When I was a sophomore in high school, my parents sat the family down in the living room, opened up an enormous binder and asked my younger brother and me to pick a sister, any sister, from any country around the world.
We chose an eighteen-year-old, trumpet-playing, tall and strong-minded Finnish student who did, indeed, become a real sister to me over the course of the following year.
My parents had made rumblings in the past about hosting a foreign exchange student. We lived in a tiny, rural town in Central California, so they saw the exchange experience as a double-blessing: My parents could share the wealth of our small-town lives and the beauty of our diverse state while culturally enriching their own children’s lives. We had previously hosted a German teacher for a summer, and my brother’s baseball team had provided temporary housing for players from Russia — the USSR at that time. We were no strangers to strangers in our home.
But when the day finally came to choose the exchange student, I was nervous about the change. My life was filled with academics, sports and other extracurriculars, and my parents both had busy jobs in addition to being key participants in their children’s activities.
This experience was going to put me outside my comfort zone, and I wasn’t sure I would like it. Would there be enough room for another sister? Would my parents have enough love to go around? What would we gain by shaking up our seemingly comfortable lives?
As it turned out, quite a lot! While that year certainly came with ups and downs—as they do in any family—the lifelong friendship, the bond of sisterhood and the cultural experience I gained from having Karo in my life outshone all the extra squabbles over the shared curling iron.
It was such a worthwhile experience, that here we are, over 30 years later, preparing to choose another sister. Only this time, it’s my own family—my husband, myself and our three daughters. And this time, there will be no binder, no leafing through pages of possibilities, since we have already chosen our sister-for-a-year: Karo’s daughter from Finland. [Read more…]