Couple from Down Under revisit Monett

Friday, June 6, 2014
Gay and John Carpenter from Orange, Australia, recently stopped to visit Ralph and Mary Kay Scott of Monett. John Carpenter was a foreign exchange student at Monett High School in 1966 and lived with the Scotts. Melonie Roberts/

The world is growing smaller every day, as evidenced by a chance encounter between two strangers at an agricultural conference in Sweden about 15 years ago.

"There was an American lady at the conference with her husband, who is from Sweden," said John Carpenter of Orange, Australia. "My friend, an engineer, sat down next to her and she asked where he was from and he said, 'Australia.' She said, 'I only know one Australian, and that's John Carpenter.' My friend said, 'I know him, too!'"

"It's a small world, and it keeps getting smaller," added Mary Kay Scott, who served as a host mother to Carpenter when he was a foreign exchange student in Monett in 1966. At that time, her husband, Ralph Scott

Mary Kay Scott displayed a watercolor painting of a eucalyptus tree, native to Australia, sent from members of John Carpenter's family when he was a foreign exchange student at Monett High School. Melonie Roberts/

was serving as superintendent to the Monett School District.

Carpenter and his wife, Gay, stopped by to visit Ralph and Mary Kay Scott last week on their third return trip to the United States.

"We've been back to Monett one other time," John said, "and we met them in Florida on another trip."

The Scotts have also traveled to Australia on one occasion to visit Carpenter and his family.

"Their daughter, Michelle, and her husband, Tim Anderson, came a few years ago to visit," Mary Kay said. "They were working on the wheat harvest at that time."

Carpenter, a lawyer in Orange, recalled his year with the Scotts and his classmates from Monett High School.

"I learned a lot from them and they did from me," he said. "I enjoyed the year at school, even though I knew it wouldn't count academically."

While here, Carpenter took the Scholastic Aptitude Test to enter college, but the results weren't recognized by the academic system in Australia.

"They tossed it around a couple of months and didn't make a decision, so my father told me to get myself back to school my senior year and finish up," he said.

"I enjoyed getting to meet so many people and take subjects that I wouldn't otherwise have taken," Carpenter said. "Back then, we had the old Fortran computers, which were operated by punch cards. One command would be one card."

Before the development of disk files, text editors and terminals, programs were most often entered on a keypunch keyboard onto 80 column punched cards, one line to a card. The resulting deck of cards would be fed into a card reader to be compiled.

"I played football, ran track and wrestled, which was not offered in Australia," Carpenter said.

Aside from the academic and social experiences that came from being a foreign exchange student, Carpenter said there were other advantages as well.

"The biggest thing I got out of the year was maturity and a wonderful learning experience," Carpenter said. "The transition was easy. Fitting in with new friends and learning to make my own way was very beneficial.

"Two of my children have also been foreign exchange students. Claire went to Switzerland and my son, Lachlan, spent a year in Germany."

His daughter, Michelle, spent a year on the wheat harvest instead of becoming a foreign exchange student.

"That was better for her," Gay said. "She came home with a lot of confidence."

The family has also hosted foreign exchange students twice.

"One was from France and the other from Slovakia," Carpenter said. "We have maintained contact with all of our families. We even visited Lachlan in Germany."

"When I think of the kids [Monett] has hosted over the years, they have had a tremendous impact on the school and community," Ralph said. "We've all made lifelong memories and friends."

Carpenter said the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, not only impacted those on U.S. soil, but many abroad, as well.

"Both of our kids went as exchange students post 9-11," he said. "I don't think anyone was reluctant to come to the United States. There was no discussion about the safety of our students.

"But the world is a safer place since 9-11. It's more controlled. We flew into LAX and had our palms, thumbs and eyes scanned. There is increased surveillance in Sydney, but we have not stepped up to that level of security. But I can understand, it was a huge impact."

Because Australia is a close ally of the United States, that country was the first to step into the fray in the wake of former president George W. Bush's call for allies following the 9-11 tragedy.

"We've had the same casualties, wounded warriors, suicides and subsequent fallout," Carpenter said. "We even had Australians killed in Bali, Indonesia, a popular vacation spot for our countrymen, about 12 months after 9-11. Of the 250 people killed in that attack, 198 were Australians. That made us realize we were just as involved in this. It had the same impact on us that 9-11 had on America. It was much closer to home."

Recalling the televised attack on the United States, Carpenter and his wife agreed it looked like a bad movie.

"We watched as the second plane flew into the building," Gay said. "It was so bizarre, so scary. It caught us up."

While traveling in the States, the couple hopes to visit the 9-11 Museum and Ground Zero.

"It was such a world-changing event," Gay said.

They also hope to take in a couple of Broadway shows and the ballet before their son, who was in Aspen, Colo., flies in to New York City to meet them.

"Lachlan will then travel in South America for five months," Gay said. "He'll be traveling by bus, but I'm a little nervous about it."

"AFS has given our children a love for travel," Carpenter added. "His friends will be with him. They're all traveling on student visas."

Before being allowed entry into the United States, Lachlan had to prove he had $5,000 in the bank and was able to be self-sufficient, due to Homeland Security regulations.

"It's an unfortunate consequence of 9-11," Carpenter said. "People from the Middle East are automatically profiled. It's very unfair.

"There are extremists in every culture. If we live our lives branding a culture by its lowest common denominator, we won't get very far in learning to get along together."

Frank and Karen Washburn hosted a reception in their home for the John Carpenter to reconnect with former classmates while the couple was visiting. At the conclusion of their US vacation, the couple plans to travel to Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

"We have a general idea of the places we want to go," Carpenter said. "There is a lighthouse on the tip of Edinburgh, Scotland, we want to see."

"I lived in Ireland as a child," Gay said. "I started school over there. This is the first time I'll be back since I was a child. And, yes, I've already kissed the Blarney Stone."

At the conclusion of their travels, the Carpenters will return to Australia, where he will take up his practice as a construction litigation attorney and she will continue her nursing career.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: