By Audrey Debruine, Medill, Immigrant Connect

Out of nowhere, Asma asks me if I want to visit Jordan.

“I mean, sure,” I tell her. I had met her only minutes before. We’re sitting next to each other on a full flight from Chicago to San Francisco, a couple of days before Thanksgiving.

I’m thinking that I couldn’t honestly say that Jordan is at the top of my dream vacation list.

“I like to visit new places,” I add.

“Come stay with me and my family. What are you doing this summer? You could come to Jordan.”

I had just met this woman, and already she’s inviting me to travel across the world to stay with her?

It had been a long quarter and I’m ready to be home. I’m not in a very approachable state. Yet, we keep talking. She asks where I’m flying to. I tell her that I’m going home to see my family. She says she is too.

By that point in the conversation, I know that she had been flying close to 20 hours. No wonder she’s looking for any activity to pass the time, even if it means chatting up the tired, grumpy college kid in the middle seat.

She’s on her way back from a visit to her parents in Amman, and returning her husband and three children in Sacramento, where my grandparents happen to live. It becomes very clear that family is one of the most important things in her life. She tells me that she goes back to Jordan every couple of months to be with her parents, and that she misses living there. But her family’s life is in the states now. Her husband works in Sacramento and her children are in school or working too.

She asks me more about myself: where I’m going to school. “Near Chicago.”

“So far!” she says.

Do I have siblings? She has a son around the age of my brother and sister.

What am I studying? What do I do with my free time? Do I like Northwestern?

Finding out that I live three hours away from my closest family members does not make her happy. I bring up the American ideal of independence, and how it seems we value close families less than other cultures I’ve encountered.

Her perspective after a decade or so of living in the United States is that she can’t understand why we Americans glorify being on our own so much. After all, she flies around the world to see her parents more frequently than I hop on a quick flight to see mine.

Somewhere over Colorado, I ask her what Jordanian food is like and whether she cooks much. Oh yes, she cooks a lot, and her family loves it. I like to cook too, all kinds of food, I tell her, so she invites me to her home in Sacramento to make dinner some time.

“Just tell me one day before you come!”

I’m shocked again by her hospitality. She’s invited me to both of her homes before we even got each others’ names.

Maybe this stems out of some innate human desire to share ourselves with other people, or maybe she’s just an especially friendly person. Either way, her devotion to her family and willingness to treat a total stranger as an old friend gives me something to think about as I travel home that night. I’m a pretty independent person, and I can go a month without talking to my family back home. But why? Why do I feel the need to move halfway across the country for school, where I have no family, three hours away from my closest distant relative? I don’t completely know the answer to that, to why I pride myself on going it alone. I’m trying to figure that out.

Before landing, we exchange names. I find out she’s Asma. We exchange contact information so that I’d be able to take her up on her offers someday. We walk off the plane together towards the baggage claim, where my father is waiting for me, and her son for her. We hug and part ways, both with our own families.

I’ve started saving for my trip to Jordan.