by Brooke Wiens
Hospitality, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.” I love this definition because it includes everyone.
I’ll never forget the day I was welcomed into the home of one of my students. They’d recently arrived in the US with just the clothes on their backs and a small backpack. Life for them in Syria had deteriorated quickly, and they found themselves newly resettled in the middle of the United States. They didn’t know much English and I didn’t know any Arabic, but on this particular day, none of that mattered.
I’d spent the previous few Saturdays taking field trips with them to local places that would make their adjustment smoother. We’d gone to a local grocery store one Saturday and even visited a local clothes closet to try and get them some affordable winter clothes. As they welcomed me into their home on this particular Saturday, we smiled back and forth. They taught me a few Arabic words and phrases and laughed at every utterance I attempted. I learned to laugh at myself that day, and I learned that my attempting a few phrases in their language broke down walls and leveled the playing field. It earned me some trust.
We sipped strong Turkish coffee out of beautiful cups they had found at a local thrift store and tasted sweet treats they had made that reminded them of back home and me of travels abroad. We switched to practicing English and the laughter kept going. It may have been a nervous laughter, but the smiles and brave language attempts forged our friendship deeper.
We sipped strong Turkish coffee out
of beautiful cups they had found at
a local thrift store.”
As I was getting ready to leave, the mom handed me a small white box. As she typed into her translation app on her phone she told me, “We want you to have these. We thank you for all your help. It is all we have.” I opened the box carefully and was shocked to find several pairs of earrings and rings: beautiful treasures that had escaped war and made it safely to the US, now in my possession as a thank-you gift. It wasn’t that they were high-priced jewels, but yet they held all the value in the world in that moment because they offered gratitude and hope for whatever lay ahead. I was humbled.
I’ve thought a lot about hospitality since my interaction with this family. Maybe it’s not so much about a fancy curated menu, coordinated table linens, and the ambiance we strive so hard to create—maybe it’s more about the heart. Maybe it’s about the friendly and generous reception we give to others, the feeling we create in the hearts of our guests, the people we know.
But as the definition of hospitality suggests, this also includes strangers. This is a new idea I’m still ruminating on. What if it’s not a physical hospitality like we routinely assume? What if it’s not about actually welcoming a stranger into our home, but more about how we welcome and establish them into our country, cities, and local communities? What if it’s the small things we do to make them feel seen and loved: a friendly smile or our attempt at greeting them in their heart language? What if as TCKs we use our cultural foundation as a catalyst for being cultural liaisons to others new to our own country?
This notion is settling its way deep in the fibers of my heart, as many cities around the US are working on resettling hundreds of new Afghan families since the recent fall of Afghanistan in 2021. How can we welcome people from other countries and show them hospitality? I’m willing to bank on the fact that it will start with a few new phrases in their heart language, lots of laughter and smiles, and probably some coffee or tea.
How can we welcome people from
other countries and show them
Brooke Wiens spent eighteen years as a child in West Africa. She taught in Seoul, South Korea, for a year and now calls Kansas City, Missouri (USA), home. Wiens teaches English to emergent bilingual students at an elementary school that has 25 countries and 23 languages represented. She is a cultural liaison for families navigating a new culture.