What’s the mirror image of a trip around the world? Hosting international guests. You experience the trip from the other side. International guests teach you about their culture (and also about yours). They can expand your way of thinking, help you learn a language, introduce you to new foods, and become lifelong friends. Sure, hosting takes time (and some money). Why do you think there haven’t been any posts for five weeks? But, as a host, your kids stay in school, you don’t have to buy plane tickets, deal with jetlag (much anyway), book hotel rooms, and you can keep your job. Why not consider it?
Eva, our recent guest from Hungary flew home yesterday morning. She was only here for five weeks and was busy training in karate much of the time. Yet, her spark made the time fly by and she was quickly incorporated into the fabric of our family. The first week, she started calling me “Mom” and referring to our girls as “sisters”. At first I was taken aback … I am so not old enough to have a 23-year-old daughter. But, I grew to love it. Last night, she called Bill “Dad”! She was better than a sister for our girls. She had insight into their psyche that only everyday familiarity can extend; yet, no sibling rivalry. And, without English fluency, they had to rely on instinct and intuition. We woke up this morning to our boring old house, no big-eyed Hungarian girl in pink pajamas coming upstairs with icepacks on her muscles and looking for a cup of coffee, hugging each girl as she passed. Her leaving has left us with much the same disappointment as arriving home from the airport after an exciting trip. “When she was here, it felt like a vacation,” Logan just whispered as I was typing.
What makes it so fun? Well, for example, we take Halloween for granted. But having an international visitor paw through the Halloween decorations with you makes it exciting. Trying on wigs, building a graveyard in the front yard, explaining the secrets of trick-or-treating … we discover what it is we like about this holiday that we’ve taken for granted for years. And, next year, the holiday will bring back Hungarian memories. “Remember when Eva carved her first pumpkin?” Guests give you insights too. We asked our Austrian guest what he thought was most different between Austria and America. His reply? “Here you don’t build your buildings or your infrastructure to last.” So true. We think of Europe as having history but we hadn’t considered how that Europeans might perceive that difference.
And breakfast. Another example. When you travel, you discover that the world is full of infinite possibility -“some people eat rice for breakfast.” (That’s a line right out of our book proposal). Well, you find out some funny things about breakfast when you host someone from another country too. Eva explained to our kids when they should eat candy. When was that? Breakfast! It gives you energy for the whole day and doesn’t keep you up at night. And, what did she put in the microwave? Cereal and milk! Not oatmeal. No, no, no. She put cereal like Cheerios and Life right into the microwave. When we all looked at her with open jaws, she said “Whaaat. It’s good!” We haven’t tried it yet. I guess we’re still pretty close-minded about some things.
Shopping in another country is fun right? Well, shopping at home with someone from another country is, again, the inside-out version of that same experience. Big-eyed stuffed animals at the drug store? Wow! And juice on sale – four gallons for five bucks? “It’s gooood”. Blue jeans, Nike sweat pants, and Nerds (the candy). They’re just a lot more fun and interesting when you are behind-the-scenes of someone else’s trip. It can give you an appreciation of how others might see you when you travel too. What do others think of us when we are apparently enthralled by the local market or hanging clothes to dry on a line? All kinds of travel experiences help your kids to gain self-awareness – both of how other countries might perceive Americans and of what makes us unique as Americans.
….To be continued