When Airbnb asked Caribou host Carol Pierson if she would accept refugees or victims of disasters for short-term stays at her home on North Main Street, it only reinforced her enthusiasm for the experience that has brought the world to her doorstep.
Since she first became a host for Airbnb, the Internet-based company that arranges homestays for travelers, in October 2015, she has welcomed 38 guests from Russia, Ukraine, China, Vietnam and India, as well as from states and provinces in the United States and Canada. While some visitors are now US citizens, they still bring a cultural diversity to Pierson’s breakfast table that has enriched her life.
“The world would be a better place if we could all sit around the breakfast table with people from different cultures,” she said recently.
A retired math teacher who still works as a math tutor at Caribou High School, Pierson said, “I enthusiastically support Airbnb’s new ‘community commitment’ policy requiring their hosts to work with others who use their service, ‘regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age.’”
Pierson’s home has been a refuge for many over the years. She was a foster parent to 17 teens when she was still working full-time, and she continues to house medical students from the University of New England during their internship assignments in Aroostook County. Accepting refugees or disaster victims without charge is consistent with the spirit that attracted Pierson to Airbnb.
Founded in 2008 and based in San Francisco, Calif., Airbnb now has more than three million listings worldwide with 150 million guests having stayed in more than 65,000 cities, 1,400 castles and 191 countries, according to the company website.
What makes hosting a fit for Pierson is the inclusiveness and respect expressed in the company’s non-discrimination policy.
“Airbnb is, at its core, an open community dedicated to bringing the world closer together by fostering meaningful, shared experiences among people from all parts of the world,” the policy states. “The Airbnb community is committed to building a world where people from every background feel welcome and respected, no matter how far they have traveled from home.”
These and similar statements affirming the Airbnb philosophy resonated with Pierson, and she willingly signed the non-discrimination policy required in order to be a host.
Even though hosts are not required to serve meals, Pierson likes the opportunity to get acquainted around the breakfast table, and her homemade donuts, muffins and blueberry pancakes have earned her some great reviews.
“The business is built on reviews,” she said, and a number of five-star ratings have earned her a title of “superhost.” The words warm, welcoming, caring, and, of course, breakfast, sprinkled throughout the reviews create a picture of visitors’ experiences.
“Every guest has a story,” she said, relating her conversations with artists from Quebec, a Vietnamese guest whose father emigrated on a boat, and a man who has indulged his passion for post offices by photographing more than 7,000 of them across the U.S. She has not yet hosted any refugees.
“It was a real eye-opener [learning] about different cultures and countries sitting at my breakfast table,” she said. “I love that.”
Kathryn Olmstead is a former University of Maine associate dean and associate professor of journalism living in Aroostook County, where she publishes the quarterly magazine Echoes. Her column appears in this space every other Friday. She can be reached at email@example.com or P.O. Box 626, Caribou, ME 04736.