Letter From Denise Bryan, BAEF Founder
A year is a long time to spend away from home. When the tourists leave, you will still be there, part of a foreign culture, living exactly as these foreigners do, your residence a semi-closed community, your new friends and mentors talking a subtly different language. To everyone there must come moments when determination has to be stretched to its limits, but it is the triumph of these moments of self-discipline that adds inches to the stature.
It is not easy to keep your temper, to accept a rebuke without sulking, to behave at all times with grace when what you are told to do may seem childish or futile; you have to remember that no argument is going to change the situation and that no one stands to lose but yourself and— more important in the long run— your country and your countrymen.
The two qualities probably most admired in the British school are common sense and a lightness of touch. A sense of humor, in particular an ability to laugh at yourself, will take you a very long way. Otherwise people look for tolerance, honesty, good manners and a willingness to recognize that if everyone in a community insists on doing his own thing, then nobody can. In Britain "aggressive" is a bad word, as somehow it has ceased to be here.
The United States stands to lose or gain more than you have any idea of as a result of your behavior. In the House you will be in contact much of the time with others a good deal younger than yourself— many of whom have never got a close look at an American before. You will find their ideas about the United States quite startling, acquired as they are through TV or the movies, with the omnipresent tourist thrown in. And, as the first genuine American they have ever had an opportunity to study close up, your behavior and your views and your reactions will probably color their opinion of the United States for many years to come. Whether you like it or not, you are going to represent your country 24 hours a day, under close observation by keen critics. If it is important to you that the British think well of Americans, then you had better act up to your own ideal; if not, then you should have stayed home.
You are going to be asked a million questions about the United States— how the wheels go round and why— so that it is not a bad idea to arm yourself with some basic facts about this country and the Constitution before you leave. And, of course, you are going to undergo a certain amount of needling, even occasional hostility, the main object of which will be to make you rise. This is, frankly, very difficult not to do.
If it is of any help at all, bear in mind the word "different." Then, when some arrogant Limey boasts of how much better things are in Britain, and you are naturally tempted to grind his miserable face in the mud while you explain the infinite superiority of the American way of life, if you can, instead, count to ten and make a careful statement that, in the United States, things are certainly "different" but that they don't have to be "better" in either place, then you may have struck a major blow for your country, for peace on earth, and, ultimately, good will among men.
And you will know that you made the right decision in embarking on this adventure.