When I was a senior in high school, my family hosted an exchange student. She came to our area as part of an exchange program between her school in Germany and two area schools here.
We were a very good match (what with her excellent English and my questionable - in spite of four years of study - German), bonding over a shared love of U2 and chocolate. And we, along with one of the other exchange students, became fast friends.
When the time came for my German Friends to go home, we made sure we had each other's addresses and promised to keep in touch.
And we actually did!
We sent letters back and forth on a regular basis (back in the days before email was all the rage...), keeping each other up to date on the important, and not so important, events in our lives. We sent each other Christmas and birthday packages each year. We shared photos and stories and little pieces of life from half a world away.
When I was in college, I packed a bag and my family drove me to the airport and hugged me good-bye at the gate. I got on my first ever airplane to fly (all by myself) across the ocean, where my German Friends were waiting for me at their airport. I spent a month as their "exchange student." (Although I might have gotten the better end of that deal, since I arrived in Germany less than a week before their school vacation began. )
And then I went back home. And we resumed writing letters and exchanging Christmas and birthday gifts and being great friends. Just living on opposite sides of an ocean.
But, life is life. And as we grew and changed, it became more difficult to find the time to write letters to friends across oceans. Even after email became "the in thing," letters became shorter, fewer, farther between, always promising to write more later when we had more time.
But more time is hard to find when you are going to college, establishing careers, falling in love, buying homes, getting married, starting families. And little by little, the letters stopped arriving.
However, the one thing that has remained though it all is the yearly package. For all three of us, it has evolved into a combo Christmas/birthday package. One package a year, filled with pictures and chocolates and cards and letters and gifts and love.
Tradition holds that I send my packages to them a few weeks before Christmas each year, and they send a package to me, um, usually by Easter.
My package from Germany arrived today, and my heart smiled. And I looked at pictures that now include husbands and children alongside my German Friends, and I read letters detailing the year they've had. And I smiled.
And I'm very proud of us for managing to grow and change and evolve, and do it all while keeping a trans-Atlantic friendship in tact. For almost 20 years now.