This month's story prompt asks students and alumni to share how their host families changed their lives and shaped their YES experience. Mishka from South Africa responds:
by Mishka Sarels (YES 2013-14, South Africa, hosted by AFS in Concord, NC)
I have often heard it said by many an exchange student that they have the best host family anyone could ever ask for. One thing you, Mom (Aly) and Dad (Erik), always said to me was that you lucked out when you got me as your daughter. However, without a shadow of a doubt, luck does not even begin to describe my great fortune in having had the chance to be your daughter.
Erik, Aly and Oliver, being a part of your little family is something I am grateful for every single day. You became my home, my comfort, the reason a piece of my heart will always remain in North Carolina.
Aly, giving back has always been very important to me and the way you have always encouraged me to keep giving back, whether with my time or otherwise, is something I have always loved about you. Your humility is something I have always admired. You care and protect your family like no other and when I became a member of the family you treated me no different. The way you loved and supported my friends in North Carolina and even my friends and family back home in South Africa is something I could not thank and love you for enough.
When I first met you, I was without a doubt someone who felt more comfortable staying in my shell. You encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone, to do new things, to not be afraid to put myself out there. This I could not thank you for enough. You helped me find my confidence, the strength to take charge and forge my own path and make a difference. Whenever I try to relay your humility to those I meet, one example I always refer back to is when over dinner I mentioned a classmate/friend who would not be able to walk in graduation because she was unable to purchase the cap and gown. The next day at school this friend was hugging me and asking me to thank you for giving her the chance to experience this important moment. What I admired most about this is the way you didn’t advertise what you did. The kindness and love you show to all those you come across will never cease to inspire me.
Erik, you have been an absolutely amazing dad to me during the last almost 7 years. I will forever be grateful for how wonderful you were to me when I was going through one of the hardest times of my life, losing my grandmother. You drove hours roundtrip just to ensure that you and Oliver could be with me as I came to grips with the reality of life without her. I know neither of you were particularly sure how to deal with a mourning teenage girl but the fact that you showed your support and love for me during a time I needed it most meant more to me than I could ever put into words. You were there for all the laughs, all the tears and most of all you were there for all the highs and lows not only during my time in the USA but after I returned to South Africa. Thank you for being there for me, for listening to my endless stories for hours on end without complaining, for picking me up when I fall (literally), and for teaching me some of the most important life lessons I could ever learn.
Oliver, when I was living with Aly and Erik, you had only just started elementary school but even back then I could already tell that you would grow into an absolutely amazing young man, and over the years you have proven me right a thousand times over. I could not be prouder. Listening to your passions and my attempts at Nerf gun battles with you are moments I continue to treasure. Even walking the Blue Ridge Mountains and building gingerbread houses (which we quickly learnt don’t always taste as good as they look!) with you over Christmas break and James Bond movie marathons among other treasured moments are what have stuck with me even years later and are the moments that make me ever so grateful that I get to call you my brother.
It’s not the adventures we went on, the gifts I received or the amazing things I got to see when living with you on my exchange year that made it so hard to say goodbye, even temporarily .While all those things were absolutely wonderful and I will always be grateful for those experiences, it’s the way you welcomed me into your family, made sure I knew I was your daughter, your sister, and even the way the grandparents made sure I knew I was one of the grandkids, that I will always hold dear to my heart. Thank you for choosing me, for loving me, for continuing to be there for me but most of all for being you because I honestly could not have asked for anything better in a host family when I already have the best.