A Belgian in the North Country: How I found my host family

Six years ago, I returned home after living and working in Poland for a month. This experience got me addicted to culture, travel, and languages. So I asked AFS – the organization who sent me out – for volunteer options. Soon I met lots of international students who were studying in Flanders for a year. One of them was Mathilde, an American student from Ogdensburg, NY. Back then, I did not even think of moving to the states one day. Mathilde told me she came with a friend, Mary, who was living in the French speaking part of Belgium. So we made plans to meet up, but circumstances made it impossible to meet Mary before she returned to the United States.

At that time I decided that writing letters was more fun than the online chatting life. Mary, who was not living the online life anyway, seemed to be perfect person to start this writing adventure with. Instead of just bills, envelopes filled with written words were soon filling up my mailbox. For almost four years our letters traveled over the ocean. And Mary became my favorite pen pal. You do get to know each other well over years of writing, because after exchanging letters for that long, you can’t write “Hey what’s up” any longer. Letters got deeper and we became better friends with every letter I received.

Mary and I (left) in Rochester, NY

Five years after our first letter, she came to visit Belgium and she stayed over at my house. We played tourists in Brussels and we enjoyed lunch. She suddenly was no longer my pen pal, she now was a friend for life.

I already knew then that I wanted to intern abroad, but I was not hoping to live the American dream. Mary told me, “Well, there is a radio station near my parents, and I’m sure they would not mind to host you.” From that moment everything went fast. Months later, I am here, living in a wonderful host family, Mary’s family in Ogdensburg.

And Mary? She is not just my pen pal or friend any more, she became my sister. We are not connected by blood but I love her as much as I love my “real” sisters. I now also have another wonderful mom and dad, and some new American siblings. The experience has been just great.

Melissa Callaert is working as an intern at North Country Public Radio for the Spring 2016 semester.


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