It was one of those coincidences which in retrospect prove decisive: During a visit to the United States in the summer of 1967, I came to know about Smith College and applied successfully for a scholarship to take part in the Diploma Program in American Studies the following year.
After ten days of crossing the stormy Atlantic on board the “Aurelia,” I spent four weeks in Connecticut with my host family, the Caneys, getting used to life in the US. On September 15th, 1968, Mrs Josephine Caney, a former Smithie herself, drove me to Northampton. It was a glorious day, sunny and warm, and the mountains of Massachusetts around Northampton were ablaze with red maples and yellow birch trees, an amazing sight. At 8 Bedford Terrace, my future home, Mrs Coughlan, a stern woman in her fifties with no motherly features, gave us a frosty welcome, then took us all the way up to the top floor and showed us to a very small room at the end of the corridor. It was rather dark, as a huge elm tree did not allow much light to come through its only window. Maybe she sensed my disappointment: “It is good for studying, you won’t be bothered by the other students,” she pointed out, then left us.
The room looked spartan, but Mrs Caney had brought along a small carpet, a reading lamp and, most importantly, a piece of green burlap; you were not supposed to pin anything to the walls, but I could attach postcards or other mementoes to it. Then I noticed a bowl of sweets on the dresser, accompanied by a note:
‘Dear Eva Maria! Welcome to Smith! This small gift may give you quick energy for the busy days ahead. My husband and I look forward to meeting you soon. He is a member of the Geology Department. We hope you will feel at home at Smith. As soon as the rush of opening school activities has passed we plan to have you visit our house. I spent one of my college years studying history at Munich, and I look forward to hearing German again. If we can answer any questions or help you in any way, please let us know. Our tel. number is…
Sincerely, Mrs Richard Brambach.”
How kind! I felt welcomed from the very first moment.
That evening, in the first letter to my parents from Smith, I wrote: “At 7:00 p.m. a gong called us down to dinner, but only the foreign students were present, among them an English girl called Maria, who had been on the ‘Aurelia’ too, and a Chinese student from Hong Kong called Helena. We decided to go for a walk across campus and talked a mile a minute, relating all of the new experiences we had each encountered. We felt like shipwrecked passengers who had managed to reach an unknown but promising island, or as Maria put it: ‘We are all in the same boat’, then changed the title of the English classic to ‘Three Girls in a Boat’. In Helena’s room I admired the bouquet of rust–coloured asters on her desk whereupon she gave me three stems and I put them in an empty milk bottle in lieu of a vase.”
Thus ended my first day at Smith.by