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Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained
When my mom asked me if I still wanted a sister, I couldn't say yes fast enough. We had been looking into hosting a foreign exchange student, but so far it hadn't looked promising. Now, out of nowhere, a coordinator told us about the need for the last minute placement of girl from Kyrgyzstan. I didn't know anything about her, but I didn't need to. She would be my sister, not just for the year that she joined my family, but after she left to go back home. I had a feeling that we would have a special bond, and I could hardly wait to meet her.
Once I found out that we were hosting this girl for sure, I had to tell everybody. "Guess what?" I would ask. Without waiting for an answer, I would tell them what was so important. "We are getting a foreign exchange student! Isn't that awesome?" Everybody agreed that it was, in fact, awesome. My excitement hadn't diminished a bit since I found out. How cool would it be to have a sister from a different country? Someone who would stay up late with me, talk about everything, and share her culture with my family.
Of course, I hadn't even met the student yet, so I couldn't be sure that my expectations would be met. I didn't worry about that too much. I didn't have the time to worry. We only found about her the day before we would meet her. She was slated to fly into Michigan very soon. The coordinator would pick her up from the airport and bring her to meet us. She wouldn't be staying with us quite yet. Our house and family still had to pass the inspection of the exchange program.
I was practically bouncing with enthusiasm the next day. School couldn't end fast enough. I had to meet my sister! Finally, the last bell rang and there was a rush to get home. My whole family was eager to meet our new family member. We knew nothing about her, except that her name was Venera and she was from Kyrgyzstan. I found out from my parents that Kyrgyzstan was near China. Still, I didn't try imagine what she would look like. I wanted to be surprised.
When she arrived around dinner time that day, my brother, Isaac, and I were outside to greet her. My parents joined us quickly and our anticipation rose. The coordinator parked her car and stepped out, along with her daughter. After a moment, the back door opened and out came my new sister and instant friend. When we received hugs and not handshakes, I knew that Venera was everything I had wanted her to be.
She was shorter than me by a few inches, even though she was seventeen, and when it was my turn for a hug, I noticed her thick, dark hair. It was shoulder length, like mine. Based on that and her T-shirt and jeans, I knew we would have a lot in common. Her coordinator took a picture of all of us together and then the tour began. Venera got to see our whole house, her new home. She spoke English very well, for which I was glad. When we got to the backyard, she told me her thoughts about our home. "Your house is so cozy!" I smiled. That's exactly what we had hoped for.
"Thanks! I'm glad you like it!" We shared another smile and then the visit continued. Venera met our dog and three cats, whom she got along with well.
"I love animals," she admitted to us.
"That's good. I hoped so!" my mom told her.
The trip was shorter than any of us wanted, but Venera had to go with her coordinator so that she could relax a little after her three day journey to America. I didn't blame her. I had traveled to Europe twice before and long plane rides are never easy, so of course she would be exhausted. Sleep and good food are difficult to get during plane travel.
Before she came to stay with us, we got her a bed, new sheets, and some blankets. Everything in my room, which would shortly be our room, was carefully arranged so that my new roommate could be comfortably accommodated. The time passed in a blur and before I knew it, the second bed had an occupant. Having had only a brother my whole life, I had never shared my room before, but I wasn't upset. The only thing my brain could focus on was the fact that I had an older sister.
The first few days she lived with us were spent teaching Venera where everything was located in our house, and how we handled different situations, like dinner and getting ready for school. She learned quickly and was a great addition to our family unit. Her heart was kind and she was quick to help with anything she could. Studying and school were very important from the beginning of her time with us. Homework was always done and tests always studied for.
There couldn't have been a better fit for our family. Venera took every cultural change in stride. From praying before meals, to the celebration of holidays, to the schedule of school, there was no adaptation that seemed to bother her. Sure, there were surprises and explanations of why we do things a certain way, but it all went smoothly.
Hosting Venera has been very fun and rewarding. It gave me a glimpse into a new culture, one that is surprisingly similar to the American culture in few ways. I learned about the history and origin of Kyrgyzstan and some of its products. My family and I were all given gifts from Kyrgyzstan and we treasure them. They are trinkets that represent some of the special things about her home country.
Not only have I gotten a look at a new culture, but I have been challenged into looking more deeply into my own culture. Venera had questions about America that I couldn't answer. Sometimes she would ask my parents and I would get to hear the answer. Other times, we looked up answer and all learned something new. We got to share our traditions for weddings, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and many other events. During those times, there were questions about why we do specific customs. I reflected a lot then about what we do as Americans and how that compares to what happens in other countries around the world.
I knew that my excitement wasn't going to be wasted. There is nothing I regret about agreeing to have a foreign exchange student join my family. It is a unique experience for everyone involved. My family and I have had the pleasure of sharing our home, our traditions, and our love. As it turns out, having a foreign exchange student doesn't only benefit the student; it benefits the host family if they are willing to learn and grow.