Exchange students: the best people on earth

Having an exchange student is an emotional journey that everyone should have the chance to experience

by Katie Burris

All my life, I’ve wanted a sister. I grew up an only child, and while I’m not complaining about my childhood, it got lonely.  My dream was to have a sister in close proximity to my age. When I was in elementary school, I wanted a sibling competent enough to play Barbies with, but as I got older, having someone to share family struggles and to blame things on made the top of my list.

So, at the end of sophomore year, my family had decided to host an exchange student. I had gotten to know a few over the years at school and from previous hosts of Japanese college students, so I was pumped to finally have what I had been dreaming of for a long time. A girl, a year younger than me, would arrive from Spain to become my new sister.

I’m not going to lie. Having a sibling is not all the sunshine and rainbows that I had dreamt of. I was not prepared to be responsible for another person, to share my house, family, and life with them. I made life hard for myself and for her in the first few months of this past year. As much as I had prepared myself for this, I was not ready to have another person live forty feet away from me in my house.

I eventually got over my unrealistic expectations, though not I not with the time left that I would’ve wanted. We may not be the best of friends, and our personalities may clash for the worst, but having an exchange student is an emotional ride I’d be willing to take again in a heartbeat.

For anyone considering being a host family, do it. My exchange student has less than a week left in America, and I’ve never been this sad to see someone go. The chance to learn about life in a place other than your own is and teaching someone how you live your life is exciting. To have them experience the magic of the Oregon zoo lights, learn to play billiards or watch them eat peanut butter for the first time, is special. Don’t waste your time on being petty. Get out there and don’t get hung up on your differences—celebrate them.

Here’s a special message to my exchange student, Helena: I’ll miss you so much, Pool Shark, and I’m proud to call you my sister. See you in Spain in two weeks.

Meeting Helena at the airport for the first time. (Photo by Katie Burris.)

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