The other night I went out with my flatmates and some friends. Five nations were represented: Iran, Canada, Lebanon, Bangladesh, and the United States. We weren’t even trying hard; that’s just Luxembourg. At my lycée, after my students successfully taught me to say “How are you?” and reply in Luxembourgish, they happily exclaimed, “Now you must learn how to say it in Portuguese!” At train stations, when strangers have a question about the route and the first language they try meets with a blank stare, they quickly ask: “français, allemand, portugais, anglais?” and obligingly switch. Or we get by with some mixture.
The people of Luxembourg aren’t just Luxembourgish. It is beautifully international. And this is why I chose this post: Luxembourg provides an opportunity to embrace cross-cultural community building that is essential to our moment in history.
Sometimes it is possible for these international circles not to overlap with native Luxembourgish citizens. It’s easy to fall into an expat community and never engage in the Luxembourgish one, and for some this is a distinct divide. But seven months into my Fulbright grant, I’ve been able to step foot into both worlds— expat and Luxembourgish— and watch what happens when they do overlap. And what happens is hospitality. I like to think about it in the ancient Greek sense of guest-friendship, in which both guest and host practice generosity, curiosity, and graciousness. Sometimes this exchange of hospitality means accepting a home cooked plate of Ethiopian food at Luxembourg’s annual Migration Festival. And sometimes it looks like accepting an invitation into someone’s home, like the dinner one of the lycée teachers hosted for our première students a couple weeks ago. Sometimes it’s my sweet students offering me a ride home or explaining Luxembourgish traditions to me. I can only hope to extend the same kind of welcome to others when I return home that hosts have extended to me here.
And sometimes hospitality looks like the Consistoire Israélite de Luxembourg opening its doors to an interfaith concert. When one of my fellow Fulbrighters (thanks Ingrid!) invited me because the university choir she sings in was one of the groups participating, I did not expect that the afternoon would be so powerfully moving. I found a place where a Muslim man can issue a call to prayer in Arabic, a Christian church choir can sing African American spirituals, a follower of Bahá’í can play traditional music on the santur, and the gathered collective can be led in a chorus of shalom chaverim. There are few places where I could witness the deep conviction of distinct groups, sharing their space of worship alongside co-existing beliefs in ten different languages, in order to unite around a common regard for the sacred and a desire for peace between peoples. But Luxembourg is one of those places.
Though it is one of the capitals of the European Union, stepping into the arena of global politics isn’t necessary to hold an international summit in Luxembourg. And I would argue these small international summits are just as vital to building a better world, because it is in these settings that we can offer and accept the generosity and graciousness unique to person-to-person hospitality. These are the exchanges that I will take home with me, and these are the exchanges I hope to foster for the rest of my life.
Casey Woods is 2018-2019 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Luxembourg. She received her master’s in English from California Polytechnic University San Luis Obispo where she worked as a Graduate TA, instructing courses in Writing and Rhetoric. Since graduating, she has taught high school English and become a junior board member at The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. As an ETA appointee to Luxembourg, she will continue to use education as a tool to bridge human connection and understanding, and looks forward to exploring how the humanities and culture unique to Luxembourg shape the life of that city. She will be studying French and learning how Luxembourg’s infrastructure accommodates the diversity of their country in order to bring those insights back to her work in Dallas.
Articles are written by Fulbright grantees and do not reflect the opinions of the Fulbright Commission, the grantees’ host institutions, or the U.S. Department of State.