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Letter To The Editor – June 4, 2009

Serbian Exchange Student Thanks Host Community

Ten Months in the Neverland

It might sound like some cheesy cliche, but I am going to introduce you to my humble article with a famous quote “Home is where the heart is”.

My heart comes from a small country with a big history and pride. It is called Serbia and it is located in southeastern Europe. That country meant a playground for my brother and me, safety thanks to my father’s protective nature, and warmth of my mother’s presence. Even though I traveled a lot, Serbia was the only place that meant home in spite of my rebellious “world is my home” attitude.

 At the age of 16 I applied to be an exchange student completely ignorant of what that actually meant. After all the tests, I was one of 50 who won the scholarship and one of 5000 who applied for it. I got the information about the host family and state I was going to spend 10 months, five days before I left home. At the age of 17 I  entered the United States.

It’s been almost nine and a half months now since I first got here, but I remember first days as if it happened yesterday. Those first couple of days made me realize what it means to be away from home. I felt ripped from the world of everything and everyone I knew.

Everything was so distant. Confusion made me feel isolated from the world I was introduced to. Food, home decor, language, customs, and many other things were completely different from what I grew up with, and my previous knowledge of such things didn’t make it easier for me to get accustomed to them.

I wasn’t sure about how to address my host parents, how to behave with kids, especially with baby boy, Austin, and how to approach another exchange student, a scary one at the time I may add, Nastya, who was placed in the same family as I. She is a beautiful girl from Russia with big green eyes which seemed to be analyzing me as if I was some kind of mutant. I was afraid she would perceive me as a competition.

I forgot how exactly, I guess it happened spontaneously, but I have accepted people who have so generously accepted me as a member of their family. It didn’t take long for them to become an unforgettable and undeniably important and influential part of my growing up. Already mentioned “scary Nastya” became my best friend and at the end, my sister.

Host mom, Ms. Robin, is my proof that a mother means warmth and love. Host father, known as Dr. Craig Williams, is the one who shared love for philosophy with me. Mac made me laugh, Sierra made me more patient, and Rowdy taught me how to throw football (but I still suck haha), and they all made me love them. “Home is where the heart is”, home is where love is. I guess I am the wealthy one, now I have two.

This article is actually my thank-you and goodbye letter to my host family and everyone in this small town from new friends, high school professors and staff, to an unnamed passenger who perhaps gave me a smile that will be preserved in my memory. Once again, thank you for making me feel a part of this town, and goodbye with a P.S. you’ll be a part of my story, memory, life.

With love,
Ema Debeljak

(Editors Note: Ema Debeljak, an exchange student from Serbia, was hosted by Craig and Robin Williams of Water Valley.)

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