By Jim Sullivan
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Many local families made some new friends over the last few weeks — and created a bunch of memories while in the process.
A group of foreign exchange students from Spain ages 14 to 17 years old visited the city for three weeks through a program at the high school. Every other year, the schools take turns hosting students.
“I’m not mentally and emotionally prepared for them to leave,” Newburyport High School sophomore, AnnieKate Gross said earlier this week. “I just feel like they have always been here. I feel like I have known them for so long.”
Thirty students from Spain took part in the program this year, and needed host families to stay with. That’s where Gross and her friend and fellow sophomore, Julia Frisch came in as host siblings.
“When they came here on a Wednesday, Friday we hung out,” Gross said.
“And I felt like I knew every one of them personally for my entire life. We were laughing, crying on the floor having so much fun, having conversations about funny, personal stuff. And I thought, ‘How are we going to be able to deal with this when they leave, three weeks from now?’ That is now and it is kind of unfathomable.”
Gross and her family hosted 14-year-old Joaquin who hails from Malaga and the Frisch family opened their doors to Raquel, also 14, who calls Merthia home.
“My mom thought it was awesome,” Gross said. “She thought it was going to be a great experience for us and she talked to other moms in the neighborhood.”
A close-knit bunch, the Gross and Frisch families watched as three other families in their Turkey Hill neighborhood were soon hosting Spanish exchange students as well.
“It seems like they have been here for a lot longer than three weeks,” Frisch said.
“But, at the same time it seems like it went by so fast.”
Gross saw Joaquin moving into her older brother Ben’s bedroom, while Frisch doubled up with her sister to allow Raquel a room to herself.
“We call him, ‘Spanish Ben,’ because he’s taken the place of my brother,” Gross said of Joaquin.
“He sits where my brother sat at dinner and stuff like that. We’re used to having a boy in our house. But he’s younger than me and my brother is older than me, so it’s fun to have a little brother.”
One of the cultural differences that took the Newburyport students by surprise was the fact that their Spanish counterparts are night owls.
“They stay up a lot later than us,” said Frisch. “(Raquel) said she goes to bed in the summer around 1 or 2 a.m. and during the school year, she goes to bed at about 11 and they eat dinner about 9 or 10.”
Other than an early bedtime, one of the American customs that amazed the Spanish students were the local Clippers’ football games.
“They had never seen American football before they came here,” Frisch said. “They said that in Spain, everyone screams and cheers a lot more during soccer than we do during football.”
“It’s very passionate over there and football is kind of a social experience for us teenagers here,” Gross said.
Another unique American ritual that the Spanish students were curious to experience was Thanksgiving so the five Turkey Hill students and their host families celebrated a little early this year. The neighbors also banded together for weekend trips down to New York and Boston.
“We are just common teenagers,” Gross said of her friends and the Spanish kids. “We just like to hang out with each other.”
The Spanish host siblings will also be returning the favor come February when the Newburyport students make the trip to their country, albeit for only a week.
“I’d want to do this experience there,” Gross said of a three-week stay.
“I’d want to go to school and I’d want to live their life with them.”
The Spanish students headed home last night, but social media will help them to stay in touch with their new friends.
“I followed a lot of them on Twitter,” Gross said.
“And now my entire twitter feed is all in Spanish and I barely know what anyone is talking about.”