Aliifah Bianca N. (INA YES to USA YP 17–18)

There are moments when I just mindlessly scroll through my gallery, looking back to memories. Most of the time-if not always, I would have this odd smile on my face that I didn’t even realize was there. So when I finally got some sense knocked into me and realized that I was smiling, there were always these photos of me and my American family in front of me. Just like that, by being in these photos, they made me smile.

People say that bringing a positive change in the mindset of foreign people around you is the biggest thing an exchange student can do. Doing projects, presentations, meeting important people and trying to set ourselves as a representation of people from our home-country, or learning new things that we might only get in America are some of the ways to be an improvement agent. This in no way is wrong. I do agree a hundred percent! Well the thing is, that’s not the only reason why we (the exchange students) are here.

I suppose the other important (and more basic) reason is to find a life-long family; a new family that we never had known before, that someday far into the future will still be a family, a family which loss and happiness will resonate within us even when we live an ocean away from them. There are hundreds of words to describe this kind of family, but for me, it’s really simple; a family that make me feel really loved that made me forgot I was once a stranger.

It felt really new and strange for me when I first set my foot on the shiny tiled floor in Des Moines International Airport. I remember telling myself “Well, this is your home now.” And just like that I met my amazing host mom, Rhonda. She told me before I landed that she wouldn’t be able to pick me up in the airport and I felt really nervous with a pinch of disappointment, because I wanted to be like my other exchange friends; seeing their host family for the first time in the airport and rode home with them. As disappointed as I was, I just walked ahead and there she was, my host mom, stood up and opened her arms. I went to hug her instantly, feeling an aching pang of relief and happiness that she was there, she picked me up from the airport.

We didn’t talk that much for there were not many things we have in common. I basically just told her things about my country (from my peculiar point of view which I hoped won’t ever affect her in a bad way) and she told me some stuff too. Day to day we went on and I learned every time of how amazing she is. Then, every time, too, I feel lucky for knowing her, and for having her as my American mom.

I slowly began to learn the names of the other family members, also of her close friends which are distinctive from one another. I began to listen to more of her great memories, her talents, her problems, and of course, her being proud of me. Soon it became a common thing for her family and friends to come up to me and told me that they’ve heard a lot about me. I would just smile and furrow my brows to my host mom, who always was just smiling in return.

Then there was this moment, this exact moment when we (me and my host mom) drove back to Marshalltown after meeting her family (or should I say our family) in Newton. I was just laying back and staring ahead to the darkened sky and road, talking to my mom, “I don’t know why, mom. But somehow I feel like coming back home from a really long journey instead of coming to a new home here, in Newton and Marshalltown.” I remembered my mom answered with a simple line of “I’m glad you feel that way.” which I believe was laced with relief.

I might be being overly poetical but here, thousands of kilometers away from my home country, I found myself in another home. It is a kind of a home that I don’t realize I was yearning for. A kind of home that I didn’t even know existed before I got the notification of a host family, yet it feels really real, as if I was growing up here and knew everyone in the family. I had (and still have) this odd feeling of being away for 17 years from here, from my home, and here I am, coming back to my mom, my aunt, and my dear cousins.

That feeling is the best thing I could ever ask for. Above all of the achievements I will surely make in the future, above all of the admiration I can feel radiated from people I’ve met, and obviously above my nervousness to show people how an Indonesian is like. That feeling that I can rest my bones here and know that I am accepted, I am loved, and it doesn’t matter who I really am or where I actually came from because this family counted me in. They thought of me as one of them and they’re willing to share small and big chunks of their life with me.

I can never know any better family to spend a year away from my country than the Taylor family. And I know that for the rest of my life they will be one of the biggest parts of my exchange journey, of this narrow rollercoaster of life packed in 300 days. They taught me so many things, and that even though no one is perfect, we’re here to seal off each other’s weaknesses and add up to their strengths.

I also finally know how it feels like to have a single mother and a brother which I admire. I finally know how it feels to have aunts, uncles, and grandmas living near me, not 20 hours away. I’m grateful for every second of it. I don’t know if I’m being brutally honest but after these two months of ups and downs, I feel my chest tighten with affection and countless thanks waiting to be said for this family, and that never in my life will I regret knowing them.

P.S. I cried nearing the end of writing this newsletter and I can’t help myself from being dramatic.