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Treated like a guest, not a stranger

By Alicja Feduniec
School of Public Service

India is colorful, noisy, crowded, hectic, peaceful and serene — a country of enormous, stunning and beautiful contrasts.

But this short essay is not about that. It is not about the colors and smells and sounds that any brochure or advertisement will sell you to get you on the next plane out. This is about something much more basic than that. This is about hospitality.

Think about it: We pride ourselves on hospitality and have built an industry on it. But this is not about that hospitality. It is not about hotels and resorts and five-star restaurants and infinite entertainment options.

It is just about hospitality, the root concept of it — welcoming others into one’s own sphere of being and space. It is about being good hosts to those who are not from here, wherever here is, and treating them with warmth and kindness.

This is the hospitality that I, along with my fellow DePaul colleagues and Prof. Ramya Ramanathexperienced while in Maharashtra, India, during the winter.

We met Gram Panchayat representitives, NGO workers, women from self-help groups,
medical professionals, teachers, students, farmers, host families and passersby. In every case, we were greeted and welcomed with smiles, warmth and even an occasional paparazzi blitz.

The moments that stick with me the most are the random, and unexpected, ones: a conspicuous tourist getting eager help at the metro from strangers who sacrificed their next train in the process; receiving warm smiles and even warmer masala upon entering one’s home; and getting showered with coconuts as gestures of gratitude from children and teachers for the simple act of entering — or perhaps intruding into
— a classroom.

Also sticking with me is the infinite curiosity: questions about my homeland and life. These moments a brochure cannot capture.

Considering the current climate of populist, xenophobic and isolationist policies emanating from some of the world’s most inveterate and robust democracies, I found it incredible to experience the warmth and love that the people of India have for people from other countries.

Consider the history of the subcontinent. India experienced one of the longest periods of colonial rule and suppression under the British crown, along with one of the longest struggles for its independence. Yet instead of treating us with anger and suspicion, our hosts treated us as special guests.

This is not to homogenize and romanticize India. As any diverse nation, it maintains its own struggles and conflicts. But my study abroad experience attests to the value that nations like India, and many others no doubt, place on interconnection, global exchange and plain old hospitality.

Perhaps we can take something from this the next time we are confronted with a “stranger” in this land.

Alicja Feduniec is pursuing a degree in International Public Service.