When PSE students arrive to the U.S., they experience an adjustment process which can prove to be both challenging and life changing. For example, eating new foods, attending American high school, engaging in extracurricular activities, living in a new home with a new family, and for some, living with host siblings, are all new experiences they need to adapt to. As was the case for PSE students Giorgia and Jan.

Giorgia and Jan are attending high school in Woodland Hills, California for the semester. Giorgia, a Senior, and Jan, a Sophomore, live with their host mother, Marian, a life-long educator who is originally from Sri Lanka and their host sister, Pernille, an international student from Norway. 

Giorgia thoughtfully considered an exchange experience while in her home country of Italy before embarking on her PSE experience. “I am 17 years old and have no siblings in Italy. Being an only child, I had hoped to have a brother or sister close to my age while on the program so I could test the experience. I had high hopes!”

Jan has a younger sister, Lilly, at home in Germany. He says that they are very close, and he misses her the most. “I am 16 years old, and Lilly is two years younger. I remember when I left Germany to come to the U.S. Lilly missed me so much that she couldn’t sleep the first few nights I was gone.”

“At first, when I found out that I would have two host sisters, I wasn’t sure how our relationship would be.  They are both one year older than me, and I feel like they are real siblings,” says Jan.

Giorgia adds, “To be honest, at first it was quite difficult to become used to the idea of having two siblings in the home. For example, in Italy I don’t have to share a bathroom with anyone. Now, I share a bathroom with two host siblings. (Laughs) Also, when I found out that I would be living with a boy, I was doubtful. But I must say that I am so happy to be living with Jan. He is very intelligent, shrewd, funny, ironic, and passionate about TV series, anime, and cross country. He is also extremely punctual and knows how to orient himself very well. He helps me with catching the buses!”

Although all three siblings get along very well, Giorgia and Jan have a very special and harmonious sibling relationship. 

Marian recalls, “When they first arrived, they were a little reserved with each other. Then, they became more familiar and now they are very close. He likes to wait for Giorgia to have meals, stays up until she finishes her homework, goes out on the weekends etc. He misses his sister in Germany and Giorgia is like a sister to him.

Jan explains, “For me, I never had an older sister, a person who I can talk to about my problems. Georgia is truly like a sister to me, and I can tell her anything. She always supports me and helps me, and I am so happy about that!”  

Giorgia recalls, “I don’t know exactly how our relationship began and why. I remember that we started talking about this and that, going out together, going to the mall and little by little we started to open up and eventually tell something deeper about ourselves. I believe that sharing these stories helped us strengthen our relationship. Now, there isn’t a day when we don’t tell each other what happened in our day, our plans for the weekend, gossip and much more.”

One of their favorite things to do together is spend time together in the evening doing homework, listening to music, and talking about many things such as the events of their day, people they know, things they bought when shopping, and other topics. “Our discussions are so pleasant and natural, we just discuss whatever comes to mind at the time,” says Jan. Giorgia shares, “Yes! I enjoy talking about the day, our problems, emotions, and so forth.”

Jan reflects on the difference between having an older sibling here in America and a younger one back home in Germany. “I must teach Lilly more because she is young and doesn’t have the experience. With Giorgia, I can talk about more things that she has already experienced, and we have a different level of understanding.”

This host sibling experience has changed both Jan and Giorgia in positive ways. Jan explains, “I now realize how important a sibling is for me. I am a little shy to people that I don’t know very well. Being Giorgia’s younger brother has helped me to be more communicative to people and be more open to talking about things that I would normally keep to myself.” 

Giorgia shares, “I believe that this relationship has helped me understand the value of sharing and, above all, that you don’t necessarily have to be blood brothers or sisters to have a fraternal relationship with a person. The best memories are when we laugh and joke together, do silly things together, visit and discover new places together, and learn strange terms in his language.”

Jan closes with this advice for exchange students with host siblings at home:

“Be nice to your host sibling(s)! If you are nice to them and show respect, then your relationship will grow and improve with time. Give it time to grow. Also, communicate with them, try to share your culture with them and ask questions about their culture. Share about your day and ask how their day was. Get a conversation going!”

Written by Flo Webb; Edited by Lauren Lunt

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