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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
N: This interview is being conducted in Tigert Hall with Anna Margaretha Micha,
assistant director of the International Center for Student and Scholar Services, on
February 21, 1994. Madam Micha, where were you born?
M: I was born in Sweden in a city called Karlskrona, which is the oldest naval station in
Sweden. It is a very famous place.
N: In which year?
M: In 1938.
N: Please tell me about your parents and background.
M: My father was a sea captain. I grew up in Karlskrona, but every summer I went
abroad from the age often or something like that. In one summer I could go to three
different countries: Germany, England, France--wherever [my father's] ship went.
So we went with him and spent the summer vacation like that. Or, part of the
summer I would go to an island that is just outside Karlskrona in the archipelago
there where we have a cottage. I would spend my time there too. My mother had a
nursing background, but she did not work [after] we were born.
N: Madam, I am interested in finding out about your childhood. Can you please tell me
some of your memories of your childhood from the vicinity [in which] you lived?
M: Childhood memories from Karlskrona, you mean, where I was born?
M: Well, I think that most of the childhood memories are connected to the military
because it was a very military city. At the time I was growing up it was an important
military base. Every Saturday a military band played and you went to listen to that.
And they were marching in the streets. There were a lot of sailors in their uniforms.
[There were] a lot of stores catering to uniforms and things like that.
Other memories connected with my childhood were, of course, about going abroad.
At that time, when I was about ten, about forty-six years ago, a very long time ago,
very few people travelled in Sweden. Sweden was a very homogeneous country:
everyone was Swedish and born there, everyone was of the Lutheran religion.
Nothing else existed. Of course, only the Swedish language was spoken.
So at that time it was something extremely exotic when you travelled abroad. I was
always looked upon as being different because we were always traveling abroad. I
suppose that was the foundation of my later life, even leading up to what I am doing
now--that I so early on got used to feeling very comfortable going all over the world
and staying wherever. I think that is really the reason I chose this profession.
Other early memories that I can remember have to do with the island where we
have the cottage. It is a cottage which is hundreds of years old. In fact, it was
photographed and placed on postcards that people buy because it is very, very old.
When my mother was a small child, she spent time on the island because her father
was a builder and he supervised the building of the fort that has been built there.
We have very close ties to that island because [the islanders] knew my mother as a
baby, in fact, and then they saw me and my brother grow up. We have very close
ties to the people who are on that island. And it is mostly fishermen because at that
time there was no connection with the mainland but by boat. There were no cars,
just horses and carriages.
N: Madam, please tell me about your education. Where did you have your early
M: My early schooling was, of course, in Karlskrona. When I was in my teens, we
moved to another city, Motala, closer to Stockholm, which is the capital. We did that
because at that time the ship of my father usually started to come to Stockholm,
maybe once a year or so, and that would make it easier for him to visit us.
I was quite unhappy at Motala because it is not on the sea. I was used to growing
up on the sea with the cottage, and Motala had none of that. So I did not care for it
very much. But that is where I finished my baccalaureate exam.
After that, I went to a university in the South of Sweden, called Lund University. I do
not know if Lund University is older than Uppsala or vice versa; I do not know
[Uppsala was Sweden's first university, founded in 1477; Lund was founded in
1666]. But they are two well-known universities. I started studying there, and then
my parents moved to Uppsala and that is why I transferred to the University of
N: What are the courses that you have taken in Uppsala?
M: In Uppsala, I got my master of arts degree in English and German. I studied
English, read hundreds of thousands of pages of English literature. I also studied
phonetics, and took courses in psychology also. The same for German--I read
hundreds, thousands of pages in German. I still have a lot of books from that time in
my house. That is how I got the degree in Uppsala.
N: Do you have sweet memories of your schooling in Uppsala?
M: Yes, it is a beautiful, beautiful city with a castle. In fact, it was in a Swedish movie
that was shown all over the United States. The action in that movie took place in
Uppsala. It is a very pretty place; it is totally geared toward the university. It
reminds me of Oxford University in England, where I also studied for a short while.
It has the same type of atmosphere; it is old, with beautiful buildings. It was a nice
time with a lot of traditions connected with student life.
For example, on the first of May all students go to the castle; there is a ceremony
there, and another one outside the Carolinska Library. If I remember correctly, that
is where the president of the university would make a speech. I should tell you that
when you finish the baccalaureate in Sweden you wear a white cap, and on the first
of May all of us wore those white caps and after a certain time you would throw
them all up in the air and hopefully you would find your own afterwards. [There
were] many traditions like that.
N: What does the white cap signify?
M: It signifies that you have passed the baccalaureate exam, which at that time was
quite difficult to pass. The educational system has, of course, been modernized
since then, but that was the old system. It was a very demanding examination.
N: Did you enjoy your schooling?
N: You just mentioned that you studied for a short time at Oxford. Can you please tell
me what degree you were pursuing there, and what were some of your educational
experiences at Oxford?
M: What happened was that the University of Uppsala had an exchange program with
Oxford University, so if you wanted, you could go and spend a semester there. That
is what I did. I studied English, of course.
N: What made you study English literature, in addition to German literature? Do you
have any special interest in this?
M: As I said earlier, because of all my travels to England as a child, English was very
natural for me to continue in the Swedish school system too. When I got my
baccalaureate degree, I had to have English, German, French, and Latin. I had
those languages for many years, so it was very natural to take [them]. You know,
German was the language to take at that time; this has since changed.
N: So how many languages do you speak, Madam?
M: Gosh, I have to think about that one. Let me see: Swedish, English, German,
French, and Spanish. Five.
N: As you are aware, Europe was undergoing a crucial time during your early years.
M: That is right, there was a world war.
N: Do you have any memories of that time and could you please tell me about them?
M: Well, as I explained to you, Karlskrona was the naval station, so of course, we saw a
lot of military involvement. Sweden stayed neutral during the war. We were very
lucky compared to Denmark, Norway, and Finland. We did not really suffer in any
way, but we did have rationing. I remember we had coupons and one could buy just
so much butter and so on.
