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Hospitality as inclusion; the coffee counts.

As we are approaching the end of the academic year, conversations of course move towards new student arrivals in August. Collaboration about how to accelerate their sense of belonging in those first days and weeks. Post-meeting, a previous visit to a hospitality university came to mind.

So, from Kazakhstan to Switzerland a few years ago during a visit to the no1 globally ranked hospitality university, Ecole Hôtelière Lausanne, I was really struck by how welcoming, inviting and encouraging, the whole campus felt. Why might this have been?

Perhaps, we can frame wellbeing as the absolute absence of a triggered threat response to our environment, enabling safety and engagement. A hotel, offering a great hospitality and atmosphere, perhaps excels in creating such an environment; but how? Certainly, its logical soothing decor is critical, aesthetically pleasing on the eye - calming the part of the mind which works on feelings and impressions. Therefore, our first human interaction with hotel staff (effective group leaders), perhaps sets the tone for the whole experience. Neurology and science inform us that when encountering new environments, we instinctively scan for threats and danger; once that part of our brain gives us "the ok", we can then settle and get on with what we want to do - work towards the goals and rewards we seek.

As a counsellor, returning to the idea of August orientations, those very first seconds of arrival on campus for new community members seem ever-so more critical. Overt messages of welcome need to be explicitly communicated, so the threat scan gives the definite ok - leaving no room for doubts! (ambiguity can let the negative imagination roam - the dreaded "what ifs?" Friendly faces and voices therefore, the projection of all things being well, "I'm ok, you're ok" are needed; the absoluteness and totality of being welcomed into the new social group, and social space (think a lion, suddenly teleported from one territory, to one never encountered....). In this sense, being mindful of the hospitality concept, we can perhaps go further than being, ‘only’ well; hospitality asks us to proactively join in, set the tone, to welcome, contribute to social revelry and the collective good; in such environments, we can then grow; perhaps accessing a transformative learning experience if there is enough challenge present. We practice service as hospitality, and we all benefit.

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