“Make yourself at home.”

How many times have you heard that from someone when you visit, sleepover, or move in? My guess is that your answer is countless. So, you know how it goes despite this warming phrase. You hesitate. Do you take off your shoes? Do you not? Will they hang your coat or can you do it yourself? Endless questions and awkward encounters while you might feel like walking on eggshells, wanting to make yourself comfortable but not invite yourself in completely.

It’s funny, I had anxieties and nerves about facing this type of encounter a couple months  ago when entering a completely unknown home to me, but it was quite the opposite feelings of being in this home that was, honestly, nothing like mine. Yet, I felt like it was my home, just like those who always lived there.

At the end of May, I went on a service trip through Stonehill’s HOPE Program to Apopka, Florida with seven other women, one staff leader and six fellow students. On this trip we learned about the process of immigration and citizenship, and the working conditions for migrant workers on farms. The eight of us were split into pairs and stayed with four different host families, all immigrant families who had been involved with the HOPE CommUnity Center in Apopka, who helped create our immersion experience.

My friend Colleen and I stayed with a family of five- a mother and father, a twelve year old boy, an eleven year old boy, and a five year old girl. I won’t go into too much detail about what their home was like, but how I felt staying with this family in their home. In one word – welcomed. Like the girls and their host families, Colleen and I had breakfast and dinner that the mother cooked, and she packed our lunches for everyday when we left for our different sites. We played with the kids after dinner, and talked with the family about their life and immigration stories. Although we were entering their home that is normally just the five of them for a week, Colleen and I weren’t an inconvenience; they were excited for us to be there and to give up some of their home to make room for us.

It was incredibly comforting to stay with this beautiful, open, welcoming family for the week- especially after being worried about the complete step out of my comfort zone. This trip, while making me return home with knowledge, friends, and experiences I will never forget, taught me about how much to appreciate when someone welcomes you into their home.

When someone tells you “Make yourself at home,” know they truly mean it. That phrase can go a long way.

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