Guest Post: Stranger in a Strange Land (Part 2 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.

Read Part 1 here.


Once I arrived at the Welsh National School of Medicine, I had many lessons to learn, both social and medical. First, it was essential that I learn (thoroughly) that not only could I not speak Welsh, but that I was not Welsh. The school recognized the issue and my roommate was selected accordingly. She was Rita Ohri of London and Delhi, and she graciously took me in. I can’t say that her greeting was warm, because in the old row houses of Cardiff in February, nothing was warm and there never seemed to be enough shillings to keep our gas fire going. Since the bath with hot water was two houses away, I quickly learned how long one could persuade oneself that you didn’t really need a bath, and we made do with the sink and toilet in our house.

I also quickly made friends with other non-Welsh students, Hifzeya, a Turkish Cypriot refugee with whom I remain in touch and a dentist from Yorkshire who had wandered across the border to do his surgical rotations to be a maxillo-facial surgeon. They taught me what food to eat (not liver faggots) etc., and kept me company until the waiting period for acceptance by the locals passed.

220px-Faggots-and-gravy

Editor’s note: I had no idea what a liver faggot was until I Googled it. Wikipedia notes that it is “a traditional dish in the UK…traditionally made from pig’s heart, liver and fatty belly meat or bacon minced together, with herbs added for flavouring and sometimes bread crumbs.”

Medical rounds were much more formal than in Albany, and although they were conducted in English, I still had some trouble. The students were brilliant at physical examination and were required to tell what the chest x-ray would show before it was ordered. I tried to get to know who was who, but since everyone was named Thomas, Davies, Evans, or Jones, it took me a while to catch on to the custom of having three or four first names to keep things straight. Iaian Rodrigue Gwyneth Jones turned out to be John Jones!

Since most American medical texts followed British examples, most differential diagnoses included Acute Intermittent Porphyria (the great masquerader). When I commented that no one really had AIP, it turned out that of the 12 people on rounds, five either had AIP or were related to someone who did. Oops. The shortage of names probably reflects a small gene pool as well.

After a few weeks, my chilly reception warmed up. There was great interest in the International Rugby League, as Wales was thought to have a good chance to get to the finals. When I was invited to go along with a group that was going to Edinburgh for the Scotland/Wales matchI was tempted but skittish. Besides, by then I was hanging out with the Yorkshire dentist. I was feeling pretty much at home as my six weeks sped by.  

To be continued…

2 comments

  1. Pairodox Farm

    The observations on names reminds me of the many nice folks in the small town visited by Hugh Grant in The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, Betty from Cardiff, Williams the Petroleum, Johnny Shellshocked, Davies the School, Tommy Twostroke, Thomas Twp, Thomas Twp Too, and of course Morgan the Goat. D

    • scrappytraveler

      Hah, I had not made that connection but that is great – you remember them all! That naming system must make schmoozing at cocktail parties so much easier…’what was that plumber’s name? Ah yes, Ian the Plumber!’

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