Memoir of a Host Sister

February 17, 2011
Some people are experts at solving crossword puzzles, others at writing college essays, but my family is expert at hosting foreign exchange students. We’re multicultural already: my brother and I are adopted from China, and our extended families are Maltese, Filipino and Caucasian.

It seems natural, then, that my family has hosted four exchange students. When I was four, we hosted a student from Porte Alegra, Brazil while we lived in Kuna, Idaho. We bonded well with our very polite first student, and in February of the next year we went on vacation to visit his family.
While still living in Idaho, five years later we hosted another student from Kawasaki, Japan. I recall my family making the effort to have a similar interesting experience with this student, but we failed—he didn’t talk to us very often, and we did not share much common ground.
By the first half of our exchange student undertaking, I concluded later that I had been too young to be a “friend” with my new siblings; I was probably just considered a nuisance.
In summer 2005, we moved to Etna, California (pop. 860) and rebuilt our lives. We began a heavy house remodel and did not think we’d be hosting any more students. We became more of an “outdoors” type of family, as there was a lake and mountains nearby.
The year I turned seventeen, however, a local representative of an exchange company contacted my family. My dad had a talk with all of us and we began looking through student profiles. Then we came across a profile that seemed like a good fit for us—a girl from Norway who was adopted from Sri Lanka. We learned that she enjoyed hiking, skiing, Scouts and shopping, and so with these family similarities we decided to take a closer look.
In August 2009, we met Kristine from Brønnøysund, Norway. By this time we were not sure what to expect, but we felt that it was going to be different. My brother and I were older, and we would be able to relate more to Kristine.

I remember the day we picked her up from the airport. Once we met her, I could tell that over time we were going to be sisters by bond. On our 105 degree Fahrenheit, hour and a half drive home, we discovered that Kristine had very good English and that she had expected our town to be smaller than it was.
When I showed her my room, I definitely knew that this was going to be new territory for me. I had never shared a room before. I didn’t know how I was going to react to a complete stranger sleeping in my room, but it went over well. Kristine had never shared a room either, and we learned how to schedule out cleaning the bathroom as well.

My sister became someone who I would rely on throughout the nine months that I was junior in high school. Time seemed to pass more quickly with Kristine than they had done with our previous two exchange students. She was busy; she spent a lot of time with friends, practiced for soccer and even got me to be more social and exercise more often. We traveled to Hawaii and San Francisco and went on hikes with her as well.

There were many things I learned while Kristine lived with us. For instance, she attempted to teach me Norwegian, bonded with me during our 1 AM talks, and offered me support daily. Kristine helped me believe in myself again, and she motivated me to try new things, such as winning a speech contest (I did), and attending our school dances (I did this grudgingly but ended up having fun!) I could tell that our family life was going well—it was pleasant with her around.
After Kristine graduated, it was sad to see her go. Taking her to the airport was a difficult experience for all of us. However, we knew that our exchange student would go home with interesting stories to tell, and that she had completed an important part of her life in America. We are planning to visit Kristine in Norway this summer.

My family is currently hosting an exchange student from Xi’an, China, who we call Beatrix. The neat thing about having a girl from China is that we visited her city in summer 2009. We also had a two-day notice on her arrival date in August 2010. Hosting another student was not planned, but we decided that we would give it a try. Otherwise, Beatrix may not have been able to come to the United States.

Beatrix seemed like the polar opposite of our outgoing Norwegian, Kristine. It was hard not to have expectations, but we had to drop them when she arrived. I would say that we had a harder time adjusting, but a possible factor of that could have been Kristine’s departure date, which was only two months earlier.
Although it took awhile for our student to warm up to us and for communication to improve, we became a normal host family again. Even though Beatrix is not as social or does not participate in as many things as Kristine did, we like her for who she is and she’s a part of us.

Beatrix has helped me calm down during the stressful college application process, taken funny pictures, watched chick flicks late at night and has gone on a bike ride with me. We make a good team together, and there’s a lot that we’ve laughed about. She was also the first person to find out that I was accepted to a university of my choice.

As you can see, my family and I have been through an extensive exchange student experience. We have laughed, cried, and have helped each other along the way. We are now familiar with four different cultures. Over the years, I hope we can keep in contact with these great students and remember the memories we experienced when they lived with us.

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