Recently, I went home to visit my father, who still lives in the house I grew up in. Having an AFS student living in our home this year has caused me to reflect on being an AFS host sibling, which I was 4 times, as I have mentioned. I am a bit of a packrat, and going home is always a bit of an adventure. This trip, while Dad took Penny to Canada for a day, I started going through old piles of papers tucked in desks and plastic tubs. What should I find, but these:
That’s right, the old paper profiles from two of the AFS students we hosted in the past, Cornelia and Yuko (I’m sure you can figure out who is who!). When we were matched with Penny, we were simply sent a PDF via email and that was that. But back in the “old days”, you actually got a paper profile that your student had compiled. I remember well seeing these profiles arrive and how excited we were to look upon our new family member and wonder what they were like and how the year would go.
But in addition to the excitement of finding these, each profile offered some tantalizing new clues to aid my internet search for these girls who profoundly changed my life (in college, I went on to study international studies, having become keenly interested in foreign cultures and I even studied German 3 years after Cornelia from Germany spent her year with us!).
I typed Yuko’s name and address into Google, but nothing came up. I checked Facebook, and nothing. I’ve Googled her father, her father’s hospital where he worked, her sister, and her mother and nothing. Unfortunately, Japanese is very challenging to read, I have no idea how to do it, and it doesn’t display properly on my computer. Nor do any of the sites I found have an English translation option. For the time being, I am afraid that Yuko may be lost to us.
So I turned my attention to Cornelia. Again, I searched for her, and again nothing. So I Googled her father’s name and the company where he worked, and of all things, a Wikipedia site popped up with several other links. While my German at best is rusty, I waded through the information I found and it turns out that Cornelia’s mother and father are quite active in politics in Hamburg. Their address and phone numbers listed on their profile pages exactly matched the information that was contained in Cornelia’s profile. My first clue!!!!
I was thrilled that both of them had email addresses listed, so I quickly typed out an introductory message, used Google translate to put it into German, and sent both a German and English copy to all 3 email addresses listed. Then I closed my eyes and said a little prayer not to get a mailer back. And I didn’t!
For two days, I heard nothing, but on the third day, I got an email with the subject line “Hi from Germany!” with Cornelia’s first name and a new last name. It read in part:
what a surprise to hear from you... a very nice surprise actually…I still live in Germany, but about 200 miles from my parents. I would love to hear from you, and what you have been doing during the last 20? years.
I am totally in shock that it has been 20 years since Cornelia lived with us, but it is true, this August would be the 20th anniversary of the day she joined our family, and looking over the papers I’ve saved, August 17th or so may indeed be the date we met.
Armed with the new information, I Googled her again and I found the first picture of her I’ve seen in 19 years. And the minute I laid eyes on the picture, I knew it was her!
She looks very much the same. My father remembers her as being (and I quote) “such a sweetheart”. And I still have a videotape of the Christmas she spent with us, which is pretty awesome. I should figure out how to put it on DVD and send her a copy!
I sent her an email back and included lots of pictures of the family. I hope to hear from her again soon, but a) she used to be bad at letter writing and b) she is now a school teacher and I’m sure short on time during the week.
It’s amazing to reconnect with a member of our global family. I wonder if someday down the line, my daughter will be sitting at a computer (or whatever the latest and greatest is in 20 years), looking for Penny and wondering whatever happened to her. Hopefully, we’ll keep in touch, but if not, I’ll tuck a copy of her profile away so Leah can discover it and remember how loved she was by a girl from the other side of the world.