In my senior year of high school, my Spanish teacher kept asking all of her students, “Would you be interested in hosting an exchange student?”
As the youngest child and the only one living at home, I did not think that having another person live in my house for two months was a very good idea. I was used to my space and my privacy at home.
My mom happened to volunteer at the school library, and my Spanish teacher began talking to her about the program. My mom approached me with it, and I felt like I had no other choice but to agree.
We had an interview with two women who, at the end of our meeting, both agreed quickly that they knew the perfect match for my family and me. Her name was Ale, she was six months younger than me and from Guatemala.
When she arrived in October of 2012, I never thought that I would meet a girl who would become my sister. Yes, she is from a completely different country with an entire family of her own, but after those first two months, she became a member of our family.
Hosting an exchange student does give you the typical benefits—a knowledge of a different culture, a better understanding of his or her language, a contact in a different country. But I have learned something much more valuable than that.
Having Ale live with us for two months taught me that you do not have to be related by blood for someone to become a true part of your family. You need an open heart and a connection—the rest comes easily.
We are fortunate enough to have Ale stay with us at least once a year, usually for long periods at a time. She has been with us for two Thanksgivings, a Christmas, a baby shower for my sister, multiple birthdays, a funeral and many other special occasions.
Through modern technology, we are able to FaceTime whenever my nephew and niece ask to see her, keep up-to-date with each other’s lives through Facebook and text each other all the time about the things you just need to talk to your “sister” about.
If you have the opportunity to become family with someone, take it. Open your heart and let someone in, especially if he or she is from a different country. Sharing your life with another person is indescribable.