Even if we were never under attack, what happened was that German planes would
cross Sweden on their way to destruction somewhere. We were fully prepared for
war. For example, my father had three ships sunk under him during the war. He
came home and was in the military reserve. He would be out on some island.
Every island, including the one where we had our cottage, was very heavily armed
and ready to go with whatever it was at that time.
The fear was there, although we did not suffer and we could not even compare to
the rest of Europe. It was very frightening because you would hear the alarm, the
siren would go off, then the planes would come. It was always frightening because
you never knew if they would drop bombs on you, or what was really happening. I
remember it as a time when I was very much afraid, very much afraid.
N: What did you do after you graduated from Uppsala?
M: Okay. During my last year at Uppsala, before I got my master of arts degree there, I
met my then-husband. He was finishing his doctorate in quantum chemistry. We
met about one year and a half, maybe two years earlier. So we finished our
degrees almost at the same time. He finished the doctorate and I finished the
master of arts degree.
I finished half a year before he did, and so I taught during that half year. Then we
decided to go to Argentina, because he had been offered a very good position there.
We left Sweden and went to Argentina. After about six months, if I remember
correctly, there was a revolution. There have been many since, but that was one of
the many. Everything kind of fell together, you know. Suddenly they had no funds
to pay anyone, and it was all just a disaster.
Even before going to Argentina, [my husband] had been invited to Madison,
Wisconsin, to work with a very important person, John Hirschfelder. So he just
contacted him again, and said, "Would you still be interested in inviting me?" He
said yes, and we arrived in the United States.
N: What was the revolutionary movement? Do you have any memories of it?
M: No. You know, in Argentina they have kind of civilized revolutions. They mostly
shoot a little bit at the palace, but it is not much shooting. It is more or less the
military arranging the whole thing by phone. Very seldom does anyone get killed or
anything. With each new dictator that came, life changed--money and things like
that, but there are only economic changes, but there was no big suffering, no.
N: Do you have any specific instances to cite during your six months of stay in
M: I loved Argentina; it is an absolutely beautiful place. We lived in Buenos Aires,
which is the capital. When I arrived there, I did not speak any Spanish at all. The
family of my then-husband did not speak any English at all, so I very quickly had to
learn some Spanish to make myself understood. The mother of my then-husband,
my mother-in-law, started to speak Spanish [to me] on the second day and to teach
me. It was a very easy language for me, probably because I had eight years of
Latin, or something like that. It was very easy for me. I knew words without
knowing that I knew them because I could make them up, kind of, from my Latin
background. So I learned Spanish very quickly. After about a month I was on my
own; I would take the bus and go downtown, totally unafraid. It was a wonderful
time. I loved Argentina; the people are very, very nice, and Buenos Aires is
N: You married your husband during your studies at Uppsala; did you had any children
during that time?
M: No, not during that time. My son was born in Madison, Wisconsin.
N: How many children do you have?
M: I have two children: a son, Michael, who is going to be twenty-seven and a
daughter, Anna, who is going to be twenty-five.
N: What were your first memories when you came to the United States in 1965?
M: I do not know whether it was 1965 or 1966, I cannot remember, but it does not make
much difference. What were my first memories? Well, as I told you before, I had
travelled a lot all over Europe, but I had never been to the United States. At that
time, the United States was the home of film stars. That was the big thing about the
United States. So when I arrived in New York I pretty much expected to meet all
these film stars in the streets. I turned the corner and I thought that Doris Day would
be there. New York seemed extremely big and very colorful to me.
I remember the very first movie I saw in the United States was in New York, and that
was Doctor Zhivago. Of course, I was thrilled to death. There was this enormous
screen, which we did not have in Sweden. I expected Omar Sharif, who was my
idol, to step right up and talk to me. I was very disappointed when that did not
happen. I also expected every house in the United States to be a bungalow,
because I had seen all the movies with Doris Day. She always lived in a bungalow,
had a pool, and little dogs--poodles--running all around with little bows on their
heads. So I always thought this was what I was going to see.
Well, as I told you, we went to Madison, Wisconsin. And I would say that there was
not a pool in the whole of Madison at that time. So it was a great disappointment to
me! There were no pools, and no Doris Days, nothing! In fact, I disliked Madison,
Wisconsin, on sight, for many reasons. One, because I was used to Buenos Aires,
and suddenly I was in this little country town. It had absolutely nothing but the white
capitol building that everyone was absolutely crazy about admiring. To me, that was
nothing coming from Buenos Aires. There were thousands of buildings there much
nicer than that. So that was very hard.
The second thing that was very hard to me that I remember personally that it was
my first encounter with humidity to a large degree. I had never encountered this but
did when passing the equator on the way here. That was my first horrible feeling,
"Oh God, how ghastly!" Well, Oh God, how ghastly" was everyday life in Madison in
summertime. I disliked it intently. At that time I had long blond hair, which I was
terribly proud of, and of course it went all limp with humidity. I should say that that
was my biggest problem in Madison, Wisconsin. [Laughter]
The other thing was that I was like a bird from the jungle to them. Not only was I
Swedish, which at that time had certain connotations, and then on top of that
Sweden was a socialist country, which was then equal to being communist. The
Americans saw red flags waving all over, wherever I walked.
Also, the [Americans saw Sweden as having the] sexual liberation, which was of
course not true, but that is what [they] saw. So I made quite a stir just by saying that
I am Swedish.
On top of that, at that time, the way of dressing in Sweden compared to here was
vastly different. In fact, the Americans have not caught up until twenty years later to
the way we dressed in Sweden. But at that time what I specially remember were the
streets where people sat on their front porches rocking in their rocking chairs. At
that time the shorts they wore in summerwere called bermudas; they were very tight
and very long. Most Americans to me seemed grossly overweight compared to the
Swedes, and for the life of me I could not understand how they could wear these
shorts, as heavy as they [the Americans] were.
