What is Hospitality to You?
I have asked myself this question many times while traveling around the world. As the I-House Host Family Program Manager this year, hospitality and its many colors are now a constant thought in my everyday life. Hospitality is without any doubt a gift to either friends or strangers. The gift of time spent with our guests, the gift of a good meal prepared just for the pleasure of sitting with other people around the table, the gift of a conversation, the gift of our attention and love. It may be the most precious gift, given the busy lives and packed schedules that we all have (students included) around here. I keep this in mind when I talk about the Host Family Program to new potential hosts, knowing how valuable their volunteer job will be. And I am very grateful when I see that, despite their many daily commitments, I-House hosts are always available for our residents. The pleasure to simply give something of ourselves to young, international individuals does the trick. We open our homes, cook, take our students to a local restaurant, to a concert, to a movie, spend time together and feel good about it.
However, at I-House, hospitality has many more colors due to the fact that our guests, most of the time, come from very different cultures, have different traditions and sometimes unheard of ways of doing things. When we open our door to them, a new world comes in, and with it, a few challenges we may have not taken into account. What am I going to serve for dinner? Is there any food considered not appropriate in my guest’s world? Is there any comment I should avoid or something I am supposed to say to make them feel at ease? Should I just follow my way of doing things and let my guests adapt to it? After all, isn’t that what they want: to be introduced to the local cultures? Every one of you, Host Family hosts and guests, has developed a special way to answer these questions. But allow me add my two cents here… I am your matchmaker after all, right? And I am a host myself.
When, during the time you spend with your guests (or with your hosts), you experience something unusual, far from your cultural comfort zone, sometimes even opposed to it; when people act in what you think is a “strange” way of behaving, a way you’ll never adopt (just because that is not the way you do things in your everyday world); in that moment, just stop and think of what is going on. You may not be aware of it, but you are traveling, right there, in your own living room. You’re transported to a different country, you’re adding something new to your cosmopolitan education, you’re understanding through hospitality. Members of the Host Family community, know that our whole Program is all about that moment: you’re stepping out of the beaten path, adopting another point of view, shifting your priorities, fully experiencing another human being.
This is how my two little ones are now learning about China, Japan, Korea and Singapore, not from my stories about those countries, not by opening a book or surfing the internet. They are looking at a world map and talking to my wonderful Asian guests, playing with them or asking them about their languages and countries. This is what happened last Sunday when we all gathered to cook pizza together.
And that’s another reason why I am so grateful for having I-House in my life.
Please share stories and anecdotes about your I-House hospitality experience, email me pictures of your gatherings, inspire other members of our community which now counts 56 hosting families and individuals and 91 residents. Yay! And every resident has been matched with one of our hosts!! We are doing great!