On June 24, 1959, Benita Bross of Cleveland, Ohio, and David Fuchs of the Bronx, New York, both Fulbright recipients embarked on the USS Constitution to Genoa, Italy, to study history.
It was an experience that was to change their lives forever.
Both young high school history teachers, they went to study at the Institute for European Studies in Turin, Italy, a quiet non-tourist city that was the home to Fiat and Olivetti. Finding that they shared many things in common, their meeting that day soon led to a shipboard romance.
After their studies ended, they toured Western Europe. Then David returned to his high school, and Benita, who had received a second Fulbright, moved to the UK to teach in a British grammar (high) School near London. Though the students had ranked in the top 20 per cent of British students who passed the demanding “Eleven Plus” exam, they knew nothing about the United States, except what they saw in Hollywood movies.
One day Benita told her students that she was going to be absent on July 4 (British schools broke for summer vacation the end of July) because she was invited to an Independence Day party at the American embassy in London. The students peppered her with questions, such as, “Who did you win your independence from?”, Benita replied, “From England.” Immediately her very well-behaved class began to boo, just at that instant the head mistress opened the door, storming in to demand of a bit bemused Benita what she had “done to lose control” of her students. Benita then caught her breath and simply replied, “I taught them some American history.”
With long British vacations at Christmas and Easter, Benita then toured more of Europe, including the Soviet Union in December 1959 at the height of the Cold War. She was taken to the Bolshoi, the Moscow State Circus, Arbatzsov Puppet Theater and the Kremlin in Moscow. In St. Petersburg, she visited the Hermitage Palace Museum and the Kirov Ballet at the Maryinsky Theater. This was at a time when it was very difficult for Americans to travel to Russia.
After Benita returned home, she and David reconnected and two years to the date they had met, they were married on June 24, 1961. Their careers continued, David earned a Ph.D and became a high school principal and Benita went on to teach in two New York City high schools, and managed to find the time to write a memoir of her years traveling and working in Europe, in Notes From Across the Pond.
Married over 59 years, they now live in Northern Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C. They have grown old together, celebrating the years with their daughter and grandsons.
Looking back, we thank you, Senator William Fulbright of Arkansas and the Association, for your great help in shaping our two lives so wonderfully!
–David Fuchs, Fulbright Student to Italy (1959)
–Benita Bross Fuchs, Fulbright Student to Italy (1959) and Teacher to UK (1959-1960)