INA’S INSIGHTS: A Marblehead story of a 2nd-generation exchange

Ina Michele Resnikoff
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When Marblehead resident Maura Phelan was a senior at Marblehead High School in 1985, she befriended Majo Amoros, an exchange student from Spain. She was staying with a family whose daughter went to Pingree, and Phelan and Amoros spent a great deal of time together and pledged one day their children would visit back and forth.

This summer, on Aug. 5, Jacobo Llorens, Amoros’ nephew, arrived with a school friend, Jesus Martinez to live for a month with Phelan and her two sons, Conor and Owen Murnane. A house full of young men might have overwhelmed somebody else, but Phelan loved every minute of it.

Left to right: Owen Murnane, Jacobo Llorens, Maura Phelan, Conor Murnane, Jesus Martinez and, resting on the floor, dog Lucy.

Close in age, the boys became instant companions and enjoyed nightly basketball games. They learned about each others’ families and cultures, habits and likes and dislikes. Both Spanish students speak English and used the month in Marblehead to refine their language skills. The phone translator also came in handy.

The high school about-to-be seniors are from Valencia, the region of Spain with the beautiful Javea shoreline. Jacobo’s aunt is the senior who exchanged years ago in Marblehead and who maintains a vibrant friendship to this day with Phelan. His parents, Barbara and Jacobo Amores encouraged him to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity. Jacobo’s mother is a well-known and highly prized chef. Often Jacobo would make dinner for the family, preparing his mother’s famous recipes, many of which are served in Queens, New York at Sala, the restaurant she partners within the United States.

It wasn’t all play as Phelan, president in her third year at the Marblehead Museum, recently put the boys to work at the annual yard sale on the Lee Mansion grounds. Conor had double session practices for the upcoming Varsity Football Team at Marblehead High School so he dodged the assignments but the three others approached with vigor. They carried items and furniture, packed cars, moved boxes and helped older customers. They didn’t stop for a minute during the whole day of crowded customers and helped the Museum exceed its goal of $10,000.

More importantly, the young men interacted with all kinds of people and used their English in a fast-moving and helpful way. They were amazed by the extent of excitement the event generated. They like to tease each other about who worked the hardest, but everybody recognized how earnest and polite they were and what their contribution of hard labor meant to the fundraiser. They staged themselves from attorney Pat Lausier’s back porch. As a neighbor to the Museum, Lausier opened her property to make the flow of hundreds of yard sale patrons smooth. She facilitated the day and has served as treasurer of the Marblehead Museum for several terms.

A shopping and kayaking trip to Burlington, Vermont was a highlight. They got to see what other communities look like and had a perfect day on Lake Champlain. They thoroughly enjoyed a Red Sox game although Boston lost to Atlanta. And….they discovered golf and all four played rounds whenever they could. They were hosted for fishing by another museum board member Faxon Michaud and caught eighteen stripers!

Jesus and Jabobo discovered the gym and enlisted in Leap Fitness, becoming committed to daily exercise. Jesus’ parents, Imma and Jesus, are pleased that he joined his high school classmate, Jacobo, in this adventure. Jesus has a twin sister, Claudia, who stayed in Spain for the summer. Both Conor and Owen Murnane worked all summer as busboys at Marblehead restaurants. Uniformly, all four young men developed a love for lobster!

Phelan is a well-known Marblehead native raising her sons in her beloved hometown.  She is very excited about the collaboration of the Marblehead Museum with Discover Marblehead.  Run by Melissa Stacey and Amy Bucher, Discover Marblehead is geared toward community connection and social media for the benefit of small businesses. 

Our discussion was friendly and light-hearted and it is clear that the visitors appreciate Phelan’s hospitality and generosity. When I asked them about their impressions of America, they became serious and thoughtful. Jesus talked about the “trucks.” He is fascinated by the sheer volume of large vehicles that are here in the US. We spoke about atypical neighborhoods, that much of America isn’t as privileged as they’ve experienced just by location and that this is a hard time here as it is in most places. This led to a discussion of Ukraine and what the energy supply shortage will be like for much of Europe. They demonstrated an awareness that is unusual for people their age.

Overall, the Spanish students like our food although it is much more processed than theirs. They like our beaches, although “not as beautiful as the coast north of Valencia.” They prefer American television: “better actors and more choice.” They are surprised by our “commercialism,” by all the material things we have and would like to have. They knew from studying and movies, etc, that America is very “prosperous” but they didn’t expect the degree of “conspicuous consumption” they witnessed.

Four smart and lovely high school students have forged a lifetime of friendship over the Atlantic. Somehow they found the “transformative” moment in Top Gun! They have discovered the universal truth: We are all the same but different. Bon voyage Jesus and Jacobo and good luck Conor and Owen as you begin a new school year.

Reach Swampscott resident Ina Resnikoff, who will occasionally contribute to the Marblehead News, at inar@rcn.com. For years, the attorney and retired educator penned Ina’s Insights for the Swampscott Reporter. Her columns often profile interesting people and organizations on the North Shore.

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