When I arrived in 1967 as a 9th grade boarder at St. Margaret's School in Tappahannock, Virginia, I had fresh exciting memories of my first trip to England the previous May. I was starstruck meeting senior class member Jean Logan, the ESU SSE student from England. Right then and there I decided that I wanted to do that after graduating. The next four years were spent working my head off to get the grades needed to apply for the SSE program. Never mind getting into college - it was all about the ESU scholarship for me!
Fast forward to January 1971 when my mother and I went to New York for the long awaited interview. My appointment was 9:00 Saturday morning, so after arriving at the then palatial mansion headquarters, I took my mother's coat to hang up in the cloak room and while there, an older woman came in. As I politely helped her off with her coat and hung it up, she asked if I was there for an interview, and I said yes. She then asked what school I was from and on hearing St. Margaret's, she asked after Miss Woolfolk, our headmistress. I was so nervous, the penny didn't drop, I just smiled and said she was fine....I was then told to wait in the beautiful library where my mother was happily perusing the shelves until a secretary came and ushered me up an enormous sweeping staircase, pointed to a pair of huge double doors and told to go in. Inside the grand paneled boardroom was a long table, at the head of which sat the lady from the cloak room - who it turned out was Miss Judith Sayers, the Executive Director of the ESU!
Apparently, I passed muster and shortly received a congratulatory letter saying that I would be spending the coming academic year at Lawnside School for Girls in Great Malvern, Worcestershire. It has almost become an ESU scholar cliché to say that the year was transformative - but it really was! I had an amazing year, made so many wonderful friends with whom I still correspond and visit.
One of the more unusual memories I have is from the winter of 1972 when Britain was in the throes of strikes by the coal miners that resulted in power cuts several times a week. It was so cold that the water in my bedside glass would freeze at night. I learned to completely dress in the morning - including tights - under piles of blankets!
There was a very formidable English teacher who was in charge of the Upper Sixth girls and she was regretfully not fond of Americans. Each of the Upper Sixth traditionally had to in turn read a lesson one Sunday at the local Priory Church (think small cathedral.) She put me at the end of the list and made me practice endless hours to be able to do it with a "proper" Public School accent. To this day, if I am nervous or being super polite, it comes out British!
Though I never did warm to canned baked beans for breakfast (still a culinary mystery to me), I loved kedgeree, kippers, risotto, and warm custard poured over every dessert. Net ball made no sense at all, but I enjoyed playing field hockey and became a big fan of European Football. Merit and AP exams along with SAT's were child's play compared to the A levels (English, history and economics for me) which I managed to scrape through - it sure made essay writing at William and Mary a comparative breeze the next year!
I will always be grateful to the English-Speaking Union for the unforgettable opportunity and experience of my year in England. It was beyond special and has become part of my DNA.