The importance of hospitality
Erin Grimes | Monday, April 29, 2019
According to Merriam Webster, the definition of hospitality is “hospitable treatment, reception or disposition.” That doesn’t really explain anything, so I turned to the definition of hospitable which is “given to generous and cordial reception of guests” and “offering a pleasant or sustaining environment.” Before my year studying in Innsbruck, I knew what the terms meant in a theoretical sense. However, my former German host family has shown me what those two terms mean in reality.
In high school, I participated in an exchange program. My high school has a sister school in Germany. I was paired up with an exchange partner, and we each visited the other in our home countries. It was a great experience, and I continued to stay in touch with both my exchange partner and her mom.
When I told them I was coming to study abroad in Innsbruck, Austria, which is only a two-and-a-half hour train ride away from where they lived in Germany, there was no hesitation. I felt immediately that I was going to be taken care of and have a family to go to while abroad. Which was and is really wonderful, as they were under no obligation to be so generous. I hadn’t physically seen my host family since I had left their house two years ago. Sure, I still texted with my exchange partner/host sister and my host mom once or twice a month with general updates and pictures. We even went as far as sending holiday packages to one another. But we had still only met just two years before, spending only one month together back then.
Their hospitality began with them picking me up from the airport with hugs and small gifts. My host mom and sister drove me to Innsbruck and helped me settle into my new room. Hospitality is the fact that I have an open invitation to their home, and that every time I stay in my room at their house, they make sure to leave me a jar of water along with various sweet treats. And if I bring laundry from school, my host mom will wash it for me. I celebrated their Christmas traditions with them, and as a gift, they got me a ticket to see their annual Christmas musical. I’ve gotten to know their larger extended family and been included in larger family celebrations as well.
There are many things that I am going to take away from this year abroad, some yet to be discovered I am sure, but a greater appreciation for the act of hospitality will be one of the big ones. My host family’s hospitality towards me has made this year away from home a little less difficult. I am going to try to take what they have shown me and cultivate a greater sense hospitality in my life back in the States.
So, I guess what I would say is go that extra mile for people. Buy flowers. Send that card. Leave out food when someone is visiting you. Invite someone home for break if they can’t go home themselves. These little things — they may not seem like much, but they truly are.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.