Study Abroad On a Dare
In 1968, Bill McGrath studied abroad on a dare. His friends offered him $25 if he, an English major at Santa Clara University, got accepted to a German language program in Vienna, Austria. Across the country in Staunton, Virginia, the more serious student Grace Hitchman carefully selected Vienna over Heidelberg, despite knowing she would get no credit at her alma mater, Mary Baldwin College. “But I’ll tell you what,” she says, “it didn’t matter. It was a much better education.”
Their first week abroad, several IES Abroad students were at a pub in Oxford. Grace and her friends were at one table, and a group of guys, including Bill, were at the one just adjacent. “He could hear my southern accent,” Grace recalls, and he started teasing her about being a spoiled southern belle. “I asked him where he was from and he said San Diego and I accused him of being a surfer dude,” she says, laughing. This teasing would become characteristic of their encounters as time went on.
The Missed Strassenbahn
Ostensibly unimpressed with one another, Grace began dating a gentleman from Belgium, and Bill still had a girlfriend in California—facts they each gave the other a hard time about. Sometime in November, though, Bill received a letter that his girlfriend back home had gotten engaged to someone else. That same evening, their group of friends decided to venture outside the city center. It was snowing and they were running to catch the last strassenbahn back to Vienna, when Bill kissed Grace. They missed the tram, and she was angry to have to pay for a cab, yet Grace recalls, “I was intrigued by him, I’ll say that.”
By Christmas, they were spending all of their time together, studying, exploring the streets of Vienna, traveling, and skiing with friends. In June, Bill went back to the States while Grace stayed on in Europe a little while longer. At the end, she flew out to San Diego instead of going home first, and that’s when Bill proposed. “I wasn’t on the ground four hours,” she jokes. They were married in Aiken, South Carolina, on June 20, 1970.
For the last 44 years, the McGraths have lived in San Diego, California. They have two sons and two grandchildren. They still have many dear friends from IES Abroad Vienna that they keep in touch with to this day, with whom they have enjoyed summers in Tahoe and many Thanksgivings. They remember their time in Vienna fondly. Grace admits, “Having to be on our own in Vienna is probably one of the main reasons we stayed together all these years. We’ve had to be adaptable and realize nobody’s perfect and you make do with what you’ve got.”
Words of Advice Worth Taking
What’s the secret to a successful marriage? Grace says it’s communication: “Never, never assume you know everything. Share what you’re thinking. Share something new every day that you learned. Be open to adventure. Be flexible. As long as you’re honest with each other, no matter what hits you from the outside you’ll be fine. And you learn that studying abroad.”