Justin Shenk and Ayda Villalobos
Photo courtesy of Valerie Showalter

Ayda Villalobos and her host Justin Shenk

We had little knowledge about Ayda Villalobos before she arrived in Virginia, aside from a few Facebook messages and a short blurb she had written. But early on, it was evident that Ayda has a deep interest in learning about new cultures, new people, and new ideas. She was fairly tireless in the pursuit of simply finding out more.

Part of what was important for us, especially in the first months, was to be patient and transparent in our conversations with Ayda. In many ways, if we were unable to give honest answers to her difficult questions, we would be robbing her of a chance to critically engage with her new context, and we ourselves would cheapen our own understanding of alternative views that Ayda might have.

As Ayda’s host family, we saw ourselves as a bridge between our local culture and Ayda, being a point of reference for her, even when awkward issues arose. Justin and I have both been grateful for the compassion others have had for us as we traveled or lived in other cultures, and we were glad to share the same hospitality with others, like Ayda, in our home context.