17 years ago today, I walked out this door and left a big piece of my heart behind.
It was on this day all those years ago that I said goodbye to Holland and the people who had been, and who had become, my family during my stay. I hadn't planned on becoming an exchange student after high school. But a year that had kicked my ass in many ways left me looking for an opportunity to get as far away from my hometown as possible - and becoming an exchange student seemed like a good solution. I filled out some paperwork and sent it off, not knowing if or where I'd get to go.
This was pre-internet days (can you imagine?) so I just had to wait for an old fashioned call or a letter. It was a long summer. One super hot eastern Washington day, while working at the front desk of the city pool the phone rang. A man from New York was asking for me. He informed me that the agency had two families left and I could pick. One was in Holland and the other in Czechoslovakia. The only information the guy had was that the family in Czechoslovakia kept chickens and that the Dutch family had two cats. Armed with that super important information I made a quick decision - "I'll take Holland" I said. On the other end of the phone he shuffled through some papers and read me the names of the people who would be my family. I still have the paper, all the names are horribly butchered and wrong.
On the other side of the globe, my Dutch sister had just returned from an exchange of her own in the United States, one that didn't go so well. She felt that one way to redeem her less than great experience was to have an exchange student in her home and help that person have a better time. That kind of attitude is just one of the many things I grew to love about her.
Little did I know when I saw her emerge from the car that day to take me "home" that I would name my firstborn after her (or that she would name her firstborn after me). Or that the art lessons that the family gave me for my 19th birthday would ignite a spark in me to make art for the rest of my life. Or that some of the friends I made that year would still be with me all these years later. That year I spent in Holland was like a really exquisite dessert I'd been waiting for my entire life. Even though there were bumps and difficulties during my stay - looking back now I can only remember the wonderful, delicious parts. And there were many. To say I am grateful for that experience doesn't even sum it up.
Half my lifetime ago, I walked out this door with my life completely turned around, and took a whole new person home.