I had the very short shorts which they now wear to class here at the University of
Florida. At that time [short shorts were] unheard of. I used to walk along the street
and I used to notice that older people, who sat rocking on their front porches,
stopped rocking when I walked by. I always attributed this to my fantastic legs and
so on, but that was not it. It was that I was pretty much looked upon as a loose
woman wearing shorts like that. [Laughter] I never knew that until much later. It
was hard for me also because I did not know anyone. I was terribly lonely.
N: Did you notice a change in the dressing pattern of the Americans, of American
women at least?
M: You mean today?
M: Well, today the world is pretty much dressed in the same way, but at that time it was
very different. It was like coming from India wearing a sari, you know, wearing these
type of shorts that I wore. It was a very different life.
N: Was your decision to come to America purely based upon the job of your husband,
or was there another motivation?
M: It was purely based upon his position to which he was invited, nothing else.
N: After you came to America, did you take any job [related to] the background that you
had in Sweden?
M: Well, we came to Madison, Wisconsin, and as I told you, I did not particularly like it.
On top of that, as I also referred to, I did not know anyone. And it was very difficult
for me, because as you know well, friendships are created differently here than in
the rest of the world. I could not understand the Americans at all and I was very
unhappy. I remember a lot of tears.
How things changed was that we had to have a health insurance policy, which of
course we did not need in Sweden, and you had to have a physical to get the policy.
I was sent by mistake to a gynecologist for my physical. I had no clue what a
He checked me, and then he said, "Are you happy here?" I burst into tears and
never stopped crying. That was a kind of turning point, because he adopted me.
He had a daughter my age and he introduced me to her and I got to know his family.
He was extremely kind to me. Then I got pregnant with my son, and he, of course,
was my physician. That kind of changed life. Michael was born in Madison,
Wisconsin, and he was about three months old when we left for California.
N: Except for that physician, did you have any earlier relationships in Madison because
of the work of your husband?
M: You know, when it came to my husband's position, he was at that time a post-
doctoral fellow. And post-doctoral fellows are the very youngest in the department.
So all the other couples in the department were much older than me. They had
older children or grown children. They were all very nice to me, but I had nothing in
common with them. Their life was so totally different from the life [to which] I had
been [accustomed]. Most of them, at that time, had never been outside of the United
States. Probably many have not been outside Madison, Wisconsin. And I had been
traveling all my lifetime abroad and lived since then in South America, and I had
gotten to know that lifestyle too. So I was very different from them.
Another turning point I remember was that I met an English girl, who was as lonely
as me and who felt that the Americans were also very strange in the way they
dressed and in the way they made friends. We were kind of in culture shock. She
was pregnant at the same time, and our children were born at the same time.
We kind of huddled together, treating our babies the European way. That meant
that we had a real pram [baby carriage] with sheets and blankets, and the kids were
on parade twenty-four hours a day. That was very different from how they did it
here, where everything is much more casual.
N: Was your doctor-friend an American?
M: Yes, he was American. He put me in contact with the American culture anyway.
N: He adopted you.
M: Yes, he kind of adopted me, more me than my husband. You know how it works
when you come married. The husband is the one who gets his support system at
his work. He was there, all day long, working from eight in the morning to seven at
night. It is the wives who are left totally alone. So it was mostly me he adopted
N: During that time, had you worked toward helping the community or toward helping
yourself acculturate more and more with your educational background?
M: That is a good question. But you know what happens. Remember, we had no car.
This is a culture where you do not do much without a car. So I did not do very many
things; I was mostly at home and, it seems to me, mostly alone. I remember I
learned to drive a car there. I did not have a driver's license, because in Sweden
you do not need a car since public transportation is so superb. I learned how to
drive and I got my driver's license.
I took a typing course because it was given very close to my house. But typing was
not exactly what I liked to do; at that time they had these old typewriters you know
and you should not make even one mistake. I was always the one in class who
looked at the window for the sun and the flowers, and who had a mountain of paper
beside my chair, because I made mistakes since I really did not concentrate. I just
threw [the paper] beside me, and I started again. It was hilarious. I really was not
interested in typing, and then, of course, my son was born and that was the end of
N: How did you get through this process of [assimilation] yourself, despite some of the
problems you expressed?
M: It was hard, very hard. You know yourself what you went through when you got
here. It is a little bit like being thrown into a pool when you learn how to swim.
Either you start to paddle to reach the shore, or you are really in trouble. You have
to do something, and most of us go through it like [through] measles or chicken pox.
You suffer through it, and you come out, and you are okay. But it is extremely hard.
The language is different, the way of dressing is different, and the food is different,
and so is the way you communicate with people--social interactions are different.
N: But you had a good English literature and language background, did you not?
M: Yes, but as you know, John, that does not really mean very much. Having studied
at Oxford, I was really good at English, British English. I have since lost it, but it was
truly beautiful. But that does not help you here, because they do not understand
you. To speak the British English, the Queen's English, has nothing to do with the
Americans. They feel, unless you speak the American English, you do not know
English. So it is very disheartening and discouraging. People [here] did not even
understand me. I had to repeat things ten times, and that created a lot of frustration
and anger. You want to be polite, but there comes a point [at which] you want to tell
them, "Wait a minute--the one who speaks the correct English is me not you!" As
time went on I felt this frustration, and it was easy to get into fights with people.
Your veneer of politeness is growing thinner and thinner, and you just feel like
speaking up and saying, "Wait a minute, okay?" That was hard.
N: Your husband worked under Professor Hirschfelder. Did that have any impact on
the status of your family and your relations with the other [members of the]
M: At that time, Madison, Wisconsin was kind of rural. In India or in Europe that would
have meant a certain social standing, but [here] it really did not. One already had a
higher, or more elevated standing just by being a university professor and [being]
connected to the university.
