In October of 1966, I saw a Fulbright announcement one week before the deadline, requested an application, and was given an extra week. While using my then girlfriend’s office typewriter to complete the application, she suddenly asked if I would marry her and take her with me. Talk about a proposal! Long story made short, we were married on a Saturday in August and sailed the following Friday on the SS FRANCE for our exchange year near Swansea, Wales.
We were greeted with a warm welcome by a local couple who “adopted” us for the rest of the year, introducing us to the area, the intricacies of shopping, and taking us on trips. We were invited to the village Chapel “Gymanfa Ganu” (singing festival) and were purposely seated so as to fully experience the Welsh love of singing. On July 4th, the Chapel celebrated American Independence Day with a farewell coffee and musical evening in our honor. We were treated with kind, but curious, deference at first, but soon were accepted as local as newcomers could be. They seemed rather surprised that we were not loud and boisterous as the media portrayed Americans and students in the school continually questioned me about America. They thought we regularly had gunfights in the streets on Saturday nights! They were amazed by the use of “armor” worn by American football players, an alien concept to Welsh rugby players, a sport we soon found to be very rough and tumble – without protective gear.
That year, I taught 238 students in five levels of chemistry in a Boys’ Grammar School at Gowerton, near Swansea. Keeping up with all that was a demanding chore but it opened my eyes to a different system of education and curriculum emphasis. During the year, my school system added soccer as a competitive sport. My exchange partner was a rugby man, but knew enough about the game to start a team at our school, even holding system-wide workshops for coaches at other schools and his team went all the way to the state championship!
Our presence in the school and village provided direct input for local people in regard to American policy and events during the year, in particular the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Several instances of vehement criticism of the US actions in Vietnam were diffused by our personal explanation and opinion.
Our wedding announcement with our address in Wales was published in the hometown newspaper of an American Army Sergeant stationed in Vietnam. He wrote to us with a request to find a local British Army friend he had lost contact with since being stationed together in occupied Germany after WWII. I found the friend, who was overjoyed with the contact and reconnection. International relations at the personal level!
My exchange partner and I both agreed that the year had been a great success for the both of us, both personally and professionally. It was a perfectly wonderful year and an even more wonderful life together for my wife and me for almost fifty years! My wife always spoke with pride that she had asked me to marry her and not go off without her. Truth be known, I could not have done it without her. The thanks all go to Fulbright!
John S. Paschal – Fulbright to The United Kingdom 1967