Fostering a generation of world travelers News

| 11 Apr 2016 | 03:16

Earlier this year, Dalvin Delia was trying to figure out a way to take part in a study abroad program in South Africa. A junior at City College, he did the math and realized the funds just weren’t there. “I really thought it wasn’t a possibility at all,” he said.

Then he heard about a scholarship from Hostelling International New York City, or HI NYC, that would help pay for such a trip. He filled out the application and hit ‘submit.’

In February, HI NYC launched the Explore the World Scholarship, one of several educational programs that further the nonprofit’s mission to promote cross-cultural understanding. The scholarship was limited to New Yorkers between 18 and 30 who were ‘Pell-qualified’ and had a trip already planned. Twenty winners were chosen from a pool of 116 based on their educational and/or service goals as well as lack of travel experience.

“Our goal is to create a new generation of travelers,” said Emily Gallagher, HI NYC’s community engagement and education manager, addressing an audience of 100 at the scholarship ceremony on a recent Friday afternoon at the Upper West Side hostel. She explained that American travelers ought to represent this country’s diversity, which is why they aimed to reduce one of the biggest obstacles would-be travelers face.

Someone like Dalvin Delia, a 20-year-old international studies major from Queens Village whose parents came from Haiti. When he got the call telling him he’d won, he was thrilled. This summer, he’ll spend one month in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, studying human rights and doing community outreach. (The $2,000 scholarship covers half of the total expense.) His interest in the country began with Nelson Mandela, who inspired him to be a better person, he said, adding, “I’d really like to give back to another community.”

At the ceremony, speakers reflected on the role of travel and HI NYC’s support of it. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said the hostel “has always been a beacon in the neighborhood” and recalled the fight she joined to rescue its very special building, a Victorian Gothic by Richard Morris Hunt, a major American architect who was commissioned to design a nursing home by the Association for the Relief of Respectable, Aged and Indigent Females. Completed in 1883, the red-brick edifice with a mansard roof on Amsterdam Avenue between 103rd and 104th Street was nearly demolished before becoming a landmark in 1983. After much restoration, Hi NYC opened in 1990; nowadays, about 80,000 travelers from 90 countries visit annually.

Another scholarship winner, Mohammed Altareb, 22, is an Upper West Sider who moved to the neighborhood five years ago from Yemen to live with his father. Ever since, he’s been drawn to Spanish, which he’d never heard before coming here. He studied it at school and talked a lot with a coworker from Mexico at his uncle’s 99 cent shop in Midtown.

A liberal arts major in his second year at Borough of Manhattan Community College, he wanted to go to Oviedo, Spain, for a one-month immersion program over the summer. But he didn’t have the money. Then he heard about the scholarship, applied, and got it. “I’m crazy about Spanish,” he said, demonstrating his fluency. “For a long time, I’ve wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking country.”

Christina Walthall, a scholarship winner who’s heading to Tokyo, Japan, next month, shares this fervor. “I’m religiously studying Japanese every day,” she said. A 23-year-old entrepreneurship major at FIT from East New York, she was always interested in Asian culture; and then a year ago, after signing up for a Japanese class, she was smitten.

For what will be her first trip abroad, she is going to take an intensive Japanese course and plans to scope out some Japanese fashion labels with an eye toward job prospects after graduation – when she’d like to go back to spend more time there.

The winners will share their experiences with the hostel afterwards. Walthall mentioned she might also like to give talks at local colleges. “I want to inspire other students from similar backgrounds to study abroad and take that leap of faith,” she said.