Imagine yourself away from home for the first time. Imagine yourself 6,000 miles from the only home you have ever known. Imagine being sent to live with a family you’ve never met. Imagine not being a native speaker of that family’s language. Imagine having to register for a school you’ve never been to. Imagine not knowing anyone.
When we picked up our exchange student, Marisa, from the airport last August, that’s what she was facing. It had to be an intimidating feeling, but she showed an eagerness on that ride home from the airport that set the tone for the whole year.
Marisa wanted to be here. She wanted to learn, to explore, and to experience everything she could. She challenged herself with IB-level classes and studied as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen earning a 4.0 GPA along the way. If there was something new to try, she tried it. Our family took numerous trips and she was excited to go. Her smile was contagious.
Her senior leadership project was to collect books for the Children’s Book Bank in Portland. From time to time, she even rode a bike with me while I jogged. She tried dragon boating. She volunteered every Saturday at OMSI. She went to PAX get togethers.
She was a wonderful big sister to my daughters. She was a role model to my son. She helped out around the house. She listened to us, as we tried to listen to her. We talked, we laughed, we sang.
Even the things she did not like, she tried. She got me to listen to Top 40 radio again with her. She touched our hearts.
It was hard for everyone when she left this morning. Two of her friends came to the airport at 5:30 am to see her off. I know that meant the world to her. There were hugs. There were tears. And then she was gone.
Imagine if she had not taken the chance and boarded that plane last August. Imagine if she had just let that opportunity slip away. Imagine if she had chosen not to connect to a family on the other side of the world.