My family hosted an exchange student from Germany during my senior year of high school. It was a fantastic experience. I realize it doesn’t work out this way for everyone. Every student and family is different. A poor match could make a year seem like a lifetime. Our year flew by because our German Girl – that’s what she calls herself when she comments here – meshed so well with our family. She came with an open mind and an attitude of learning. She wanted to spend her year in the U.S. living like an American. And I had a great time showing her how it’s done, introducing her to peanut butter, shaved armpits and slang.
Me (on the way home from the airport): “Once you’ve had some rest, we can go out and I’ll show you around and stuff.”
German Girl: “Leslie, what is all this ‘stuff’ you keep talking about? What is ‘stuff’?”
Me: “Uhhh…stuff. Stuff? Hmmm…stuff is…well, stuff is everything! Stuff is, like…well, it’s like…”
The girl really made me think – from the moment she stepped off the plane. I mean, have you ever considered how funny it is to call it “going to the bathroom” even when you’re peeing in the woods?
We quickly became the very best of friends as German Girl is the best conversationalist ever. We spent so much time talking. Oh, how we talked! About anything and everything. We talked long and deep. She had no shortage of opinions and she loved hearing mine. Our exchanges were effortless and inspiring and hilarious and meaningful. And I miss that. Still. I have yet to find someone who can fill that space.
Her visit changed me. She provided a wonderful opportunity for me to try and see my life from an outside perspective. I began to understand how much I took for granted. And how much I assumed because I simply never knew anything different. Thanks to her, I know that people, no matter where they live or what language they speak, are more alike than they are different, that there’s not just one way to do anything and that the highest compliment you can pay anyone is to have a genuine interest in them.
We’ve managed to keep in touch over the years. She even came back to visit when I got married (the first time). But people grow and change. As time has passed, she’s felt further and further away. Until now. Now, she is about to be a mother. And I feel as if we’re coming together again. And she’s not just visiting this time. She’s coming to live where I live – in the mother hood. I want to throw her a party. I want to write her a book. I want to take her on a road trip to who-cares-where because everyone knows the best conversations happen on long rides in the car and we have so much to talk about. But I can’t. So, instead, I sent her a gift for her new baby: a turtle (custom made by my good friend Amy) in honor of Aristotles, her dead American pet. (It’s a whole other story.)
(You can see more of Amy’s handiwork at The Fuzzy Forest Etsy Shop.)
I also sent her wedding gift. Finally. The one that’s been sitting in the Family Room on a shelf with a post-it that reads “Mail to German Girl” since 2007.
I hope that little package is enough to make her feel the ocean of love I have in my heart for her. And I hope that if her baby is a girl, she’ll name her after me.