On the eve of my second trip to France, it makes sense to explain why I’m going.
Back when my dad and aunt were in high school (in the 80’s) they hosted a French exchange student, Marc. I think my dad was too busy with his extracurriculars senior year. So my aunt Carol is the one who had the stronger relationship with Marc. She explained that he initially was staying with a different host family. But then one of his grandparents passed away. And the initial host family couldn’t handle his grief. I’m not sure why the school then reached out to my family, neither my dad or aunt took French. But my grandparents being the kindhearted people they are, were happy to take him in. My aunt has a funny story about Marc’s reaction to Halloween. He really thought the whole thing was stupid. And kept asking what was the point of it all. Overall they enjoyed hosting him for the remainder of his time in the states.
Over the years they kept in touch via mail, email, and eventually social media. I remember my aunt taking me to the post office to send his children toys for their birthday one year. She always cherished that relationship.
Fast forward 20+ years. Marc reached out to my aunt telling her about his younger cousin. Her name was Karen and she was 19. I didn’t know this at the time but she was battling an illness. And one of her dreams was to come to the US. So her dad was happy to send her over, but wanted her to be safe. Marc explained the situation. He said he didn’t want to “send her to the wolves.” My aunt gladly agreed to host Karen. She was going to come for 2 weeks in the spring.
Since I was close to her age, my aunt thought it’d be a good idea for her to stay with my parents and I for the second week. We were super excited.
Thankfully I had a great relationship with my school’s Principal, and he was happy to allow Karen to shadow me for the week. And coincidentally my homeroom teacher was the only French teacher in the school. She and Karen connected immediately.
Karen was so sweet and polite. I was super impressed with her English speaking. She went with me to all my classes and softball practice after school. She went to church with us on Sunday. And she, Auntie Carol, and I spent a Saturday in NYC. She and my bestie Eliza even became fast friends. My parents were her parents for the week. And she from then on has been my French sister.
One day I remember Karen being very sad. Not because she was homesick. But because she had just gone through a break up prior to her trip. That guy hurt her quite badly. I tried to comfort her as best I could. But as kind, intelligent, and beautiful as she, I knew she’d find someone who’d treat her like a queen. And she did!
A few years later she met Thomas, and the rest was history. They’ve been together for 7 years. And this weekend Eliza and I will be attending their wedding!
In 2012 Karen and Thomas came to NYC and we were able to meet up again for the first time in 3 years. We liked Thomas. He was a gentleman and we could tell our girl Karen was happy. He was a bit shy that first time we met. But over the years we have spent more time with them. And learned many good things about him. He’s a good man. And I’m so happy for my Frenchies!
10 years of friendship and I am honored to witness this very special moment in my French sister’s life.
Foreign exchange programs can be a very beautiful thing. In my opinion, the good that comes from them far outweighs the potential risks. The relationships born from them can transcend time, space, and generations. And they make for an extremely unique human experience.