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When you sign on to take in a foreign exchange student, it’s pretty clear what is supposed to happen. A new person comes to live with you, share your life, learn something and hopefully create a lifetime’s worth of memories. But then, they have to go home…
That happened in 2008 when Sofie, who lived with us for a year, went home and Shannon was just 7. She had a difficult time with it. That same summer, her best friend moved to the Bay Area and she felt abandoned. It was a tough time. Sofie came back to visit in July of 2010 and she was here for a month with her friend, Romi. That was a neat time, too and we all enjoyed each other’s company.
Conni came to live with us in January of this year. From Austria, she was younger than Sofie was when she arrived, but she had already traveled to the U.S. and around the world before and was comfortable with it. She’d just turned 16 and though a true traveler, Conni was overwhelmed when she arrived on a misty evening at Burbank Airport. We went to the wrong terminal originally to get her–I documented that here.
In the five months or so that she was here, she too became part of the family. In no time at all, her sense of overwhelm became a sense of family. She fit right in and became a second daughter, a big sister and a friend. The dogs took to her quickly and our lives fell into a new pattern. School overwhelmed her, too. She went to the school where I teach and it is three or four times larger than her school in Austria. It took a couple of weeks to get settled, but she did it and took to it well.
By mid-February, it was as if Conni had always been here. She’d made friends, she developed a routine and she was a joy to be around. Funny, smart, witty-she joined the other girls in this household (Simon, the dog-and I are the only males) as simpatico.
In May, when her father came to visit while in the state on business, it was a reminder that she wasn’t ours and we probably needed that reminder. in a very short time after her arrival, we simply accepted Conni as one of us and we never really thought too much about the prospect of June arriving and her having to return to Europe. It just wasn’t something we focused on.
But June did arrive and with it, Conni’s ineffable return to her life in Austria. When Sofie left, we were all sad. I remember taking her to the airport for an early morning flight. Wrote about that here. But with Conni, it was just as hard–if not harder. How do you measure the impact a person has on your life? How do you say goodbye to a person who shares so much of your world with you? It seemed nearly un-natural to have to put her on a plane and send her home.
We will, of course, see Conni again. We plan to go to Europe, perhaps next summer, and spend some time–having never been there. Her family comes to the U.S. with regular frequency and we’ll see her father again as soon as this fall. So, we’ve created a relationship, a friendship, that crosses boundaries and language and like having a child, becomes family.
Our lives have changed again-for the better-and forever-because we got to have Conni in them. We’re a little sad right now and feeling her absence very keenly, but with time and with connections-we will see her again and spend time with our families.
There are so many new horizons out there–you just have to be willing to find them and embrace them each day.
Posted in Family