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I stared outside the window of the tiny plane that took me to my home for the next year. I was overwhelmed with emotions as I tried to imagine what life was going to be like in this new place. At 26 years old I moved across the world, by myself, to a place I had never been to before, to work with strangers, for a full year.

Trying to make a life for myself in a different culture speaking a foreign language was the very definition of stepping out of my comfort zone, and the reward that was awaiting me was beyond anything I could have imagined.

When I arrived at the airport, a woman in a bright lime suit walked up to me, gave me a big hug and said loudly “welcome! We have been waiting for you”. I thought she was confused because I could recognize my new boss a few feet away, but then he came up to me and explained that the crazy lady was my host family.

This simple moment changed my life forever and these strangers along with many others in the community had become my family for life.

Most of the families in the community were older, and very few people were my age or single like me. You would think that I was lonely, but this could not have been further from the truth. I was invited to people’s homes almost daily, friends went out of their way to help and support me, they bought me a plane ticket to visit my family when I was homesick, invited me on trips with them at their expense, gave me keys to their homes, and so much more than I can mention in this short article.

After two years I was getting ready to go back home and planned to get my master’s degree. The community got together with the local university and raised money to pay for my MBA and ALL living expenses in the next two years. I am a dreamer, but even I couldn’t dream of such an amazing experience and meaningful relationships.

Almost 19 years later, many of the friendships I made in the community are still going strong and have been affecting my life for the better every day. I am grateful for the opportunities, life lessons, and love that have been a part of my life.

Once strangers are now family by choice.

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