It’s been several years since exchange student Mareike ventured from Germany to the U.S., but the memories she made with her one-of-a-kind host grandmother still tug at her heart every day.

Is hosting just boarding a student for a year? Far from it. The family ties that extend from this sweet relationship defy explanation, and yet it’s a real phenomenon we see time and again.

Enjoy Mareike’s touching tribute to her American grandmother who is fighting cancer. Let it be a glimpse into the hearts of these students who put their trust in our families and communities.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] I’m staring at this blank page trying to figure out how to start, while usually thoughts just jump right from my mind into black-on-white. This is different though. It’s different because I have an American grandma, the mother of my host mom, who became a woman I look up to after only 5 minutes.  And it’s different because  she was diagnosed with cancer 2 years ago, and it’s been spreading all over her body.


My American grandma is the most loving, kindhearted woman I know. She is always ready to make you smile or cheer you up, open-minded and kind, self-confident but never conceited. I sometimes wonder how this is possible, but it felt like I just always had a place in my host family, a family I had never heard of before, and fit right in. I wonder why I have this special bond with my grandma that I cannot even explain. She was the one I wanted to be with when I was homesick after 2 weeks. We played guitar hero and got ice cream, sat on the porch by the lake and everything was fine again. I was just like any other grandchild and knew she was happy to have me and proud of who I  am.


I came to visit last year and sat next to my grandma when they found more spots of cancer. Grandma looked like always but had been fighting cancer and chemo for more than a year. I remember giving her a hug at the Minnesota State Fair to say goodbye, a moment that always makes me tear up because it may actually be a goodbye. Now she is still fighting this battle to be in our family for longer, and while being exhausted she still has this radiance. Whenever I think of her, I feel extremely happy and sad at the same time. [/perfectpullquote]


[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Whenever it’s Christmas time we talk about our 12 hour shopping spree at the Mall of America, grandpa’s poker night, the orange scarf I got her that day, accidently buying women’s shoes for my host dad and eating out for supper while being ready to fall asleep. It’s been 7 years of us talking about this trip, 7 Christmas times, 7 times the same story with the same pauses before falling into laughter. It’s almost like a tradition that throws us back into our time together, and I am not ready to stop our traditional storytelling. I want to keep on telling our shopping spree story, not to anybody else but to her. I’m very grateful for those memories, for having her in my life and fitting right in with my host family. I hope to have a few more Christmas times with her, a few more story-tellings.  [/perfectpullquote]