Alumnus of the Month: Mariette Delahaut

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Mariette Delahaut
Belgian Fulbright Grantee, 1953-54; 1958-1959
Taught French and Geography, Graceland College, Lamoni Iowa
Pedagogy and Observation, University of Arizona and Manchester, New Hampshire

“[FULBRIGHT CREATES] EXPERIENCES YOU DON’T EXPECT, BUT YOU ARE SO GRATEFUL TO HAVE BEEN PART OF IT.”

Mariette Delahaut was born in Namur in 1922. She was 18 when WWII broke out and interrupted her life. Not being one to go passively through anything, she eventually worked for the Red Cross and American Army as a translator, a job which took her to Germany after the war. In 1953 she was a Fulbright Grantee to Graceland College, a junior college (now a four-year school known as Graceland University) opened by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now the Community of Christ). In 1958-59 she went back to the US as a Fulbright grantee, this time to study Philosophy of Secondary Education at Arizona State and to observe secondary education practices in New Hampshire. In 1964 she returned to New Hampshire as a teaching assistant at the St Augustine language Institute in Manchester. Over the course of her long career in education, based primarily in Namur, she opened three different secondary schools, with an emphasis on bettering educational opportunities for girls and marginal students. In the 1970s she was chargé de mission for the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, supervising 100 Belgian teachers. She retired in 1982.

In the following excerpts from her interview with Dr. Jane Judge, Ms. Delahaut talks about her life-changing experiences in the United States and what Fulbright has done for her. You will see that her interview is full of laughter, as Ms. Delahaut has a passion for life and all the beauty it has to offer.

“How did your Fulbright grants affect you, both professionally and personally?”
Well, the time spent in the States has influenced my comportement. I was rather shy, I won’t say exactly very shy, but reserved. Since being in the States, I am more open. It has changed maybe my way to meet people. Education in the states has changed my–how can I say that?–relationship, I believe. I also help others to change their approach of people. I was witness to a first class, at the entrance of the academic year, at elementary school level, first year. Two kids are in the classroom. There is Joe, there is Bob. “Hello Bob, how are you?” “Hello.” They learn how to meet. They are together, they meet Jane [laughter]. “Hello Jane, this is Bob.” You know, they introduce themselves to each other. It’s important that the people know who is coming toward them. That’s a great lesson of the States. I was, I won’t say exactly amazed, but j’ai contestanté that the people are simple, without any complications [laughter] when they meet. A new neighbour comes and everybody will come with un bol de soupe! [laughter] It’s simplicity of contact. We did not know each other two hours ago, but we speak simply. There is no complication. It’s easy to express ourselves. I know, during my life, and especially my professional life since I create schools, I have been in many receptions, so I’ve always had to welcome the people. I introduce people to each other, but I see the other people don’t do that. I know that everybody always said, “Well, thank you for your welcoming attitude.” That, socially speaking, without any complexity, came to me from the US, and it’s now in me. It’s gotten natural. I have integrated. You know, it has become part of myself. [laughter]

I have also always been involved in the Fulbright Alumni Association. You know, so, we were together, we have always been together in different organizations. We were organized by province, so every year we had what we called national events. So we used to get to know Belgium better because we always had contact with the high people of the city. Of course, we have always been careful in having things done by the Flemish, by Walloons, by Brussels. Finally we used to know our country, nationally speaking, thanks to the Fulbright. I remember one time a professor from the university of Mons–it was Namur’s day for the national event, and he and his wife tell me, “We have never come to Namur.” So, it’s important because you open your country in different ways–even toward ourselves. It’s good to have these meetings. Of course the Americans were always invited, mais even among us Belgians–Amazing!

We, the Belgians, we were grateful and we really appreciated the chance we had to have been in the States. What, for all it brought to us and how much. What a great dimension! We had been to the States, and we have been shaped by the States, I believe. [laughter] I’m still grateful. My brother always tell me, “You are always speaking of the States!” Without any–I don’t want to make a speech about it–but, things, yes, in the States we used to that, or in the States–and, the Americans, of course we were so happy to see them [at the end of WWII]. At my home we used to have four American G.I.s. [laughter] There were G.I.s in every house. We had four of them but they were good kids! [laughter]

