This last year my husband and I turned our focus once again to the idea of connecting with foreign visitors right here in our own city. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting university students while away a year ago, so, transitioning to a similar experience right here at home seemed like a good next step.
This isn’t the first time we’ve hosted, but it has been quite some time since our last experience with an extended stay. We feel a tad rusty. We’re older, and our kids have moved on with their own lives which leaves empty rooms. What can we really offer at this stage of our lives?
Before asking ourselves too many questions, and the potential of talking ourselves out of the idea – we accepted an application and now share our home with a young lady from Taiwan.
Hosting someone “strange” is not a widely shared idea, I’ve learned over the years. It still surprises me how few homes are open to a short stay, or even a meal, with a foreign visitor. Yes, it can be awkward. It can feel vulnerable at times. But, imagining ourselves in the foreigners place helps put things in a better perspective.
Recently, an acquaintance from Japan, living and working here in our city met our current student. She was quite taken by the fact we would not only invite someone to our home, but bring them in as house guests for a length of time. She noted “how kind and trusting” we were. Over the years we really hadn’t thought about the “why”…we just “did.” If we dwelt on what could be issues, well, we’d never host at all.
When our kids were young, hosting became the tool to introduce our family to the world beyond our borders. Refugees and immigrants were coming to our city by the hundreds. Our world as we knew it was changing right before our eyes. Since we couldn’t “go” to other places, my husband and I decided we could bring the world to us.
It all started with a young girl from Japan. A group of young teens arriving on a two-week adventure to practice English and experience a taste of American culture. We then, broadened our experience with a large family leaving their beloved Ukraine and citizenship to find freedom to worship here in America. A high-school student from Estonia, another from Japan and a couple young kids from Korea. Each brought their own wide-eyed expectations and culture to our home. We learned to bend and adapt right along with them.
And, it’s the bending part that takes a little practice.
We have expectations as Americans. There’s this tendency to expect those who come to live in our culture, they should adapt and adapt quickly. For some reason, without saying it out loud, I think we expect foreigners to already know how to be American.
I know, because we had those expectations. To be fair, there were. and are, assumptions on both sides. Our family began to recognize we needed to be learners right along with our new friends.
Educating ourselves – just a little bit – helps greatly when a foreigner comes to your home. Even learning a greeting or two in their language breaks down the awkward barrier. They’re having to speak our language all.the.time…risking embarrassment of saying things wrong. We owe a little respect to put ourselves out there, too.
- Learn some of their seemingly-quirky habits so they can feel welcome in our homes. Even those topics we feel aren’t our business, like flushing toilets, showering IN the shower, changing sheets, how to use a fork, and so on. To be welcoming hosts, we need to step back and learn something about their culture, too.
- It’s no secret the English language is difficult with all our words that sound the same but have different meanings. But, our idioms – most of our language is filled with idioms!! (Let’s meet for coffee (when they want hot chocolate); Sleep tight!; Piece of cake!; That’s Greek to me; Knock on wood; Just around the corner; and more….) Think about the next time you chat with someone. Then think about it when you talk with a foreigner. They learn our language in its truest form. Throw in an idiom or slang, and they’re totally confused.
- We really love seeing where we live through the eyes of our visitors. It’s a thrill to hear the gasp of excitement when we crest a hill near our home and the downtown city-scape appears. It’s greater than joy when another visitor sings praises as he experiences The Columbia River Gorge for the first time.
When hosting students from various parts of the world, we immediately see our differences, and sometimes feel a bit vulnerable. Their stay in our home reveals to us who we are and causes us to examine our values and what is most important. Who and What do they see?
Have you experienced hosting a foreign guest in your home? Share your story here!