Guest Post: Stranger in a Strange Land (Part 1 of 3)

One of the best things about sharing my scrappy travel experiences is that it invites others to do the same. As an expat, there is nothing more wonderful than hearing about other people’s similar challenges and adventures and how they handled them.

My aunt has been a respected oncologist in the northeastern U.S. for many years, and she recently shared with me her experience attending the Welsh National School of Medicine for six weeks in 1971. She has kindly allowed me to share her experience on this blog…though I fear that next to my daily worries about parking and peanut butter, her brief experience abroad seems much more profound! She notes that her account is a reflection of Wales as it was over 40 years ago, and that cultural attitudes toward nationalism and language may have relaxed since then.


When I arrived in Wales in the winter of 1971, little did I know when the rotation was set up, that 1) winter is not the best time to visit Wales; 2) the dates of my stay coincided with the run up to “decimalization” when the thousands of years of a 12/21-based currency were to be scrapped for 10 p = 1 shilling; and 3) that a large scale strike would be called involving the postal system (which also ran the telephone system) so that communication within Great Britain and with the rest of the world was not possible for several months.

I was scheduled to fly in mid-January from LaGuardia to Shannon, and change to a Welsh Airline for the hop to Cardiff. It snowed like crazy and I was lucky to get to Shannon and find a cheap, freezing hotel room for the night. Of course, I could not tell them in Cardiff that I would not be arriving on Saturday when they were expecting me, or when I might actually get there.

A more immediate worry was that I was going to freeze to death overnight. Any heating the hotel had was not central, and was completely ineffective. I tried my best to keep my fingers moving and to remember the old ER adage for dealing with hypothermia,”You are not dead until you are warm and dead.”

Watching the difficulties of my fellow travelers who did not speak English, I was duly grateful that I did! I rebooked to Cardiff and arrived mid-afternoon of Sunday, slightly more than 24 hours late. In those days, both the town and the University observed the Sabbath, so the place was pretty lonely.

I got an airport bus to take me into Cardiff–but then what? An apparently local bus arrived, and I explained my predicament to the driver. He spoke and pointed in an effort to help, but I was lost.

I explained apologetically that I only spoke English. He looked perplexed and said slowly and distinctly: “That was English.”

What was it that made me think I wanted to spend 6-weeks in the Welsh National School of Medicine?  It turned out much better than I thought at that moment.

To be continued…

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