That was another thing that absolutely surprised me: how simply people lived in the
United States, people who had very high positions. I remember visiting their homes.
I was aghast. In Sweden if you came from the middle class or upper middle class,
you had oriental carpets, and books everywhere and bookcases, and crystal
chandeliers, and things like that.
I entered homes [here] where there was nothing. They were professors at the
university and they had no books. I could not believe it. A house without a
bookcase to me is no home. So that was another thing I had to get used to, that you
may have a high social standing in this country, but it does not necessarily follow
that this [person's] home is [furnished] according to our ideas.
N: How long were you in Madison, Wisconsin?
M: One year.
N: After this, to which place did you move?
M: To La Jolla, California, where [my husband] again went to work for someone else
who was very well-known. I cannot remember his name. La Jolla is probably the
most or one of the most beautiful places in California. It is on the sea. We rented a
little house there and I was very happy there because I was one block from the sea.
At that time I had Michael already.
Still, I was lonely again, because again I did not know anyone. I spent a lot of time
with [Michael], which meant that he spoke very early. He became fluent in both
Swedish and English. He never mixed the languages; he was smart to start with,
and he was very good at [languages].
I met another English girl, who had a daughter his age, and we became the closest
of friends. We were together. We interacted very little with the American
community. It was mostly she and I. We did meet one third woman who was
American. That was another culture shock. We had met while I had been taking my
son for a walk. I met this American mother, and we stopped to talk. She said, "Oh,
you have to come and visit me." And I said, "Yes." Then she did not say anything
else, so we parted. I said, "How strange--she did not tell when to come and at what
time and so on." And because I did not know this American way of saying that we
have to see one another, and in many cases one never saw one another again.
So I waited and waited. This was before I met the English girl, and I was again very
lonely. Finally, one day I said, "Well, I will just walk by her house." So I dressed up,
Swedish style, and had my son dressed up to the teeth, you know, and I put him in
the stroller and walked over, because her house was very close. I knocked on the
door and was very nervous, because in Sweden you don't come unannounced or
uninvited. So I knew I was doing something that was not quite kosher here, but I
was so desperate I said, "I will try it."
She opened the door, and she kind of looked at me with surprise. I reminded her
who I was, and she had to say "Why do you not come in?" I parked the stroller, took
him up and came in, and she asked me to come into the kitchen. That to me was
another eye-opener, because in Sweden you do not invite guests into the kitchen,
you invite them to the living room. I went into the kitchen, and she asked me if I
would like a cup of coffee. At that time I drank very little coffee, but I accepted, just
to be nice and agreeable.
She asked me to sit down, and she had this counter in the kitchen, which I had
never seen, because the only places you have that are in bars in Sweden. I had
never been to a bar, [but] I knew they had those counters. And she had the high bar
stools. I looked at them and I said, "She does not expect me to climb up there, I
hope?" She said, "Oh, just sit down." I said, "Where?" She said, "Oh, just sit at the
counter." I said, "My God, she is out of her mind. I am going to climb up here and
risk the life of my son here on this little perch." Finally, I climbed up, feeling very
Then, to my horror, she gave me a mug with coffee. You know, in Sweden, of
course, you do not serve mugs to guests. One has to have the best china,
tablecloth, fresh flowers, the right cookies and cakes. I said, "Oh, what a strange
country." You know you immediately go into, "They have no manners. They do not
know how to invite people. They do not know how to do this, they do not know how
to do [that]." I was quickly into my culture shock [and found] all this pretty ghastly.
That was how I met her for the first time. We later became friends.
N: As California is also Hollywood, I hope you enjoyed it well and saw some nice
M: I still had not seen any film stars! But I liked La Jolla because it was so beautiful. I
liked it. We stayed there for two years.
N: You stayed for two years. And after?
M: And then we came to Gainesville, Florida. By then my daughter, Anna, had been
born in California. When we came here, she was about six weeks old, and Michael
was probably about two years or so. We came here because again [my husband]
was invited for a position here at the University of Florida.
I took one look at Gainesville, as we drove through downtown on the way from the
airport, and I could not believe my eyes! It looked the same as Sweden did in the
1800s: very backward and very rural. And I said, "God, I hope I do not have to stay
here. This is terrible!"
We moved into an apartment, the Camelot Apartments. At that time [they were] the
fanciest set of apartments in Gainesville. To me it was nothing, but according to
Gainesville standards that was as high as you could reach. [Laughter] They did
not have any more than two-bedroom apartments which was strange to me. By
now, I had become American and thought that Michael had to have one room, Anna
had to have one room, and we had to have one room. You cannot put a lot of
people in one room, you know. By now, I had become American in that sense.
So we lived there and that was how we started in Gainesville. During those first ten
years in Gainesville, we travelled extensively every summer, to Latin America, to
Europe, all over. The children were constantly on the move, they went to more
schools in more countries than I can even remember. It gave them a sense that
they did not quite know who they were. Were they Argentineans, or were they
Swedish? Were they Americans or what were they? It was confusing to them;
there were so many languages and so many people in their lives. It was a time of
traveling I would say.
N: After you came to Gainesville, did you take a job?
M: No, because then my children were small, and I would not dream about working
when they were small. It was totally Swedish style that you stay home and take
care of children. In fact, that was the American style also at that time. There were
no women who worked. They were home with the children. That was very usual.
N: So you came to Gainesville in the 1970s?
M: I suppose 1969, or something like that.
N: Do you see any change in the life and shape of the city of Gainesville since those
M: Oh, it is like night and day. At that time it was truly like a country village to me. It
was very country. Many of the areas where people are now living did not exist at
that time, including the area where I am living now. There were just woods. And
there was nothing cultural, nothing. There were of course no European movies or
foreign movies. It was all American movies.
