Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Surprisingly Open

Student Perspective--the following post is from a fall 2011 student.

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When I arrived at my host family’s home last Saturday morning, I felt as though I had prepared myself as much as I could. To me, being prepared meant that I should be open to just about anything happening. In one sense I was right, but, the more time I spent with my family the more I realized that I had expected to be culturally shocked and observe abnormal things. My openness was limited to only the eccentric. However, my experience during the first weekend of my home-stay was quite the opposite.

My host mother was completely laid-back and made me feel like her home was my home the moment I stepped in the door. I did not feel like a guest at all and that was fine with me. Momma-Deborah simply included me in whatever task she was doing, no matter how monotonous it happened to be. She made no attempts to entertain me or cater to me. After spending time with me for only an hour or two, Momma-Deborah went to take a nap and left me by myself. I found this a bit odd because that would not be the normal behavior of a host in America. The next day when my mom went to work and left me alone in her house for six hours, I honestly thought that was the worst gesture of hospitality I had ever seen. I tried to practice patience and acknowledge the fact that my host parents needed to work as much as possible in order to survive, but at the same time I was very disappointed.

Why hadn’t Momma-Deborah even tried to spend more time with me or at least do something meaningful with me? I appreciated the she made me feel comfortable in her home but I was frustrated that the only activities she engaged me in were chores and watching soap operas. I eventually came to a place of acceptance and decided just to try to get through the two weeks and then leave the experience far behind me.

Fortunately, my heart and attitude towards my home-stay changed drastically when I read and discussed the book Cross-Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer. A major aspect of servanthood, according to Elmer, involves openness “As we welcome people just as they are and invite them to join us just as we are, it becomes a sacred event reflecting what Jesus did for us- providing us with a healing relationship” (Elmer, 43). When we discussed Cross-Cultural Servanthood in class, it was pointed out that to be a servant, one must be open in the way that Elmer suggested. That concept in itself is not necessarily groundbreaking but when I took it further and reflected on my home-stay, this perspective of openness changed my whole outlook on my experience with my host family.

I came to appreciate my host mom and dad so much for choosing to be themselves around me. By being exactly who they are, my host parents were inviting me to be exactly who I am. What greater way could they possibly have shown hospitality to me than to include me in their personal family life as a member rather than a guest? Additionally, I now find it positively profound that my host parents left me in their home for many hours at a time. Initially I completely missed the point, which is most likely why I was left disappointed. Now, I’m in awe of how they were able to show me how much they genuinely trust me as a part of their family in such a short time.

When I think about this in comparison to American hospitality, it became all the more clear how Americans can so easily distort the meaning of openness within hospitality. Over the summer, a good friend of my mother’s was going to let us use her house so we could have a place to get ready for my mom’s wedding. When we were about to arrive at the house, the friend called and told us that she would be arriving late and even though the house was open, she requested that we not enter. She apparently didn’t feel comfortable with us being in her house while she wasn’t there. I used to not think twice about this but now I question why a “good friend” showed such a lack of trust while my African host parents who barely knew me were capable of trusting me so deeply with their home and their personal lives. Furthermore, the protocol of decent American hospitality involves making ones home perfectly clean and putting on a very formal, often fake façade. My host parents exemplify the hospitable openness of a servant not by only giving me their trust but also by choosing to refrain from making any sort of impression on me. Impression management has never made me feel a part of any family, no matter how much effort is put into it.

According to Craig Sorti, the fact that I was initially offended by the actions of my host family would make this a Type 1 situation. I failed to understand the meaning behind my host parents’ actions. I expected them to overemphasize welcoming me as an American host would. Now I expect them to act how they do because I’m understanding more and more the African way of hospitality and openness.

Mary (Fall 2011)
Eastern University

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