It’s uncomfortable at times to talk with and get to know someone who is different from yourself. It is easiest to remain within your own culture, age, race, or nationality. Even though we would never want to be inhospitable, we often are not hospitable because that requires us to open our homes, lives, and persons to someone who we fear might not understand us or who we are afraid that we won’t understand. As Christians, particularly as future and current leaders of the church, we must show Christ’s love and hospitality to all people. The first place to start stepping out of your comfort zone might be right here at CTS with international students (or conversely, international students hosting national students, but that isn’t the focus of this article).
While you might think hospitality is a word that is easy to define, think again. While we can probably agree that hospitality means being friendly, welcoming, and entertaining when having visitors or friends over this looks very different in different cultures. For most white U.S. nationals it seems that hospitality, or being hospitable, means being friendly in general and, when someone is at your house, making sure they have a good meal and enjoy themselves. We rarely think about inviting anyone over except those that we would consider friends already or those we are seeking a greater relationship with. Sometimes we have expectations of our guests such as that everyone will hug at the end of the visit, that someone will help in the kitchen to prepare the food, or that the guest will have at least offered to bring additional food with them.
These things may seem normal but not in many cultures where having someone over looks very different. When the person comes in they are greeted by the whole family, then at dinner they are offered and served large amounts of food. If you talk about something in their house that you really like they might just give it to you. The rules for these engagements are very different. In Romania you are expected to refuse a second helping three times before you can accept. It is rude for the person hosting to not continue to offer and a guest would never ask. In many cultures it is expected that the guest bring a gift to the host and in others the host is expected to give a gift to the visitor. In some places, an international visitor is greeted by the whole community and is regularly invited to people’s homes and given gifts, tours, and language lessons.
All this being said, how should students at CTS, particularly U.S. nationals, show hospitality to each other but also to international students? Those of us who live in this country, even if we have moved from another part of it, are probably more comfortable and more settled in than our international brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, the American view of hospitality doesn’t extend much beyond our homes. We don’t often think of international students as visitors to our country and thus our guests. Imagine if this were to change.
If national students not only welcomed international students to CTS but into their homes we could grow and deepen our community. International students encounter many things that they don’t understand or are not familiar with and they need North American students to support them in their transition and to give them a safe space to talk, question, and grow. No program or dean can ever meet the need of a person to feel welcomed into a new place and by people who are very different than those they are used to. Not only does inviting international student your home benefit them, it will also likely be just as beneficial to you as you may develop a wonderful and lasting friendship and learn a lot from them and their culture.
As someone who has lived internationally, I remember many situations where being invited over made all the difference in the world in a new and strange place. You make a personal connection that makes the move a little less scary and a little more exciting. You know you have someone to go to when you have a question. That person often introduces you to other people and sometimes becomes an anchor for you. One of the times I experienced hospitality as a stranger was when I was returning home from a semester abroad. I was going to spend a night in Iceland having been rerouted due to a snow storm. I called my family, who called my youth group leader, who called a friend, who called another friend, who picked me up at the airport at one AM. They drove me to their home, gave me a bed, provided me breakfast, lunch, a culture and history lesson, a two hour tour of the local area, spent all day with me till dropping me off at the airport. I got on the plane thanking God for people that I do not think were Christians but who had been willing to go out of their way and show Christ-like hospitality in order to make me feel at home. If we could do this for our international students, imagine the changes that might happen in our community.
By Robert Van Zanen