With no cultural life whatsoever, it was very difficult. That is why we travelled so
much. We left every summer; we would leave in May and not come back until the
end of August when the semester started again. That was the way I survived. I
think that was the way my then-husband survived too, from the cultural point of view.
Yes, Gainesville has changed tremendously. Now, we have pretty much everything
we need. In fact, it [Gainesville] is kind of perfect, because it is not too big and it is
not too small. Yes, it has changed a lot.
N: Did you make any friendships here?
M: Yes we did. In the Camelot Apartments, the first person I met was a woman from
Argentina. That immediately put us in contact with the Latin social circle. Yes, we
made friends and I still have them. Then it was easy. Then Michael started to go to
kindergarten and to nursery schools also, and I met other people there. Very quickly
I met a lot of people.
I was missing some type of intellectual stimulation. I always read a lot. I was very
happy being at home, because I had by then my own house, my yard, and I read
and read and read. I had no problems and I enjoyed being with my children. I was
But I suppose I thought that one day I would like to do something different. As I had
never studied in this culture, I felt that I should start with something. Many people
said to me, "You should do something with real estate because you are so outgoing
and so on, and so on." So I said, "What the heck? I will take the course."
I took the real estate course. I passed it and I even started working. But this was
many years later; my children were quite old. They were in school. I started to work
in real estate and I found I did not like it at all. I did not like it, for one, because it got
you very involved with the finances of people. I found that to be too personal. Do
you know what I mean?
And two, I did not like at all the real estate profession as such, because the bottom
line is that you have to make those people buy. And if I did not like the fireplace, for
the life of me I could not say, "What a beautiful fireplace." I had a lot of inner
struggles with this profession, because I felt I was supposed to say things which
were not quite that way. "It is a beautiful house," when in fact, I hated that house.
The other thing that made me say absolutely no more was that I took a lady out to
look for houses. In fact, she ended up buying a house in the neighborhood where I
live now. I had taken her out several times. She said to me, "Well, let me be very
frank with you. I do not want a neighborhood where any blacks or any Jewish
people [live]. That is the bottom line." As I was Jewish myself, I said to myself,
"Now if I should behave according to my own principles, I would tell her what I think
of her, but being in real estate and representing a real estate firm, I cannot do that. I
cannot live like this, trying to do one thing when I am in total disagreement with it."
So I quit there and then.
N: After that, and prior to your studying [for] the master of arts degree at the University
of Florida, what did you do, had you taken some counselor education practicum?
M: No, no, that was all after that. After real estate, I did not do anything for a while.
Then I decided to go to graduate school. I took the Graduate Records Education
exam and decided to study counseling, with a focus on international students or
black students. Those were the only two groups I was really interested in working
with. That is when I started in graduate school and it took me about two years to
earn the master's and specialist's degree.
During that time many different things happened in my life. We had travelled again,
and I had lived in Israel for a while, and [went] back to Europe, and [stayed in]
Colorado. I had to do a practicum. I did that, in fact, at Santa Fe Community
College. Then I had to do an internship. I think I did my second practicum at the
International Students Center, in the old building over there. I liked it [the program]
so much and they liked me so much that they offered me the internship there.
At that time it was very different from what it is now. There was no academic
counseling, and there was, really, not much of anything. I started a lot of new things
there, which we are still doing, to this day. When I had finished my internship, I went
to Israel. That was the time I went to Colorado, and everywhere in Europe. Then,
when I came back, one of the secretaries who worked there called me and told me
there was a part-time position available there and advised me to apply.
I applied for the part-time position as a foreign student advisor. It was very poorly
paid, and it was part time, and I think there were sixty-seven people applying for it--
just to show you [how the market is in] Gainesville. In Gainesville, there are so
many people with degrees that it is very difficult to find a job. So I got that job. And
that is how I started--part time.
Then my life changed. For personal reasons I divorced, and I knew that I had to
work full time to support myself. Just at that time, my very close friend, who was
then the assistant director, decided to leave. The position came up for search
again, and there were still seventy people applying for it. I mean, it was incredible.
And I got it. [In 1984, she became assistant director of International Student and
Scholar Services.] I would say I got it because of all the ones interviewed, I was the
only one good at immigration. That is now almost ten years ago.
N: Now, [we are] coming to your work experience at the University of Florida. In the
capacity of assistant director, please tell me about your first impressions about this
M: Well, as I told you, I had already started doing things in the office, [such as]
academic counseling, and things like that. So I just continued doing those things.
At that time, the person I mentioned, my friend--who had held the full-time position,
my position--and I were both extremely interested in counseling. And both of us
thought that we would, at one point, go into private counseling. This was especially
cross-cultural counseling. We were very good at it. Our focus was very much on
counseling at that time.
What do I remember from that time? Well, I do not know if it was that different from
now. We had about the same amount of students and we did about the same things
we do now. I cannot remember anything being very different, really, from that time.
When it came to counseling, as you know, if there are people who [have] very
serious problems, you never know how it is going to end. We were kind of told [that]
if we have very serious cases, we should refer them to Student Mental Health
because we were not covered from the insurance point of view. That has not really
stopped me that much.
N: Please tell me [about] some of the functions of the International Center for Student
and Scholar Services, and your role as an assistant administrator and as liaison
between the international student community and the University of Florida.
M: Well, the International Student Center is the place that takes care of all the needs of
international students. As I said to you before, it is a kind of the home away from
home. I firmly believe that is true. We do admissions, we do immigration. I do
academic counseling, financial counseling, personal counseling. We have scholar
programs; we take care of all the immigration aspects of getting a scholar over here.
The focus is [on] the life of the individual student, his/her family, the individual
scholar, [and] his/her family. Everyone who comes to this university from another
country has to go through our office.
As you reminded me, I am kind of the liaison between the university system and the
international students. I am the person who talks to their professors and tries to get
some solutions. And I am also the liaison between the Gainesville community and
the foreign students, through the Gainesville Council for International Friendship and
the Host Family Program and the different clubs: Kiwanis, Rotary Club, and so on.
