As the 2018-19 school year winds down, four students who have made an impact in the classroom and on the playing field, are preparing to say goodbye to William Chrisman High School.

And their departure has nothing to do with graduation.

Olivia Schlie, Ximena Quesada Castro, Gemma Broto and Julia Wehrle are foreign exchange students who simply can’t believe the year is winding down as they say goodbye to their friends and host families in Independence.

“How can this be the end of the school year?” asks Wehrle, a native of Germany who was on the Bears dance team and played soccer. “It seems like I was just on the plane flying to the United States.

“I don’t want to believe it is all coming to an end. I had such a wonderful time here. In the beginning, before I met my host family, they were just a photo on a page. And now, they are so real and such a big part of my life.

“I enjoyed being a part of the dance team and of course, playing soccer. When I was flying over, I was very nervous because I did not know what to expect. Now, there have been so many crazy changes in my life and I love them all. I hope one day to return. Independence and William Chrisman mean so much to me.”

Her fellow foreign exchange students smile, and nod in agreement.

“Honestly, I could not even dream that this would have been such a wonderful experience,” said Broto, a native of Spain. “It is the best possible thing that could ever happen to me. In the very beginning, I was scared and did not know how it would all work out, and now, I feel like this is my second home.

“My family, everyone at Chrisman all the members of my teams have opened their arms to me and made me feel like I was part of their family and that is the best feeling.”

Broto ran cross country and track for the Bears.

“I did not know anything about cross country and had not participated in track and loved them,” Broto said. “My track and cross country families will always be so special to me, the way they welcomed me into their lives.”

Castro, a native of Costa Rica, took the Bears’ sports programs to heart as she was a three-sport participant – playing volleyball and soccer and swimming.

“The sports teams in the fall, winter and spring were amazing,” Castro said. “I have played soccer and knew about it, but volleyball was scary because I knew nothing about it and I did not know much about swimming.

“I have a cousin who is four years older than me and he was a foreign exchange student in Germany. He talked about the wonderful experience he had, and I have had the same wonderful experience.

“Like the other girls, I was scared at first and did not know what to expect, but that all changed once I got her and had everyone make me feel like a member of their family.”

Schlie, who is also a native of Germany, played tennis and soccer, and it took a while before she understood the scoring method in tennis.

“I did not understand how you count up the numbers to figure the score in tennis, but I finally understood and had so much fun,” Schlie said. “It was my first time playing, a new experience for me, and I loved it.

“And sports helped me feel comfortable and a part of the William Chrisman family. It took a while before I felt comfortable, but now I love it here and I can’t believe it’s all about to come to an end.”

Each of the foreign exchange students said they had never experienced anything like Friday night football games, and they loved the excitement that came from the successful boys and girls basketball seasons.

But one memory that each of them will forever treasure was prom.

“Yes, prom, like in the American movies,” Schlie said, as her friends clapped and grinned. “Prom – we don’t have prom, nothing like the big dance where you get flowers and wear makeup and get a nice dress.

“That, for all of us, will be a memory we will never forget.”