Laying in my dark room on the top bunk, I hear someone breathing below me. I’m still trying to get used to the idea of sharing a room with someone again. Nicole, our foreign exchange student, moved in today. She has been my friend for a while already, but living with someone, sharing a room with them, brushing your teeth together, is so much different. I had wanted this for such a long time now, had been begging my parents for years, and it had finally happened. This time before I fall asleep is the time when I usually reflect on my day, and today, so much had changed.
A knock on the door meant that Nicole and Nicole were here. We scrambled to finish some last second picking up and hurried to grab everyone to greet them. Nicole, the coordinator for Education First (EF, Nicole’s exchange organization), had to inspect our house and interview us before Nicole, from Finland, could move in. Standing awkwardly in the doorway, we acted all business-like, chuckling at jokes that weren’t funny out of politeness. My mom offered them a drink and we moved to the living room to sit down. Facing each other on opposing couches, it felt like a grueling job interview. We were grilled on everything from sleeping arrangements, to Nicole’s expectations around the house, to rides to school, to criminal background. Upon asking my mom if she had ever been arrested, my sister and I started laughing, somewhat out of nerves, and somewhat because it was the most ridiculous question we had ever heard. My mom has never even had a beer, wouldn’t hurt a fly, and does everything so completely by-the-book. Nicole the coordinator asked us if there was something she should know about, in response to which we just giggled even more. Not good. If this was a test, I’m pretty sure we would be failing.
Once the interrogation reached a ceasefire, it was time for a tour. Hopefully we wouldn’t mess this up! Nicole and Nicole trailed behind my mom and I as we showed them our recently-made-spotless house. There seemed to be no problems with our office, kitchen, or bathroom. The living rooms seemed inviting and warm. My mom treated this like an open house and was even baking cookies in the oven. We really didn’t want to mess up. Because, if we did, Nicole would have to go back to Finland. Her first family was terrible. They made her babysit their daughter all the time without pay, which is illegal for exchange students. Nicole didn’t have any time to do what teenagesrs were supposed to. I felt so bad and tried to help her through the whole thing. We sat next to each other in psychology class and she came in our homecoming group. My mom’s main arguments for not getting an exchange student had always been that 1) we were too busy, 2) we were not a “typical American family”, and 3) what if we didn’t get along with the student? Well, problem three was solved, since we were already friends. And, we couldn’t be any worse than the family she was with before, so, it was much more difficult for her to say no. Also, my family is never one to say no to helping people.
One thing lead to another and, here we were in my bedroom, which would soon hopefully be Nicole’s room as well. I already had a bunk bed from when my sister Erin and I used to share a room. I cleaned up as well as I could, leaving a desk, half a closet, and a dresser completely for her. The rest of the room though, is unable to be controlled. I did as good of a job as I could, organizing my trinkets and posters on the walls. Nicole, the Finn, seemed overwhelmed with the amount of stuff. But, Nicole, the coordinator, just seemed to care that she had a bed. My mom explained that, since Nicole had never shared a room before, if it didn’t work somehow, we could switch her room and my sister’s room. But, it made sense for me and Nicole to share because we would be waking up at the same time. Nicole the coordinator took some pictures like she had of all the other rooms and then we all proceeded back downstairs.
Standing at the threshold of the door again, Nicole announced that Nicole could stay with us. Nicole jumped up and down and ran out to the car to grab her bags. It was really happening! Our Finnish sister was moving in today. We helped Nicole unload all of her stuff, which really wasn’t much, just a big suitcase and a duffle bag. I couldn’t even begin to imagine packing up my whole life for a year in just two bags. We said goodbye to her coordinator, who told us she would be back in a couple weeks to check on us again. Then Nicole and I headed upstairs to unpack. She hung up some things in the closet and took the dresser that was hers. At this point, things got awkward. Not knowing what to do, we all sat in the living room and stared at each other. Normally, on a free day, my brother would be off at a friend’s house, my sister would be watching Youtube videos, and I would be reading. But, it felt like we had company over and were obligated to entertain. My mom suggests playing cards, but no one seems too enthusiastic about the idea. Then, Nicole sees the Wii and asks if we have the dancing game, Just Dance, which we had played before at our friend’s Christmas party.
All of the awkwardness seemed to disappear. We were dancing, laughing at how bad (or surprisingly good, in the case of my brother) our dancing was, and singing along to the songs that we knew. I accidentally hit my brother Connor in the face because our living room really only fits three dancing teenagers, but we just laughed it off. We started to feel more comfortable, and realized that hey, this will be fun! and that even though we weren’t related, Nicole was our sister now. She would be here for a while. Even though we were from different places, music and dance and laughter could bring us together.
We cherished every moment. Nicole shared some Finnish music with us (the Finnish Justin Bieber), got us to try Finnish licorice (which is extremely salty), showed us Finnish cartoons (which have been translated to English on Youtube), and made us Finnish macaroni and cheese (which is delicious). We took trips to Chicago, St. Louis, and Grand Rapids. Nicole took photos of everything so she could remember her time here, and gave us a CD of the shots before she left. Though she is no longer here, we have an neverending Facebook chat and we try to Skype every other week. We just recently mailed her a birthday package! We all miss her contagious laugh, cute accent, and even constant naps and questions. I plan to visit her next summer, and we have discussed traveling to England together. No matter how far away she goes, she will always be our Finnish sister. She taught us that teenagers are teenagers, no matter where we are from, and expanded my horizons, hopes, and dreams for the future.
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