Devon Morera – Host Sister – New Jersey

Devon’s family hosts a student from Germany

Confessions of a Host Sister

By Devon Morera, Stewartsville, NJ

Her name was Mona. She was tall, slim, 15-years-old, and redheaded. Her interests included the flute, volleyball, and reading. She was from Hamburg, Germany. As I scanned the details on the exchange student’s profile, I instantly liked her, as I played an instrument and liked to read as well. I then turned to Mona’s personal letter, and through her writing I could see that she was a very pleasant and charming girl. Although my parents were not planning to host an exchange student anytime in the near future, I felt that I had to meet Mona; I had to be her host sister. 

A few weeks and a lot of discussion later, we decided to host Mona for the entire 2007-08 school year. My younger sister and I were so excited because we would get to have another sister for a year! Even though I would not meet Mona for a couple months, I was already planning on spending lots of time with her, learning about her culture while showing her mine, reminiscing about Europe (I was about to go on a six-week exchange to Poland), and becoming best friends. I had even written an essay for English class about how excited I was to meet her. When Mona arrived at Newark airport at approximately 12:30 A.M. on August 17, quite energetic and friendly despite the fact that she had probably been awake for almost 24 hours, my fantasies about having another confidante still held true. However, it was clear from the events that unfolded during the year that I was a bit idealistic.

Morera Exchange StudentI had never thought that Mona and I might not always get along. After all, I had chosen to have her live with us. I should have known this though, considering that I had already been an older sister for almost fourteen years and was used to the inevitable bickering, sharing the bathroom and fighting for attention. Now, instead of having one younger sibling with whom to vie for space, I had two. Also, I was a junior in high school, and had more schoolwork than I had expected. I was very stressed. It was an obvious recipe for tension. 

The one thing that caused the most strife between Mona and I was the amount of attention people seemed to give her, and the dearth of attention I thought they gave me. As a quiet person, I had enough trouble trying to get others’ attention and feel included. While today I am happy that so many people were not only friendly to Mona but also genuinely interested in her culture, at the time I felt both jealous and jilted that random strangers, relatives, and friends would ignore me in favor of having an engaging conversation with “The German Girl.” For example, at an ice cream shop, a woman asked Mona about the activities occurring at the high school, but ignored my sister and me until Mona introduced us. I did not directly take my frustration out on Mona, but I was angry with her for being able to charm people instantly, while this was extremely difficult for me. Often, being around her made me feel like I was a supporting actor or even an extra in a movie starring Mona. It felt like I had lost my identity. I wanted people to notice me when I spoke, to think of me as “Devon,” instead of “Mona’s host sister.” 

Morera Exchange StudentAlthough I was often frustrated with Mona, we definitely did get along at times. Mona was always curious about how my day was, and was concerned when I was upset. When one of my friends had hurt my feelings, she made sure I was okay. When my crush had given me a ride home from an academic team event, she wanted to know all the details. Mona became one of my confidantes. I could tell her secrets or opinions that I had trouble expressing to others. We even planned to drive to the beach once I had my license. I realize that, at times, we were quite close. In some ways, we were like sisters.

However, I did not admit to myself that Mona was not purposely trying to steal attention from me until it was almost time for her to return to Germany. It was then that I realized that I should have been proud that I was hosting such an amiable girl. While I did learn a lot about Mona’s culture when we were at home, I wish I had listened when she shared it with other people, instead of letting my anger silently stew. Mona is a very kind, funny, and genuine person who I am glad that I got to know over the past school year. She did not become homesick; she truly wanted to immerse herself in our culture. I love her adorably off-key rendition of “Bleeding Love.” I miss the fact that she was only a few steps away if I wanted to talk to her. Now, there is an ocean between us. That being said, one of my biggest regrets is not recognizing this sooner.

Hosting Mona was probably one of the best learning experiences I have had. Of course, hosting an exchange student exposed me to a different culture; however, the most important thing I learned was how to improve myself. I had to adapt to sharing the house (more so the bathroom than anything else) with an extra person, which will definitely help me adapt to life in a residence hall at a college. Also, I realized that I could not gain a new best friend by simply choosing to have her live with me. Developing strong friendships can take months or years of work; we cannot develop them overnight or out of convenience. My true friends are people whose genuine interest and care in me never wavers, people who always identify me as my own person, and I am more grateful for them than ever before. Finally, I learned a huge lesson about myself. If I want people to notice me, I have to make an effort to be outgoing. I also have tell myself that there will be some instances where I may feel ignored or boring, but I have to get past them and not let them shake my confidence. 

Airport Arrival exchange studentI am very grateful that Mona and I ended up getting along by the end of her visit to the United States. The last week of her stay was probably the most bittersweet. My family packed a lot of activities into that week; we went to a water park, had a going away party for Mona, and took her to see the movie Sex and the City the night before her very early flight. I had not gotten my driver’s license before she left, but I did have my permit. Mona wanted to go with me when I practiced driving, so I drove her around our town during one of my father’s driving lessons. We may not have made it to the beach, but Mona was still happy that I was able to drive her somewhere. Leaving Mona at the airport was one of the saddest things I have ever had to do. The first few weeks after she left were surreal. It was weird not having the house filled with her chatter. Everyone in my family instantly became sad when we heard “Bleeding Love” on the radio, but no Mona singing along. Luckily, thanks to modern technology, I have been able to communicate with Mona via Facebook. She may visit the United States next fall, and I hope I will be able to visit her home when I study abroad in college. The next time I see Mona, I know we will be as close as we were by the end of her stay. We will greet each other, happy, reunited, as sisters.

This story was originally posted on the author’s blog and was reprinted with permission.

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About Youth For Understanding USA

Youth For Understanding (YFU) advances intercultural understanding, mutual respect, and social responsibility through educational exchanges for youth, families and communities. The global YFU network, consisting of partners in more than 60 different countries, is united by the belief that full cultural immersion is the most effective means to gain the skills needed to thrive in an increasingly multicultural, interconnected and competitive global society. YFU has remained a trusted leader of intercultural exchange programs for more than 60 years because of its commitment to safety, reputation for quality, and exceptional support services. Backed by a global team of volunteers, YFU provides cultural education and guidance to all participants. Selected to administer more government and corporate scholarships than any other high school exchange program, YFU is the only organization awarded full-listing for J-1 inbound, outbound and short term exchange by the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET). Through creating global learning opportunities, YFU has promoted international understanding and world peace to more than 250,000 students and their host families. Thousands of parents across the globe trust YFU with their teenagers every year, and thousands of students every year choose YFU to help them discover their inner selves.
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