Yes, you were one of the earliest Fulbrighters. How did you hear about the program and what was it like to head off in 1953 after the war?
I was 18 when the war started. I was 18, I was in rhetorique, comme on dise, and my school was bombed. So, I went to exode to France, and came back a little later. The Germans were here. They were not friends, eh? [laughter] So, it took me time to study. On pouvait pas–I could not be a teacher with the Germans in the city. Ok, so I lost a few years. By 1952, I taught in state school. We used to receive from the section culture of the Minister of Education–Belgian National Minister of Education–we used to receive information on interesting activities, cultural activities. They were announcing possibilities to go to teach for the United Nations and the Fulbright grants. I read about it. I was informed about it. I took the exam. I spoke, at that time, I spoke very good English. [laughter] I used to speak good grammatically, I believe, very fluent. During the war, I had worked for the War Department of the States. I worked for the American army. I used to teach French when I was ten. So, when the American army liberated us, I worked for the American army because they used to take allied civilians [laughter] to help them. After that I went to Germany, Wiesbaden American Air Force Headquarters. So, you see, I had already an approach of the American way of life. I had already worked with the Red Cross, the American Red Cross also. So, it was maybe easier for me to be taken on because there was already this knowledge of the others.

Anyhow, I got a grant in 1953 as an exchange teacher to go, guess where? In Iowa [Laughter] in the Mid-West. Another friend of mine went to Hawaii, another friend went to New England, and I went to Iowa. Well, I thought it was my chance because, it was different. [Laughter] It was a section of the States that I did not know at all. I knew that during the war, the radio men, the radio transmission man of the US army were from the Middle West. [Laughter] Why? because, they did not have the New England accent, they did not have the California accent, not the Southern States accent. They had a pure natural accent. [laughter] Was I lucky? Probably, since I could understand the people well. [laughter] Of course I went to a junior college, church sponsored by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were not the regular Mormons. They were, supposed enfin, according to them, the real ones. [laughter] I came there. I’m Catholic [laughter] but it was no problem.

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What are some of your favorite memories from your time in the US with Fulbright?
After graduation, they gave me a travel grant and they made arrangements so I could spend a week in San Francisco, a week in Los Angeles, a week in Denver. Some students invited me. [laughter] So you see, I taught, I traveled, thanks to them. [laughter] Of course I discovered the United States. Sometimes it was not as old, as modern as I would thought it was. Really! For instance, in Namur we had already an automatic telephone and there I had an old fashioned telephone. I had to call the operator and we were two on the same line. [laughter] Isn’t that fantastic? When you consider the states as the first ones, [laughter] and especially Europe at war for so many years. The States were out of that. Well, they engaged themselves to help us and we appreciate. But, It was different in some, [laughter] in some ways.

Upon arrival, We spent a week in New York and then a week in Washington and then we were sent all over. We had some kind of seminar, preparation, and then I took the train, went to Detroit, Chicago. Went from Chicago down to Lamoni, le petit village, Iowa. It was not Des Moines, it was in the midst of cornfields! [Laughter] Higher than myself! [laughter] What struck me at the time, farmers, on saturday morning took the airplane and had breakfast with a friend at a hundred miles away. Like farmers, every saturday, well, had a little plane. They took their plane and they had breakfast with friends. It was another world.The telephone was old-fashioned, but farmers [laughter] took their plane to see their friends!

Fantastic, yeah? And then–what I happened to know is that in the States you do your cultural or your education when you have time and, when you have the time and the money. For instance in one of my courses of French, I had a lady of forty-one years old. [laughter] Her children–she was a farmer–and her children did not need care, so she had time to come to the college and study. At that time in Europe we were not ready for that, I think. Alors, c’était exceptionelle pour elle de faire sa. Also I came to know what it was continuing education. Like a good citizen in my little American village, [laughter] I had to take part of the city life, and they had already at that time in this village continuing education. What amazed me is the fact that an old lady–I am an old lady–but at that time the lady I mean, [laughter] was seventy-two years and she was taking sténodactylo, typing at seventy two! What I noticed also, is that in the States, some ladies work very old. I noticed that many times when I stayed in the States, long after my travel grant, my Fulbright grant. Because it is continuing education.

