Hosting an Exchange Student

“I want one that wants to cook for us” I joked. “I think we should pick someone who wants to play sports with me,” said my little sister, Kelli. This is just one more thing to add to the list of things Kelli and I couldn’t agree on. I felt like I was choosing a sister based on an online dating profile. We ended up picking the exchange student I had the most in common with. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about the fact Ida was the same height and weight as me. Finally I will have a sister to share clothes with, I thought secretly. Once we made a decision, the application process began. At that moment it never really crossed my mind that this person would be my best friend in just a few short months.

It was a long anticipated wait from the time we chose Ida based on her profile to the time we arrived at the airport. My sister and I were prepared with a decorated sign saying, Welcome to America, Ida Iselin. We soon realized that our sign was a little over the top, because my family was part of the fifteen people waiting in the lobby. I was so excited that I didn’t even care at that point. I heard them announce that her plane had now landed. My stomach felt like it was churning, and I couldn’t possibly sit down. As she walked through the terminal, I matched her face to the profile picture I originally saw her as. It was an awkward embrace as we met for the first time.

Her accent, her attire and scent were all different than I had imagined. She looked petite, and smiley, compared to her straight-faced passport photo. I felt like I had judged her based on one photo and a few lines she wrote to describe herself. I expected her to look much more foreign, but the way she was dressed wasn’t much different than a typical teenage girl in the United States. I was really impressed how well she could speak English, and her accent wasn’t heavy like most Europeans I had encountered. We were curious about her and had many questions. I didn’t even know where to start. Is it going to be weird coming from the capital city of Norway to a small farm town in Michigan? Why did you want to come to Michigan? Do you want to travel anywhere while you are here? What kinds of foods do you want to try?

Hamburgers? French Fries? Who would have thought they could be so exciting? For Ida, it was one of the first things that she wanted to try in America. After a thirty-six hour flight, I could imagine she was pretty hungry. We drove into a nearby McDonalds to get a bite to eat. Her eyes lit up and I remember her saying “this restaurant is so nice. I heard the American McDonalds are the best!” She was in shock when she bit into a french fry and it was actually warm. “Do you really get to refill your soda for free?” she questioned. To me this seemed so normal, but for her it was all new and exciting.

We had an hour drive home after the airport. Within a few minutes it changed from expressway to country roads. She was already in complete shock, because of the lack of subway systems and public transportation. It was going to be an extreme adjustment going from Oslo, Norway with a population of over 1,000,000 to Mayville, Michigan with a population of approximately 1,000. For the first couple months, most of our conversations were comparing and contrasting Norway and the United States. The school systems seemed there seemed like they had much more to offer, because you could pick a field of study. Ida was studying graphic design and photography in high school! I learned more about diversity and other cultures through her than I ever could in school.

For Ida’s first day in Mayville, we decided to show her all around town, even though there wasn’t much to show. I had this gut feeling that she was going to completely hate it. Mayville consists of one stoplight, one gas station, a grocery store, one pizza place and Mayville Schools. To my surprise she said, “It’s so wonderful that everything is within walking distance in this town.” We took her to meet with out high school counselor to set up her class schedule. Ida asked, “Where do I go to buy my books?” I was in shock that she had to pay for her books all through school, because those have always been provided for us.

It took a while for my family to get used to this stranger in the house. I was used to having guests over, but since she was living there for a year, I wanted to treat her like family. The first couple nights Kelli, Ida and I stayed up talking and laughing about everything from boys to clothes. It was really the first time I had done that with Kelli. Before Ida came into our home, we would have screaming matches about taking each other’s things without asking and why the other should have to do chores around the house. Ida was the missing link that connected us. It was almost like a switch flipped. Ever since Ida came into our lives, my sister and I have been able to look past the years of arguing and bickering.

Eleven months later when we arrived at the familiar spot, things were much different. Kelli and I hugged for a few minutes straight after we saw her walk back through that terminal. The tears were running down my face as if someone had passed away. I had dreaded this moment, because I knew I would feel lost without her there every day. The only thing that kept me from completely breaking down was when Ida yelled, “I’ll be back next summer to visit, promise!”


1. At that moment it never really crossed my mind that this person would be my best friend in just a few short months.

2. Hamburgers? French Fries? Who would have thought they could be so exciting? For Ida, it was one of the first things that she wanted to try in America.

Questions for feedback:
Does it seem organized?
I tried adding some dialogue, but it felt uncomfortable for me. Does it work the way I added it in?
What can I do to write an interesting ending?---I feel like I am having a little trouble.

A few other details:
500-1,000 sounds good to me!
I would love to add a picture!