N: Please tell me some of your experiences with the different nationalities of students
who come to the University of Florida. Have you had a good time with them? Did
you really enjoy providing your able services to the students and your reciprocity
with the student community?
M: Well, as I said before, what interested me were the international students or the
black students, from the very beginning. What especially attracts me about working
with the international students is the cross-cultural focus. You literally work with the
whole world. When someone comes to see me, I have no clue which part of the
world with which I have to work. You have to be very agile when it comes to
jumping from culture to culture. As I said before, that was my childhood experience,
jumping from culture to culture, which makes it very attractive to me to continue to
I think [I have] a very interesting job, because I pretty much know all the different
cultures from which students come. This makes it possible for me to help them from
their cultural point of view, instead of just having the [American] culture solution to
their problems, which has nothing to do with them in many cases.
Well, I should not say that, because you have to come to a happy medium. If you
come to study here, you have to follow the rules here, and you cannot insist on
following the rules from your country and your culture because then you cannot
make it. [You] need a person who is the bridge between the two [cultures], who can
understand from where the person comes and why he says what he says, and then
try to make him/her adjust to the American system, without having to give up his
own cultural identity. So it is a little bit of a balance.
N: What are your hobbies?
M: What are my hobbies? Well, I do many things. I love everything outdoors: bicycling,
horseback riding, and I do both. I have two dogs and there is a lot of walking with
them. I have a very large garden; I love gardening. I read a lot; I read all the time.
[I like] traveling, music, concerts, theater. You know, I am pretty much interested in
N: You have a wide array of memberships in different professional associations. Could
you tell me about some of them?
M: To tell you the truth, I am not an organization person. In that way, I am very un-
American. The organizations I belong to are the professional ones, like NAFSA, the
National Association for Foreign Student Advisors. That is kind of a part of my life,
because that is part of the work I do every day. Usually if I join an organization in
Gainesville, it is mostly with the thought, "How can it connect to the international
students and how can they benefit from this connection?" I am really not an
N: It appears that you have attended a few of the workshops and presented some
N: Could you speak [about] some of those?
M: You know, there are some things that interest me more than others when it comes
to international students. One is re-entry. You have problems when you come here,
adjusting to the American culture. Then you adjust to it. Well, what very few people
think of is that you are going to have the same problems when you go back to your
own country. The country has changed, you have changed, your parents have
changed, and nothing is exactly how it was when you said good-bye many years
ago. This could be anywhere from two to eight, ten years.
That area interests me, because it is something that is unexpected. After ten years
you do not expect to have any problems going home to your own country where you
supposedly know everything. In fact you do not any more, because in ten years
there are many changes. That has always interested me.
Another [interest] is cross-cultural marriages. They most certainly have their own
pitfalls. Marriages on the whole have pitfalls, even if you are from the same cultural
background, but when you are from different cultural backgrounds, that is even more
so. One has to know about those things to be able to make it work.
N: It appears that you were president of the Council for International Friendship in
Gainesville during the years 1984-1990.
M: I still am.
N: You still are.
N: Could you please share some of your experiences in that particular capacity?
M: Well, that is a council that has been around for many, many [years], perhaps twenty
or twenty-five years in Gainesville. The members who started it are now all in their
seventies, eighties, nineties. It is kind of an old organization. I took over as
president of it. I joined because, of course, it is the organization in Gainesville most
closely related to international students. They are the ones who put on the
reception each spring and fall for the new students. They also have a host-family
program. I arrange for people who want to meet a family in Gainesville to do that.
That is why I am a [member] of that organization.
N: Can you please throw some more light on your administrative career at the
University of Florida?
M: You mean the administrative uses? What exactly do you mean by that?
N: How did you see yourself in this particular post and how much have you fulfilled your
work activities? Were you happy with these? What are the plans that you purport to
take up in the ensuing future?
M: Well, when it comes to my role as the assistant director, I see it purely as one who
cares about the international students and helps them whenever they need anything.
I feel myself being very much the spokesperson for the international students.
As you know, when we moved, I did speak out loudly and very often, and I was in
the Independent Florida Alligator quite a bit. To me, I did the right thing because
someone has to speak out for the international students, because that is, in general,
a very silent group. They do not say much; they are here and they study 99 percent
of the time. You very seldom see them anywhere else. I think when there is
something related to them, I should speak up.
Now, that may not always be so wise. One has to learn how to play the system, but
I see myself always having problems with that. I would probably always say what I
think about things, and that is not always what one should do or what is wise to do.
I see myself very much as someone who takes up the cause of international
When it comes to my position as assistant director, do I want to stay for the rest of
my life or do I have any higher aspirations from the professional point of view? You
know that it is a very small field. And in Gainesville, it is extremely small--it is the
Santa Fe Community College and the University of Florida.
Dr. [Richard] Downie, [Ph.D. International Student and Scholar Services, 1976], as
you know, is the Director of the International Student Center, and I was thinking that
when he retired, I would then apply for the directorship. I do not really see that
happening. With the move here, and even before that, the whole structure has
changed. The day he retires, I do not see another director being there. It will be
another position that is not exactly that of Director for International Students.
So I can well foresee that I will continue my life as assistant director if I stay at the
University of Florida.
And that is okay with me, because, frankly, a title means very little. From the money
point of view it is very important, but otherwise it does not mean anything. I do not
care about it. I am fine as I am. I am doing exactly what I want to do. I am very
happy with my job. I cannot imagine any better job than this. Many times it seems
not a job, just a pleasure.
Yes, we have cases that are very serious. I just had one where I spent weeks with a
student who had a very serious problem, who ended up in the hospital, and who I
had to help get home. It is all worth it. I think it is one of the few jobs where you feel
that you actually have a function and you make a difference.
