As children we are taught to avoid and fear strangers. We are indoctrinated with a philosophy of “stranger danger”. We have learned to keep safe distances from those who display visual signs of abnormal behavior or expressions of perceived aggression. Over time these ideologies that were initially intended to protect and shield us from truly dangerous situations also create an intolerance that isolates and discriminates against those deemed to be too different. Those who possess personalities and experiences foreign to that of our own personal understanding. Those whose very existence causes us to examine new concepts of love, ability, gender, family, race, class, equality, justice and freedom.
As a resident of the International Student House I am introduced to strangers at least twice a month. These people eventually become beloved housemates. Our daily interactions serve as catalysts for in depth connections and the creation of an eclectic yet endlessly compassionate community. Getting to know strangers is a habitual practice during meals and chance encounters while spending time in communal spaces such as the Great Hall, garden or the game room. In a place where all residents are away from home, strangers at ISH swiftly become like family and friendships are quickly cultivated and deeply cherished.
Befriending strangers has been my secret to surviving and thriving in new places/spaces. When I studied abroad in South Africa, Uganda and Rwanda I relied on the kindness of other students to assist me with overcoming challenges associated with my visual impairment. These students were strangers at the beginning of the programs but had transformed into lifelong friends at the conclusion of each course. I rely on strangers each day when using car services to get to and from work, meetings and appointments. Strangers often offer to assist me with directions, reading written menus/signs and a myriad of other visual tasks. In short, I have come to trust in the kindness of strangers. This in no way means that I am not cautious or constantly aware of my surroundings and the people in it. It does however mean that I am unwilling to cease being active and engaged with people I don’t know. To the contrary, it ignites an eagerness within me to learn more about new people from new places who are capable of teaching me new life principles.
Interested in learning how we treat strangers at ISH? This is a roughly universal method of interacting with strangers at ISH:
What’s your name?
Where are you from?
What are you doing in DC? School? Internship? Work?
Oh that’s cool….
Conversation continues, similar experiences are discovered, connections are made, friendships are found and community is strengthened.