HI Madison Hostel Review

A few weeks ago, I was in Madison for a conference. For some reason, by the time I got around to booking, everything in the city was either full or ridiculously expensive, so I ended up having to hotel hop each night. The first night, I stayed in the HI Madison Hostel, part of Hostelling International USA. I’d never stayed in a hostel in the United States (or anywhere out side of Southeast Asia) before, so I was interested to see what the experience would be like.

Sitting area

Overall, it was great. First of all, compared to the hotel I stayed in the next night, the cost was cheap, coming in at about $33 for a bed in a room with six other people. (The $33 included a surprise “membership” fee in Hostelling International, although I have no proof that I’m a member now, so I’m not sure how that will work out if I try to stay in another of their hostels in the future.) The hostel was also clean and warm, which was good, since I did not bring enough clothes for fall in Madison.

Bathroom sink

The hostel was also clean, another plus. I’ve stayed in hostels that aren’t so clean which, unsurprisingly, isn’t so nice. There also seemed to be a good number of bathrooms, including gender neutral bathrooms. Though the hostel was completely full (and a lot of those people were conference goers), I never had a problem finding an empty bathroom or shower when I needed one.


The unknown factor when staying in a dormitory in a hostel is always how the other people will be. While my room wasn’t quiet, everyone was respectful and I didn’t have any big problems sleeping. Everyone’s bed was assigned; I ended up with a top bunk. There were also lockers (without locks–bring your own) in the room that were not assigned. It appeared that people were picking them at random. The room had a separate keypad to keep it locked, though it seems like it would have been easy to guess the code if you already knew the code to the hostel’s front door.

The room also had a bathroom attached to it with a separate shower, toilet stall, and sink. This was very convenient in the middle of the night and when everyone was trying to get ready for the conference in the morning.

Dorm room

The biggest disappointment, for me, was breakfast. While a “continental breakfast” is advertised on the website, it didn’t amount to much. Some bread and bananas were provided, as well as pancake mix if you felt like you had time to make pancakes. I definitely didn’t, and also didn’t see the apparently available griddle necessary to make them. Luckily the librarian meeting I went to first thing in the morning had more food available than one banana per person!


If I were to do it again, I would still stay in the HI Madison Hostel. While the building was a little old, all my needs were met (except for breakfast) and, most importantly, it was clean. I also didn’t find it any different from hostels in Southeast Asia, except for the price point (though I’m also not sure what I was expecting to be different). Maybe next year I’ll book early enough to get a private room during the conference!


Serat Yusuf, or how I spent my summer vacation

As I mentioned earlier, the first part of this summer I was in Indonesia just doing language study. I was lucky enough to get a last-minute scholarship, which meant that I got to study with two university professors in the Javanese department at UNS. It was awesome. My teachers were great.

On the last day of classes, I got to take a field trip to one of the libraries in Solo so that I could practice my reading. These days, Javanese is written in Latin script, but it also has its own script that was used up through the first half of the 20th century, so I needed to learn that too.

It was really interesting getting access to manuscript libraries in Indonesia. Technically, I could have just walked in on my own, but it felt too strange to do so. What would I say? What explanation could I give? So having my teacher bring me in and introduce me to everyone really helped. Now I feel like there’s a bridge and I can now go back to those libraries on my own.

This library that I visited on my last day is probably not like what you’re picturing. It was one room, with shelves to the ceiling covered with glass and low tables. When my teacher wondered aloud how they reach the high shelves, the answer was that they don’t put any books up there.

And those books? They were all manuscripts. It was totally exciting and also totally intimidating. Am I at the point in my studies where I can work with manuscripts?

The answer was apparently yes. My teacher asked for something unique and out came Serat Yusuf. A manuscript from 1729. And when I say from 1729, I mean that particular copy was created in 1729, copied from an earlier version. It tells the story of the prophet Yusuf.

Just looking at the manuscript was amazing (you can see a photo of it here. its opening pages were illuminated and covered in gold leaf. Though there was some damage from bugs, overall the manuscript was in very good condition. It was beautiful.

And then came the hard part: actually reading it. Four hours later, I’d gotten through exactly four pages and so far nothing had happened in the story. but a month before I wouldn’t have been able to read it at all, so I still felt pretty accomplished.