If a student comes in and has a problem, whether it is personal, financial, or
academic, in nine cases out often I can make a difference. It is within my power to
make a difference. And I think that that is the most important thing. I firmly believe
that one of the reasons why we are around is to help other people. I do that in a
setting that I love.
It is a very thrilling job, because you never get bored. You walk in from India,
another one walks in from Taiwan, and another one from mainland China. It is a job
where you do not get laid back and old, because you have to be on your toes all the
time. I have to keep up with all these cultures, and [know] who is from where, and
how to solve it from what angle. I think it is great.
N: Maybe your commitment to this work, I think, made you more popular among the
international student community. I see that. [Laughter]
M: Well, you know, I think I have always said that the best qualification for this job is not
an endless list of degrees, many of which I have. That is not it. I think the best
qualification is (1), that you know languages; (2), that you are flexible; (3), that you
are accepting of people from all over the world; (4), that you have an accent; and
(5), that you are not American. I think that those are very good qualifications for this
You have to be able to change in midair. You have to deal with people from their
cultural point of view, which according to the American cultural point of view
sometimes seems like manipulation. But in other cultures it is everyday life. You
have to know that and you have to enjoy that. I love kids on the whole, and that
ranges from eighteen to fifty-seven. So I always enjoy that.
As you know, I have been to many countries. I know from where these people
come. When you walk in, I know India. I see it in front of me. I know exactly what it
looks like. I know how people communicate with one another. I do not know
everything, but I know a lot. That makes you kind of one of my kids.
The line between my own two kids and all my international kids is very thin. You
know, I have 2,000 students, and of course, some of them you get more attached to
than others because you have a different relationship with them for one reason or
another. You just click with certain people. I can truly say that I am extremely
happy with what I am doing. There is no question about that.
N: Did you see much improvement in the building after you moved from the old building
into Tigert Hall?
M: That move was very difficult. There is no question about it, and I am not going to
say that it was not. We were kind of self-sufficient over there. We were a small staff
that knew one another extremely well and it was a kind of family. The house was
our house. The next day we were in Tigert Hall, the biggest building on campus, at
least for administrative [purposes], with a totally different atmosphere. We were put
in an office with an already existing office and group of people. So it was very
difficult. It was difficult for us and I am sure it was difficult for them to adjust to one
What do I see that is good from it? I think that we are more visible. If nothing else,
everyone heard about the move to Tigert, because of my frequent appearance in the
Alligator. Everyone knows that we are here now. Also, I think that it is good to be
close to the president and the provost. It has put us very clearly in their yard. I think
that is nice. I think that with this move the international students, as a group,
became more vocal and outspoken, and made themselves heard, which I think is
good. That is the way it should be.
To be totally selfish, I like the office. Another point is that we are not forgotten any
more. When we were over there, we were very often forgotten when it came to
funds and everything else. And we ran everything on a shoestring. Now we are
part of a larger picture, so if we need something, we say this is what we need, and
we get it. We are treated like everyone else. So, yes, from that [point of view], it
has been better.
N: Please tell me about some of the visas that you issued to the students and for what
they actually stand. What were the requirements that served as a basis for your
issuing the visas?
M: When an international student applies to the University of Florida, he has to fill [out]
an application that consists of two parts. One is his academic background and the
second one is the financial background. If it is a graduate student, and I would say
80 percent of them are, he has to show that he has roughly $38,000 for two years.
Depending on the funding, we decide which visa is to be issued.
In 99 percent of the cases, it is an F-1 student visa. This means that the student
has to be a full-time student at all times, have at least twelve credit hours,
depending on the department of the graduate student. He cannot work outside the
campus; he cannot receive any loans or any scholarships to a large degree. It is
pretty much a self-sufficient visa. If he/she is married and has an F-2 visa, that
means that never, not in a million years can [either the student or the spouse] work,
which makes it very difficult. That would be illegal.
The J-1 visa, [which is issued] to very few students, is usually given to people who
are sponsored by their own government. If you come from India and you are
sponsored by the Indian government, you would have a J-1 visa. The J-1 visa has
some of the same [requirements]. You have to be a full-time student; that is usual,
but the J-1 visa has something called home residence requirement [that goes] with
it. This means that before you can apply for permanent residency, you have to stay
in your home country for two years.
[As for] work regulations on campus, the F-1 can work for twenty hours on campus a
week, without any paperwork to be done. The J-1 has to come and ask my
permission. J-2 [visa holders] are better off than F-2, because J-2s can work. They
have to apply through immigration for work permission, but they can work to make
extra money for their cultural enjoyment. It is better from that point of view.
Both of the [visas] have [items] for and against the two of them, some good
things for the F-1 and some good things for the J-1. But it does not make much
difference, because it is very clear [that] either you are funded by your family and
you are an F-1, as most students are, or by an organization or a government and
you are J-1.
N: When the government of the international student or country undergoes some
amount of problems, political problems, and [the student] is no longer able to receive
any funds, then during that particular time, how would you come to the rescue of
that international student?
M: Well, there is not much of a rescue mission in cases like this. When I, for example,
had students from Lebanon when they had the war, I managed to defer their fees for
some semesters until things were cleared up. When it comes to foreign students,
they are pretty much on their own, unfortunately.
Another way to solve it is that you can ask immigration for work permission off
campus if your situation has dramatically changed for one reason or another, which
it would if there was a revolution or a war in your country. Then, usually you get
work permission. But that is not either a totally 100 percent, wonderful solution,
because you have to work and go to school. But that is a possibility.
Nowadays there are many linkage programs with many countries, with China, Costa
Rica, Florida, France, Taiwan, and so on, [but] unfortunately not with India, and if
you apply for those and you have the grades, you will get an out-of-state tuition fee
waiver, which is fantastic. But I think that those linkage programs, in a way, focus to
a large degree on countries which do not need them, like France and Taiwan.
[They] focus very little on countries which really need them. But that is the way it is.