So, in my college, church sponsored, very religious, the only college the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had. This college was international, but it was severe, rigorous. No drinking, no smoking. So, when you have one or two thousand kids, you have to amuse them. [laughter] Then we had hayrides, [laughter] Christmas carols, so it was great anyhow! It was different, but there are other means to make fun and to be happy. That was an aspect. [pause] In front of my office, there were beautiful trees and cardinals, you know birds? These lovely birds of Chateaubriand. In the Mississippi, he talks about les cardinaux de feu. [laughter] It was my everyday amusement.

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Drive three miles from Lamoni and you were in Kansas or you were in Missouri, en fait. Lamoni, Iowa, was a North state, but we had Negroes. We had some black students. I had some black students in my french classes. It was, if we went to, on the other side of the Dixie line, there was still segregation. So it meant that the students could not be at the same office or guichet for train, for bus, fin, well, segregation. At that time segregation meant a lot in the United States. I went to, down to New Orleans and I was shocked in the bus when the white men had no more seats available in the bus, they pushed back the Negro separation. I saw it, I saw it. It has changed now. There were water fountains, c’est ca, fountains. White, black, dogs. It’s horrible. It was really shocking. When the Americans I used to know around the college were so welcoming, open heart, full of humanity, so, it’s dividing [pause] and it hurts someone. I have to say it was the reality at the time. I was in the States when they changed from another mission, quoi, they changed in seven, many years, many years later and young people, don’t, don’t see this anymore, I hope.

I had a second Fulbright. It was different, I went as an exchange teacher. The American teacher went to Europe, to Belgium, and had a place, and taught in another school in Belgium. My second grant involved observation of secondary education at Arizona State University near Phoenix, and it was a bunch of twenty-seven teachers from Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Burmani, Iceland, Germany, Italy, Finland, and a Flemish teacher from Bruges and myself from Belgium. It was very interesting because the difference between the people was so great. It was amazing. We were a bunch of people in a beautiful place to start with. Arizona State University had several buildings built by Frank Lloyd Wright and Calvert had several mobiles. So the site was beautiful, beautiful. Palm trees. And we could take any kind of courses at the university if we wanted. Anyhow, we had these seminars for three, four months. All the afternoons were on philosophy of secondary education. It was the time you know of psychology invading schools [laughter] and at that time, the way they used to say that if you want to teach John, you have to know John. It was interesting to meet with a Burman, [laughter] with–the principle was of a Pakis–no, Karachi normal school, was a lady, she came with a sari. [laughter] You know, we had a guy from Jordan, too. He was different from the Colombian. We had two Germans with us. They were also included in the Fulbright program. So it really meant something, the Fulbright program. It was really something.

We used to go to the school of Frank Lloyd Wright. [laughter] He had his specialized school for architects with sixty architects already graduated. The school, the architecture was out of this world with a saguaro going through the roof! [laughter] So, you see, we used to have experiences so special, so special. We could take any courses we wanted because the afternoon we had the seminars, but in the morning we could go, at the evening we could take courses. So, I took science. One day the professor said, “Well, we’ll take the plane.” So we had course in the plane. We visited the Colorado Basin, for the reclamation of desert by irrigation and the orchards of palm trees, orange trees, and so on. That’s America! Because, you didn’t see this [laughter] anywhere else at the time. Another time, he said, “Well, we’ll spend the weekend in the desert.” To watch faune and flore, the animals, the vegetation. Experiences you don’t expect, but you are so grateful to have been part of it. We were in Arizona and all this beautiful country, [laughter] of course the university took us to the Grand Canyon. I went with my Belgian colleague plus a girl from Finland, back to the Grand Canyon. But I did the Grand Canyon and I slept at the ranch on the Colorado River! [laughter]

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What do you see as Fulbright’s future?
Ah, Fulbright’s future. Well, of course, I no longer lead a physically active life, yet I still meet–but it could not be the same spirit. I think the young people go to study in the States for the education in the States which is of high quality. The States is a place of science, art, culture. You can have the best in the world. It’s still good to go, but it’s not the same spirit. War is far away. So, it’s more for the purpose of doing things better than in Europe, having an autre aspect of the world. You have all the possibilities in science, education, economics, all the fields of human life. That is still wishable for the young people. [laughter]

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And for Americans to come here? Did you use to meet the Americans that would come to Belgium with Fulbright?
Oh, yes, because we had teachers, exchange teachers in the beginning, and of course we have people at the university. I have always been in contact with the faculty, faculties here in Namur. Non, I think it’s important for the Americans to see what is done in Europe also. We have to know from each other.