by Marlene Bylenga, SCSBC International Education Coordinator ◊
Another school year has begun. Returning students are eager to renew existing friendships, and new students may be excited, although somewhat apprehensive, about their new school environment. Students arriving from other countries are in the process of becoming accustomed to a school system that may be very different from what they are familiar with, and may be overwhelmed by the challenges of learning a new language.
What type of climate does your school have in regards to welcoming the newcomer? Is there an attitude of inclusiveness and mutual learning? Are students’ and teachers’ minds being opened to the differing cultural norms and attitudes of the cultures represented within the classroom, or is there an attitude that the newcomer must conform?
In his book Learning from the Stranger, David Smith says that intercultural learning needs to be grounded in Christian discipleship: a willingness to love your neighbor and to be changed by the encounter. The way that we interact with each other should be influenced by the knowledge that we are all image bearers of God and that He has an incredible love for each and every one of us.
If we are to enter into meaningful relationships, the practice of Christian hospitality needs to frame all our interactions.
Hospitality implies that the stranger will not only will be greeted, but also will be given loving attention. The stranger not only will be fed and given drink; his or her voice also will be granted space. His discomfort will be met with concern; her stories will be heard and responded to … all of us have experienced the difference between homes where we are merely greeted with carefully measured civility and those in which we are genuinely welcomed where there is authentic give and take. Maintaining a hospitable attitude means that we receive the representative of the target culture graciously and with love and that we make space within ourselves for the stories and experiences he or she brings us from that culture. – David Smith
Being purposely hospitable not only will allow learners to acquire knowledge, but hearts and minds will be opened and challenged to put aside prejudices and stereotypes and enter into deep and meaningful relationships.
Entering into this new year, let us encourage and challenge each other to open our hearts, minds and arms. I am sure that we will be surprised by the wonderful blessings we receive when we take the time to receive the gifts “strangers” have to give us.
Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4: 1b-6