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The International House

I’m staying at my favorite Airbnb, the International House in St Pete, during my move back north. It’s given me a chance to connect with other travelers again which is something I took for granted when I first moved down here. I made more contacts at the International House over 2 months than living in St Pete for a year and half. Being in a communal atmosphere puts me into situations where I’ll interact with people I normally wouldn’t.

Yesterday was a perfect example. I moved into my room and saw a few people hanging about the house. I didn’t talk to them outside a quiet “hi” out of politeness. On my way out to go for a walk, I bumped into a guest that looked like he was from India. He asked me if there was a grocery store nearby, and I gave him directions to the nearest Publix. We briefly introduced ourselves and then went on our way.

Later, I decided to go for an evening stroll down to the bay. I saw the Indian guest, named Suria (spelling might be wrong), was also walking towards the water. He asked me if you could swim in the water, and I let him know that it probably wasn’t a good idea. There is a beach further up the bay area where my apartment was where people wade in the water, but I rarely see anyone swimming. I’m not sure if it has to do with the quality of the water but I never chanced it.

We started to engage in some small talk, and I learned that was originally from India, but had been living in London the last 5 years. He had come here on a Visa to intern at a Strength Camp. Once it began to get dark, we walked home. We passed by a giant banyan tree, and he said he had been climbing it earlier. He explained his process for tree climbing, which involved pushing past the height you were comfortable with slightly, and then backing down. Many novice climbers make the mistake of climbing beyond their comfort zone and struggling to get down. He told me he did a lot of tree climbing back in England.

Once we got home, we went into the kitchen and bumped into a girl, who I believe was named Denise. She was making an unappetizing dinner of microwave Mac & Cheese and Fishsticks. She told us she was from the Baltimore area. I joked that my only reference of Baltimore was the Wire and she said the show wasn’t far off which surprised me.

Suria, Denise, and I then got into a complicated conversation. We talked about St Pete, Los Angeles, the future of AI, gender roles, mythology, and several other subjects. I struggled to keep up as I was still recovering from a Milk Tea I had earlier that triggered brain fog and bloating. We eventually got into talking about diet.

Suria and I talked a lot about our struggle with auto immune issues and adapting a healthier diet to eliminate trigger foods coincidentally. By now, it had been about 30 minutes into the conversation. Denise hadn’t touched her food, and I said “It must be cold by now.” She looked at cold, unappetizing food, and said “I don’t really want to eat this stuff anyway,” and promptly threw it in the trash. I felt bad that she had wasted her dinner, even if it was probably for the best. I told her as the resident expert that there were far better food choices in the area if she was interested.

Then a man from Central America came in. Suria and him got into a conversation about surfing. After that, Suria and I went upstairs and talked for a long time about our personal struggles with health issues and how we overcame them with lifestyle changes. It was shocking how much overlap there was in our journeys to better health, and that we had been following a lot of the same experts like Wim Hof.

After, I went outside. It was a beautiful clear night in the 70s. A couple was painting, while another couple was nursing their children. I talked to one of them, whose name I believe was Sheila. She told me she was an ESL teacher, and had traveled to many countries, including Korea and Japan. I told her I was learning Japanese and hoping to travel there soon. We started talking about Japan culture and sights to visit.

Around 11, people began to retire to bed. I was the last one outside, looking up at the stars while listening to a melancholic tune. I felt invigorated after talking to so many people about so many interesting subjects. This had been something missing during my stay in St Pete. I had made a good friend, but she had moved away. I had acquaintances I’d talk to at cafes but the conversations were pretty superficial. Being able to talk to people from much different backgrounds about all kinds of subjects engaged me in a way I hadn’t felt in a long time. It made me wish I was staying here longer.

If you’re shy and introverted like me, it helps to put yourself into situations where interactions will happen naturally. I’m rarely the first person to introduce myself or start a conversation, but I try to be friendly and help people out. This usually sparks a light conversation, and then I start to get interested. I like to hear from people from different backgrounds and countries; even if they share opinions I don’t agree with. Too many people these days live in an echo chamber, only talking to people within their tribe. Exposing yourself to new ideas, even ones that might offend you, help broaden your thinking and is something I’ve been actively trying to do more.

Next post I’ll share some anecdotes and tips from my many Airbnb experiences. The International House has been the most profound one, and changed the trajectory of my life. I wouldn’t have lived in St Pete if I hadn’t stayed there or been introduced to so many amazing people. But it all started in 2014 when I first took a chance at an Airbnb in Laconia, New Hampshire…

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