my work in the hostel, I had a lot of situations where people were stuck at the front desk telling me their life story and personal problems.

They were often nice. Sharing with me their breakfast and coffee along with their willingness to be friendly. The only person they could trust was me. On the one hand, all of those people had a lot of friends on social media. And on the other hand, they had nobody to tell their thoughts, secrets or problems.

The last one was Chandler, absolutely a winner. He spent five hours per day for a week talking with me. There were various stories such as lost self-confidence, regretted that he had not gotten married, also lost opportunities because he had not had a child, breaking up, didn’t try harder, betrayed expectations.

All of those people were thinking that they had no worth since nobody seemed to care. I tried to give them some hope and to convince them that they were clever, good people and that they deserved the best, like everybody of us. We are all the same.

I am pretty much sure that we are all the same. Not only because we are all humans, but because more or less we are all lonely. We should change that by caring for others. And not only living in our own microcosm. Everybody of us is an important part of the world.

Being human should be more than a phrase. It should be about improving day by day, without exceptions.

Title Photo: Personal archive of Carolina de Sousa 
Photo: hostelhomer.com

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