If students have not had any money for food, I have sometimes bought them food
myself, or I have managed to have friends and other people invite them to homes, or
buy groceries for them and drop [these] off in their places. [These are] my own
more or less innovative methods of solving a problem.
It is very difficult with foreign students and problems. I work with their embassies.
That does not necessarily mean very much help, but I try to solve [problems] in any
which way I can, so that the person survives until a better solution can be found.
N: You have a good background in personal services and personal counsel.
N: Can you [give] some information on your experiences with the student community in
applying these counseling techniques?
M: Well, you know, when you get a counseling degree from here, the counseling is very
heavily western-focused. It is on counseling according to western principles. As
you know, that does not work at all with foreign students. They are told to sit down,
take part in a group, open their hearts, and talk about their problems. That is the
very last thing that would enter their minds, as most of them had grown up very
much with the notion that you do not discuss your problems with anyone unless it is
with the family. Outside the family it is not known how problematic life really is.
[Western-focused counseling] is totally opposite to what most of the foreign students
[Also] most of the foreign students come from extended family systems, where there
is always someone to talk to, an aunt, an uncle, a grandmother. That does not exist
here, so you cannot just expect them to say, "Well, I will go and see Mrs. Micha.
She is not really related, and now am going to say that my parents are divorcing, or
that I have no money, or my father has gone bankrupt." It is very hard.
I think that is an area that I am good at, simply because I know the cultural
background from which [foreign students] come. I can always manage to change
the counseling approach to one where they feel more familiar.
My age is also a very favorable thing because I am at an age where I can pretty
much be a mother to all of them. It is very seldom someone comes in my age and
that is no problem in itself, because then you talk to an equal. Then they have no
problems. But I think with the students it is very much that I am probably very
similar to the mother of everyone.
I am also probably one of the few people who touches them because you know that
Americans do not touch. It is a very complicated system of who to touch, when to
touch, and how to touch, and it is a whole jungle of rules [about] what you can [and
cannot] do. I do not have those rules.
Again, my age, and the fact that I am another foreigner, [lead] them to see me very
much as a mother figure. That makes it easier in a way, because it is easy to cry
with a mother, and it is easy to tell [her] that one is in trouble. [She] is about the only
person [to whom] one can tell that.
I do touch people a lot, partly because of my personality, and partly, too, because no
one touches foreign students. They come from family backgrounds where one day
they are touched by everyone, and the next day [in America] no one touches them
for yearsto come. That makes it even complicated from their personal cultural point
of view. If you come here from India, and you meet other Indian students, you
would not touch a female if you were a male, because then all those rules are set
into motion, so we are where we started. No one touches you.
And when it comes to Americans, that is a whole other ball game, how to handle
that. I would say when it comes to counseling experience, no, I do not use the
counseling techniques that I was taught to get my master of arts and specialist
degrees very much. It is a mixture of it all, and I have become very flexible. I go all
over the world, and I just use what I feel fits with the person.
The other thing with counseling is that I have always thought the best counselor is
not the one who knows all the theories and all the techniques. The best counselors
are the ones who are intuitive and who feel for people and who can touch them. It is
very much [a question of whether they] can [reach] another person. And if they can,
they are a good counselor. They may never have taken a class in their whole life. I
have met people in the street, in lines, at Burger King or wherever, or in a bus, or
waiting for something, who have been fantastic counselors. They have never even
gone to school. Counseling is...
N: Something practical.
M: .. something practical, and I think firmly either you have it or you do not. I think to
be a good counsellor, it is [a question of whether you] can touch other people. Can
you make them feel comfortable? If you feel comfortable, you are going to say what
bothers you. It is against nature not to say it; you burst out without knowing it,
saying what happened. That is more how I see it; it has very little to do with a
counseling background and degrees, as [with] most things in the world, John.
N: Having served [about] a decade at the University of Florida, do you have any nice
experiences, maybe personal from work, that you might share?
M: Well, I have had so many nice experiences that it is difficult for me to think of
anything specific. There are so many things that have happened. I have intervened
in so many cases that changed the lives of people.
I can think of one thing. I had a student I was seeing who was depressed and had a
problem with school. We were working on Christmas Eve. She called me on
Christmas Eve. She was supposed to call me the following week, to get a yes or no
answer. But she called me that day, and [as] she was talking to me, I just sensed
that there were problems. She was thanking me. [I thought it was] because of
Christmas and everyone wants to be nice, but [when] I hung up the telephone and [I
thought] that student was in trouble.
I thought about it a little more, and I decided on the spur of the moment to follow my
intuition that she was in trouble. I went over to her apartment, and the door was
locked; she did not open [it]. I went to the manager and asked them to call the
police. We broke open the door and she had most certainly tried to commit suicide.
She was caught in time [after] she had taken some pills, and they had [to use] the
stomach pump or whatever they do.
There are many times that I do not exactly know what I should be doing according to
rules and regulations, but I follow my kind of inner voice, and I just do it. Ihadone
student who [had] a very serious problem and he was going to be suspended from
the University. I was about the only one at the University of Florida, [unlike] many,
many, many people, who believed that he was innocent, and that he told the truth. I
followed that hunch.
President [John V.] Lombardi [president of the University of Florida, 1990-present]
had just arrived here, and I made an appointment with him. I told him that I thought
it was wrong [to suspend the student], and he was not suspended, which changed
his life. He could not have gone home if he had been suspended, for all the shame
that meant. And he could not have continued in any other school either. He is [now]
doing extremely well. He is alive and happy.
Many times I just do things [that] I feel I have to do, still trying to follow the rules and
regulations of the University. This is a country where you have to think about that,
from the [legal] point of view and [many] other points of view. There are so many
different things that you cannot do for many different reasons. It is a little bit like a
quagmire, but I am trying to keep my chin up.
N: Thank you very much Madam Margaretha Micha for kindly sparing your time and
your experiences for this Oral History program. Thank you very much.
M: You are very welcome, John; I enjoyed doing it.