Editor’s Note: This post is the third of four in a series on hospitality. In this post, we will discuss the incredibly opportunity that the Thanksgiving season offers us to love and serve Chinese students. We will also hear from a former Chinese student as she shares of her experience encountering American hospitality during her first Thanksgiving in the States.

Preparing for Thanksgiving

With the end of Halloween and the close of the fall season rapidly approaching, families all over the country are now starting to think about Thanksgiving. As frozen turkeys replace sacks of Snickers in grocery stores and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving returns to the television screen, it is hard not to begin picturing our very own Thanksgiving at home. How will the table be set and who will be sitting around it this year?

As we continue our series on hospitality, it would be appropriate to consider Thanksgiving in this discussion. As many of us consider setting an extra plate at the table for a Chinese international student, what should we remember to keep in mind? In the weeks previous, we have covered some of the differences between American and Chinese expectations of hospitality. But what happens when these two different paradigms interact in the real world? A former international student, Daisy, shares her story below:

I remember my first Thanksgiving in the States. I was invited by a couple to their condo for a Thanksgiving meal and the second I stepped into their home, I remember instantly being overwhelmed: I hadn’t expected to see so many people! And then… the unthinkable happened. My hosts left me alone. The wife introduced me to all of her relatives and then disappeared into the kitchen with her husband to finish preparing the meal.

At the time, I was a freshman international student who had only been in country for 7 months and spoke broken English. What was I supposed to do? Even among peers, I felt I was sometimes unable to express myself, how was I supposed to talk with all these people who were my parents’ age? I stood alone among the crowd, the only stranger in a room of friends,  and felt helpless deep inside of my heart. I remember wondering, “If they invited me as a guest, why didn’t they take care of me? Why did they leave me by myself?” I thought of the ways we treated our guests in China and found myself wondering why things were so different here in America. I had expected people to greet me, to offer me a drink and to give me snacks while we waited for the meal. At the very least, I wanted someone to initiate with me, not just to leave me standing by myself, feeling weird.

While I wouldn’t say I “enjoyed” that experience, when I look back on it now, I appreciate it. Because of that experience, I got a first look at one of the main differences between being hosted by an American and a Chinese family: here they treated me as an independent adult! They didn’t treat me differently just because I was an outsider but believed that I was capable of figuring out things on my own. In time, I learned to just put myself out there and make myself available in a gathering.

I got comfortable making myself at home.

Daisy

What then? 

As we saw in Daisy’s story, her expectations (that her host would take the initiative to guide her through new interactions) and her host’s (that her guest was comfortable enough to make herself at home) differed greatly. This is not uncommon. The truth is, even at our bests, we will likely not be perfect hosts to our Chinese friends. The family and national cultures which have shaped us and our brand of hospitality are different enough from our friends’ that it may lead to some of our actions, even those done with the best of intentions, being lost in cultural translation.

But don’t let that discourage or intimidate you!

Remember – the goal in opening your home is not to be the perfect host. It is not to have students marvel at your hospitality or for them to walk away feeling as though everything was exactly to their liking. The goal is to be an incarnational image of Christ to them, and that is shown through genuine love and service. It is through being a learner and being a servant, through taking the time to understand the world your guest comes from and opening yourself so that they may fully experience your world as well.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity for us to extend the deep joy and affection we have been given to our Chinese friends. As we count our many blessings and come together to celebrate the love of family and friends God has gifted us with this year, let us serve then with open hearts and open arms. Let us remember that it is because we have experienced such a great love that we can now go out and love others!

Thoughts to Ponder

What about Daisy’s story stands out to you? Why?

What are some things you have learned about the expectations and assumptions Chinese students have in regards to hospitality over these last three articles?

What are some ways that you can be intentional to show care to a Chinese student that you are hosting for Thanksgiving this year?

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