Warning: Tissues may be needed!
When my daughter, Emily, was young, her bedtime prayers always included “..and, please, help me get a sister.”
She wanted the sister experience and with three older brothers and one younger one, I can understand. However, it was not meant to be.
So we decided to do the next best thing for our family. The spring before my daughter’s senior year in high school, my husband and I applied to be host parents for a foreign exchange student program.
Once our family was accepted, we were emailed pictures and biographies of student’s from all over the world. While scrolling through them, both my daughter and I couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw her. Our jaws dropped. She looked so similar to Emily that one could think they really were sisters. We requested Kerstin and she came to live with us in August of that year.
By the second day after her arrival, I knew she would fit right into our family when I heard my youngest son cry out and found him pinned under the dining table by Kerstin. That was 9 1/2 years ago. Kerstin was an only child when she came to us but soon learned how to hold her ground in a large family.
Two weeks after Kerstin came to live with us, I walked past the door of Emily’s room and saw both girls sitting on the bed crying. By then, my husband and I had been to several AFS (stands for American Field Service and is the name of the foreign exchange student program that we used) orientations and were told to confront problems right away. So I entered the room and said, “Ok, girls, what’s the problem?” Amidst the sobbing and tears both girls replied “we’re talking about when Kerstin has to leave after school is over next year.” I knew it then and it still holds true today; Kerstin had entered our hearts to stay.
The exchange program is a 10 month program. The school year went very fast and Kerstin was able to extend her stay for an additional month so that we could take her on several family trips to show her our beautiful country.
We camped at Arches National Park in Utah and the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, saw the Grand Canyon, drove through Sequoia National Park in California, wet our toes at Venice Beach in Los Angeles, peered at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, and rode the white water (it was actually quite tame) of the Yellowstone river in Montana. We made lots of memories and had lots of fun.
When we signed up to be a host family, we received no promises or guarantees that the year would go smoothly or that we would bond with our student or them with us. We are so pleased that the year went incredibly well as we grew very close to Kerstin and her to us. Saying goodbye that summer was very hard for all of us.
I baked and decorated cookies and a cake. We invited all of her friends and our extended family to help us celebrate her year with us and wish her well ’til we meet again. The German flag is outside of the picture on the right.
We had no idea if we’d ever see each other again or what the future would bring.
I am so happy to tell you that Kerstin’s been a part of our lives since. Modern technology (Skype, Face Time, Texting, and email) helps us stay connected. She’s come to visit us many times. One year Emily went to stay with her in Germany for 5 weeks. A couple of years ago, my husband I spent two weeks visiting Kerstin and her family. Kerstin was a bridesmaid in Emily’s wedding and we were honored to have her parents, aunt, and cousin attend as well.
Kerstin called us last spring to tell us there was a possibility she would be coming to spend the fall semester at Montana State University in Billings, about 6 hours away from our home in North Dakota. She is studying to become a bi-lingual teacher in math and English. We were thrilled when everything worked out to allow her to do so.
When she called again early last summer to ask if she could borrow some bed linens and blankets, I got the idea to make her a quilt. After all, there is nothing better that says you are loved than being wrapped in a quilt.
That fat quarter bundle of Elementary by Moda that I had purchased the year before would be perfect. So I enlisted help from Emily and my daughter-in-laws to design it. We decided on a modern plus quilt.
My sister’s were involved with helping to pin and press and my mom hand embroidered the quilt label for the back.
But it wasn’t all work and no play. During our quilting days together, we took breaks.
I sewed the quilt and rented time on a longarm so it would be done and ready to present to her when she arrived in late August.
I had found the perfect backing on our 2016 Quilt Minnesota Shop Hop trip.
We were excited when the time came to see her again. She had arrived at Emily’s several days earlier so they could have some “girl time.”
The semester went fast and we were so happy to be able to spend time with her again. She flew to Arizona with us after Christmas to enjoy some fun in the sun here.
She made sure the quilt fit in her suitcase for her return trip to Germany. We are so proud of all she’s accomplished here: living in a different country and culture, learning to live with a large family, trusting us to care for her, thriving in school work, making lifelong friends, sharing her life with us, and letting us love her.
What I Learned Today:
- I miss having our German exchange daughter in our house.
- There is nothing better that says you are loved than being wrapped in a quilt. I hope Kerstin feels that love every time she uses that quilt.
- Germany is a long way from North Dakota or Arizona.
- This post was more difficult to write than I anticipated. It was hard to type looking through tears.
- I look really good in that picture taken nine years ago. I wonder what’s wrong with my camera now? I must need a new camera because I feel the same as I did years ago.
Question: Have you or anyone you known participated in the foreign exchange program? Did you have a foreign exchange student in your classes in school? Tell me your story.
Linking this week to Love Laugh Quilt for Monday Making, Beth at Cooking Up Quilts for Main Crush Monday, Sew Fresh Quilts for Let’s Bee Social , Finished Or Not Friday at Busy Hands Quilt, Can I Get a Whoop, Whoop at Confessions of a Fabric Addict, and Show Off Saturday at Sew Can She. I will add the links when they come live. Some are posted on my sidebar.