Alisa Klots Baranova ’99
Perm, Russia/ Spokane, WA
AlissaKlots [at] yandex [dot] ru

Every FLEX student had a host family. Most of us had siblings. So did I. Two sisters and one brother – that was written in my host family profile. But when I arrived at my host family’s house in Spokane, WA I realized there was an ‘extra’ family member – an exchange student from Mexico.

Alejandro (Alex) made my FLEX year a truly international experience. He and his friends from other Latin American countries made me understand how little I knew about their cultures and histories. Almost every evening we talked about the ways people in our countries lived, what we had in common and what made us different. I started taking Spanish in high school and even bought a Latin American history encyclopedia.

When the time came for exchanging Christmas presents I got Alex a little pendant. Sadly, it also became his going-away present – he had to come back to Mexico right after Christmas for some family reasons.

For the next several years we sent each other letters and post cards. But at some point we both became so busy we stopped writing and lost track of each other. It could have become the end of our friendship, but one day I registered on Facebook. A few months later I got a message all written in block letters and full of exclamation marks: it was a letter from ‘mi hermano’ Alex! He had been looking for me on the Internet for a while and finally found my Facebook profile. We exchange all kinds of contact information so we would never lose each other again.

And a year ago I received an invitation to a real Mexican wedding! To go or not to go was not a question for me – I had also wanted to visit Latin America and that was an excellent chance to learn more about Mexico and see my Mexican brother – after eleven years of living on the different sides of the Atlantic.

On May 19, I arrived at the airport of Monterrey. I was a little nervous – what if we had changed so much we wouldn’t like each other? But as soon as I saw Alex smiling with his charming smile that made all American girls crazy, I knew it was the brother I used to be so close with. He had lost his Spanish accent and gained quite a few pounds, but he was still my good old Mexican brother.

I had a great time in Mexico: Alejandro’s friends and relatives hosted me in four different cities: Monterrey, Mexico City, Queretaro, and San Miguel. I loved the wedding ceremony. By the way, Alex’s brother and sister had also been exchange students and lived in the same host family as we did.

But the most moving experience I had during my trip was when I came to Alex’s room in his parents’ house: the moment I walked in I saw the little pendant I had given him in 1998! He had kept it for 11 years, as well as the post cards and letters I had sent to him.

When we parted at the airport in Spokane, WA in 1998 I knew we would see each other again some day. And I had the same feeling when we were saying good-bye in Mexico. I don’t know whether I will come to Mexico again or my Mexican brother and his wife will visit me in Russia, but I know that we will keep our friendship no matter what.