A couple of weeks before we had received the file of our Austrialian Rotary exchange student who was going to live with us for a couple of months while my sister was on her exchange in Canada. The badly copied files showed a curly girl with an exotic name smiling to us. I didn't know enough English to read any of her hobbies or stories.
The evening of her arrival I rushed more quickly than usual out of my classroom and I wished my parents were accerlerating a bit more to get home in time. The moment a local rotarian pulled up our drive-way at home, I was in my bedroom trying to peak unnoticedly out of my window to get a first glimpse of our houseguest while trying to remember the few lines of English I had learned with a Berlitz cassette tape borrowed from the library. Would we be able to communicate? Would we get along? Would this foreign teenager be interested in a child in elementary school?
My worries evaporated immediately when I got caught in a big enthousiastic hug when I entered the living room. This unknown girl was shivering uncontrollably in her skirt, blouse and blue cotton Rotary blaser in the middle of January and didn't move a step away from the burning fireplace but her smile was sure warm enough.
Later on that evening I helped her unpack. Her suitcase look like it had survived a whirlwind inside and when I was done sorting & folding clothes and assigning the piles to different shelves in my sister's closet, I lacked some space. She had noticed my pondering face and took a pile, threw them from some distance in the closet and closed the door. Voila problem solved. From that moment I knew there was a new wind in the house :). And I learned an important lesson: don't worry about trivial things (and most things are trivial).
The next weeks and months were an adventure where I learned my first bits of English and she learned more and more Dutch, where missed train stops and "alternative" itineraries were a regular feature, where the search for misplaced items was eternal and where ribbons could lead a second life as hair decoration or could hide the safety pins in a last-minute self-made gala dress. Her smile and spontaneity had the magical power to make everybody happy and my well-structured parents didn't seem bothered by her "unstructured" room in the least bit which was a miracle on its own. Everyone whome had met her and her famous unseperatable piglet backpack seemed to remember her forever: years later my Latin teacher in high school referred out of the blue to that Australian exchange student that once studied here, my music academy teacher did so and my sister once spent a full train ride trying to figure out with a stranger why she looked familiar to him. Finally he remembered: my sister had once sat in the train next to a curly girl with a big smile who had been laughing so incredibly loud. True facts!
My sister's letter full of unknown exciting adventures & events in Canada such as eg Halloween, ... and this outgoing teenager in our house triggered my dream to be an exchange student too and it learned me the importance of being as open-minded & outgoing as possible on that journey. 8 years later it would be my turn but I don't think I've been able to live up her legacy at all.
The chocolate paste industry in Belgium has never fully recovered from her departure back home and my Australian sister was even more greatly missed in our family. Paper letters, then e-mails, then blogposts kept us up to date from her studies, travels, wedding, international moves, artistic talents and growing family and kept us assured that she's still our crazy Australian girl.
Last Friday we got an e-mail: she's coming to our wedding. It's been 20 years since we've last seen each other.
MAVIS DAVIS IT'S UNREAL.....I'm so excited.