Solanco High school classmates and track teammates can bank on Maité Granja.
Granja, called ‘Mai’ (pronounced My) by her friends, is an exchange student spending a year at Solanco. The Spaniard quickly adapted to her new environment and is making an impact on the Mules' track and field team.
“I was always interested in different cultures and the way people live in America,” said Granja. “I saw the movies and I saw people have extracurricular activities like sports or music and they’e involved in a lot of things. I wanted to try.”
Granja had no idea where in the U.S. she would be sent. She understandably wasn't familiar with the Quarryville area.
“I didn’t know where that was,” Granja said. “So I did some research and thought, ‘Oh, that’s a cute town’.”
After arriving before this school year, she discovered the area is significantly different than her hometown, which is on the coast and has a population of more than 172,000.
“I was shocked by the differences, especially the Amish people,” said Granja. “That was interesting. I feel like I’m learning a new way of doing things. I like it. I’m really happy to be here.”
Granja hails from Santander, which is located in the Cantabria region of the north coast of Spain. Santander, Spain, is where Santander Bank was first formed. In 1857, Queen Isabella II signed a Royal Decree authorizing the incorporation of Banco Santander, initially to facilitate trade between the port of Santander and Latin America.
Unsure of how she would be received, Granja decided not to play a sport in the fall. “Everyone was so nice,” Granja said. “I was scared at first to join sports because I know they all know each other so I didn’t know if I would get along with them. But they welcomed me from the first moment. They always encourage you.”
A soccer player and track athlete while growing up, Granja elected to play basketball at Solanco and learned the game so quickly she became a contributing member of the JV team and saw varsity action on Senior Night.
“My friends were doing basketball and I kind of wanted to try a team sport because I had been doing track all my life,” Granja said. “I never tried basketball but I wanted to play a sport to know people here. That was the best decision I made.”
Competing on the Solanco track and field team was an easy decision. Even before Granja arrived, word spread that a talented athlete would be joining the team. Frequently, buzz builds about an excellent athlete coming to a new school, but that person doesn't live up to the hype. Granja has.
“Last year, I think it was halfway through the season, Coach (Traci) Kut came up to me and she was super excited,” Solanco senior Katie Urbine said. “She was telling me how next year we have have an exchange student from Spain, who was a pole vaulter. And I was overjoyed because I’m used to being stuck with me getting five points and the other team getting four, and really only gaining one for the team. It’s really annoying to not really make a dent in anything. When I found out she was coming I was super excited and I reached out to her on Instagram and we started talking way before she even came to America. and we became really good friends. Ever since then, we’ve had a great relationship and being able to pole vault with her is so fun. The fact that she can get points for the team helps me out so much because I don’t feel as much pressure. And she can help the team in all kinds of ways.”
Under Urbine's tutelage, Granja is scoring points in the pole vault. “It’s going really well,” said Urbine. “She’s cleared 9 feet so far this season, which honestly could win a lot of dual meets. That’s a great accomplishment and I’m just really proud of her.”
Track teammate Martha Weaver says Granja's personality adds as much to her team as her exploits on the track and in the field. “Her bright smile,” Weaver said when asked what stood out about her friend. “Just in the hallway walking, she’ll stop and ask you how your day is. Then with track, everyone just just be so quiet. They don’t want to run or they don’t want to do anything and Mai is just dancing. She’s always dancing between breaks or singing, trying to get everyone happy. She wants everyone to smile all the time.”
Solanco track and field coach Jen McDowell is impressed. “Mai is a hard worker and willing to try just about anything she wants,” McDowell said. “She did basketball in the winter but she also competed indoor meets as well. We had found out last summer that she was coming. Katie had made contact with her right away. We knew she was a pole vaulter. We knew she was a high jumper so she high jumped and pole vaulted for us in the winter and also did a little of the triple jump. When we came to outdoor she mentioned that she had done hurdles at one point so we threw her in the hurdles. She wanted to run an 800 and she was actually our top 800 runner. She’s pretty versatile on the track and in the field. So each meet we’ve been putting her where we feel we she can get the most points for us.”
Granja has been a perfect fit with the Mules. “She likes to interact with everybody,” said McDowell. “She’s willing to ask questions. Everyone seems to get along with her. She’s very friendly. I think they’re interested to hear some of her stories which is kind of neat. She really does kind of blend right in.”
Even Granja didn't expect to contribute in four events. “I thought at first I was only going to do two events, maybe one,” she said. “But I tried distance and it worked out pretty well. And I also like practicing with them. The atmosphere makes me improve.”
She has really enjoyed practicing the pole vault with Urbine. “It’s awesome,” said Granja. “She’s so good. She’s such an amazing person. Makes you want to make her proud. She tries her best to make you improve.”
Granja likes almost everything about living in the United States. Weaver says Granja claims the music here is not as good as in Spain. (As Three Dog Night sings in "Never Been to Spain", "Well I never been to Spain. But I kinda like the music.")
“The music is not a problem. The food is a problem,” Granja said with a laugh. “I feel like they don’t spend a lot of time cooking. They don’t put love into the food. Cooking together is a way to spend time with your family.”
Granja, who is on the 4.0 honors list at Solanco, learned English in her native country since the language is taught to many students in Spain.
At Solanco, Granja has also had classes in biology, math, American Literature, and piano. "I like American studies," Granja said. "The way history is taught here is another perspective on the same events. For example, the Spanish-American War there are things I didn't know because they are not taught in Spain and things that I know that are not taught here,"
While Granja's English is outstanding, teaching Spanish to her friends isn't always successful. She tries to teach me some words in Spanish, but I never get it, even though I give it my best try,” Weaver said.
Granja is the daughter of Sol and José, and has an older sister, Sofia. They typically talk on weekends since there is a six-hour time difference.
“They are very happy for me because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Granja said. “They’re happy because I found a really nice school and I made friends because they were kind of worried because I was spending a whole year away.”
Granja will likely return to Santander once the school year is over. She wants to be a doctor and would prefer to stay in the United States to attend college but that is probably not feasible. She plans to keep in touch with the numerous friends she has made.
“I like the way school works because you have sports,” Granja said. “You can be friends with people who are not even in your grade and that doesn’t happen in Spain."