I picked up 14-year-old Arisa M. yesterday afternoon. The fifth exchange student I've hosted in recent years, Arisa will stay with me for one week while attending a (fun) course at Bellevue Community College (BCC).
Previous students included a 16-year-old from Kazakstan; a 16-year-old from Kyrgastan; a 20-year-old from Hong Kong, and a 20-year-old from Japan.
I've picked each of them up in a different way: meeting students at a motel's conference room, picking one up late at night in a wet parking lot, and now picking one up from BCC.
The room at BCC was a large lecture room, able to seat about 150-200 people. Full of giggles, the girls sat in clusters, waiting for their names to be called. About three adults stood at the front of the room: One went from incoming host to incoming host with a map, pointing out the next morning's drop-off location; another organized oodles of passports on a table; another went to each incoming host to match him or her to a giggling exchange student.
When that woman approached me, she discovered Arisa was to come home with me. Before I knew it, she silently turned and walked to the passport-covered table. As she picked up a little microphone and turned toward the students, a hush came over the girls. In Japanese, she said something that created an instant uproar among one cluster of girls--almost like the squeals and jumping when a contestant is chosen for "The Price Is Right."
Hugs ensued for a few seconds, and then Arisa came trotting down the long steps to the front of the room, and was reunited to an enormous, hard-shelled pink suitcase. The bravery of these girls amazes me. The bravery of their parents, too.