Helping strangers become international siblings is another way AYA helps families grow around the world! Following up yesterday’s story from host mom Denise about hosting an international student from Germany, we are fortunate to share the experience from her daughter’s perspective.
Today, Kelsey shares what it was like to gain an international sibling and global opportunities, when her family decided to host with AYA. Here’s Kelsey’s story:
Growing up, my family often shared our home with students from many other countries. While each of these were brief, about two weeks at most, I always loved learning more about the students and their home countries. Each goodbye was sad, and I often found myself wanting them to stay longer.
In 2012, I was excited, because we were going to have an exchange student for the entire school year! I had images of us becoming best friends and forming a lifelong relationship, but when she finally got here, she ended up being a bad fit for our family—probably because the organization we went through didn’t allow us any choice of who we got. That year I shared a room with someone for ten months, and to this day I never talk to her. That is not what an exchange program should be like. Disappointed, but not wanting to give up, my family continued hosting the short-term exchange students, each one wonderful and eye opening.
In 2015, my family decided to try a year-long exchange again, this time through a different organization, Academic Year in America. Through AYA we scoured numerous profiles, reading through each and trying to discover who would fit best in our family. After we picked out a few we really liked, the difficult part was choosing. Out of all these amazing people, who were we going to get to know?
Around the end of January, we decided that Luisa from Germany was our girl. She was funny, realistic, adventurous, and a bit of a nerd, so we knew she would fit well. After talking to her through WhatsApp, I started to realize how alike we were, and from the moment we met her at the airport, I knew she would be a perfect fit.
My junior year with Luisa was one of adventures and laughter. We did almost everything together, and some nights we would just sit on the floor and talk about our lives. From childhood memories, to how difficult school is, to sidesplitting stories that left us both in tears of joy, I learned so much about this girl who, just months before, had been a stranger. We sang along to songs from Cinderella backstage while working stage crew for our high school musical.
We laughed and pranced around in our new prom dresses that we bought in February. We compared notes between our math class with the same teacher, and discovered that Luisa’s class was the favorite, and in 3D Animation we spent the block creating our projects and fooling around, making inside jokes and forming “Cult Hufnagl” as a tribute to our favorite teacher.
So many of my favorite memories involve Luisa, and I can’t imagine life without her. Over the year, she wasn’t just my exchange student anymore, she was my sister.
Those ten months flew by, but soon it was time for her to go home. It was hard to imagine that I wouldn’t be able to wander in her room in the mornings just to hang out anymore, and that someone who had come to mean so much to me would suddenly be thousands of miles away.
The goodbye was a mixed one. I was happy that she could go home and see all of her family and friends again, but at the same time I was losing someone in my family as well. We bid each other goodbye with promises to visit in Germany as soon as we could. And luckily, that visit wasn’t very far away.
We planned a trip for the summer of 2017, and I couldn’t wait. Throughout the school year we talked to each other through WhatsApp and Skype, sharing all of our news. Time zones make communicating across an ocean hard, but we managed. Then the day finally arrived. We had our bags packed, and we hopped onto our eight-hour flight into Germany.
I was a bundle of energy, not only was I traveling out of the United States for the first time, but I would get to see Luisa, my Luisa, again. We could laugh and share jokes and hug each other again. When we finally landed, I couldn’t wait to see her, and we were greeted with hugs and chocolate.
The three weeks we were in Germany we saw so many cities and did so many things. I finally got to meet Luisa’s parents and her friends that I had heard all about. We saw Leipzig and Dresden with her best friend and her sister showing us around. We went to some beautiful old towns and saw several gorgeous museums. The trip was jam packed with so many different adventures, but my favorite days were the ones we spent just hanging out at the house. I realized how much I had missed Luisa coming into my room to check on me, or the times we said something stupid and laughed so hard it hurt. And I discovered she felt the same way.
Every once in a while, I would randomly sing a song stuck in my head or screech as I almost dropped something, and she would just look at me and say, “I missed that.” Those three weeks flew by, like they always do when you don’t want them to, and in no time, we were in Berlin packing our bags to go home.
Now I knew what Luisa felt like when she left. It’s a mixed feeling. You want to go home and see everyone you love there, but you also want to stay and continue your time with the people you love here. It’s almost as if your heart is torn in half—part in the U.S. and part in Germany. But all things must come to an end, and soon we were in the airport, a reluctant goodbye behind us and an eager flight home ahead of us.
I never realized how much ten months could change my life, but they did. In these months, a stranger became a sister, and I couldn’t be more grateful. I have a best friend in a different country, and I got to travel there before I even turned 20. I am not ignorant to how lucky I’ve been.
Even though we only just left, I can’t wait until I can see her again. Now I am off to college, with this amazing experience under my belt, and while there will be many changes, I will always have family in Germany. Until I travel to Europe again (hopefully in a study abroad program), I will bide my time with as many WhatsApps and Skype calls as possible. And maybe I’ll be able to see Luisa again soon.
Learn how you can enrich your family with an amazing experience like Kelsey’s through AYA, the Gold Standard in international high school exchange!