The small plane touched down in Gainesville. I stepped out, one more foreign student who had come to experience America. That was nearly 50 years ago.
Over the intervening years, I have often thought about the friendliness and the helpfulness of Americans during my two years as a guest of your country. I thank you now for that, after too long a time.
At the airport I collected my bag. Now what? Where to get accommodations? Indeed, where was the university? My concerns were set to rest by my one of my teachers, Professor Swinford, and his daughter, who met me at the airport. This was a totally unexpected surprise. It was also a wonderful introduction to America. Within an hour they had me sitting in front of a hamburger and a milk shake for the first time. Welcome to the Sunshine State. Now, milk shakes are a big thing with me.
Notwithstanding me being an Irish citizen, my student days in Florida were largely paid, in various ways, by the generosity of the American people. Without such help my coming to America would not have been possible.
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The tens of thousands of foreign students who come to your shores each year and, in time, fly away again like snow birds, must carry away with them fond memories of a generous people.
We learn something of your history and your fierce allegiance to democracy; the importance of Independence Day; and the intensity of emotion at Super Bowl time.
But, I suspect that for most foreign students, baseball remains a complete and unfathomable mystery.
And that extraordinary game of American football, with its red zones, blitz, snaps, sweeps, and something called a bubble screen. Although I have been a Miami fan down the years, I still do not understand what a quarterback sneak is.
Perhaps, in the end, most foreign students repay a little for the generosity shown to us by flocking back as tourists.
Over the years, I have visited Florida many times. I have been to Texas, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts (Boston in particular), and California.
On three occasions I have returned to America as a ‘leaf peeper’ just to experience the waterfall of wonderful leaf colors of fall in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and for my wife to shop for many things in North Conway and get surcharged for excess baggage on the plane back to Ireland!
So, 50 years too late, a big thanks to all of you, who during my formative years, made me so welcome in your country.
Patrick McCusker, County Wicklow, Ireland