I cannot recall a time when I did not yearn for a younger sister. As much as I loved having an older brother, being a little sister rather than having one was not enough for me – especially at age seven, when I decided I simply needed a younger sister. I wanted to be the wise older sibling for once; I wanted to be the one who advised and looked out for her kid sister. But mostly, I wanted someone who would let me paint her fingernails whenever I pleased.
Fast-forward fifteen years. I am sitting in my living room late in the day, chatting with my parents, my dreams of older-sisterdom long forgotten. My dad unexpectedly pulls out a newspaper clipping, unveiling it in front of my mom and I: “Seeking families to voluntarily host French high school students”, it read. Having myself lived with a host mother in Paris during college, my parents and I were no strangers to the idea of foreign exchange. And so it was – that very evening – that we decided to open our home to one of these unfamiliar students. One short month later, I was presented with a little sister in the form of a French teenager, walking nervously toward me from across a McDonald’s parking lot. Never in that moment could I have imagined what was to come, nor the fact that my family would never again be as small as it was when we had awoken that morning.
Adapting to my role as a pseudo older sibling came naturally: I stuck up for Coline. I defended her when American friends would question me about her as she sat right next to me, and I comforted her when she learned she could no longer play basketball over her knee injury. She taught me to see the world through rose-colored glasses, and that it is okay to act like a kid sometimes. We had sisterly adventures, including the time where we got lost in the woods for several hours during a thunderstorm, trying to circumnavigate a lake near my parents’ home in Pennsylvania.
Several months after Coline returned home, I was living and working alone in rural France. Her family’s house four hours away quickly became my second home. Countless mornings were spent sitting around Coline’s kitchen counter, joking effortlessly with my new sister (and her younger sister) over chocolat chaud. Falling asleep on the couch while old French game shows played on the television became a norm. By the end of my year living abroad, I had become part of Coline’s family just as she had become part of mine.
Today, I am proud to say that I have not one but two younger sisters, as well as a French mother and father who treat me as their own. Coline has taught me countless things, but most significantly, she has taught me that it is never, ever too late to welcome new members in to your family. The eighteen year-old young girl that came into my life when I was twenty-two is as much a little sister to me as I am to my older brother. My parents are delighted to have a daughter across the Atlantic, and our experience hosting was nothing short of outstanding. It brought my already tightknit family closer together, opening up new topics and discussions. The rewards of hosting a foreign exchange student are truly more numerous than we could have ever imagined.
As for me, I finally have someone to giggle and whisper with at the dinner table across from our parents. Fifteen years was well worth the wait for the sister I always wanted. And yes, she even lets me paint her fingernails.
Don’t miss out. Host a student, and expand your world!