A few weeks ago, former Gordon Lee High School students Emily Potter and Dalton Green boarded a plane for a whirlwind trip to Scotland.
Green and Potter are both students at the University of Georgia College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. Their trip across the ocean was not primarily about tourism, though you don’t travel that distance without taking time to see the country.
The two students were accompanied by six fellow UGA students and two faculty advisors, Dr. Jason Peakes and Dr. Eric Rubenstein. The purpose of their trip was to partner with students from the University of Glasgow and prepare lessons to teach to students at Troqueer Primary School.
"The school in Troqueer was in the bottom five in the country at one time," says Green. Now, he says, it’s in the top five. "They changed their approach to education from what I call ‘sit-and-get’ to a student-led, hands-on model. Students make decisions about what to study and take a lot of responsibility for their learning."
Potter and Green both say they were deeply impressed with how well-spoken and knowledgeable the youngsters were. "They were very opinionated about politics," says Potter, who plans to become an agriculture teacher one day. "They asked who we voted for and expressed their opinions of the candidates in our last election."
"They talk about our political news as if it was theirs," says Green. "You don’t realize how a big country, a superpower, is viewed by the rest of the world, from small things to big things. The kids wanted to know if we’d ever been in a Walmart. They were intrigued by American politics."
Before teaching classes at the school, the UGA and UG students spent three days brainstorming and working out plans together. The topics they covered were ones chosen by the Troqueer students themselves: farming, weather, deforestation in the Amazon region, and plastics in the oceans.
"Working with the kids at the school was great," says Potter. "They were ecstatic about having Americans teaching them. It was really cool to have kids you didn’t even know looking up to you and fighting over who gets to sit next to you at lunch or play with you at recess."
Potter and Green say they also feel they learned important things about lesson planning and team building by working with the University of Glasgow students.
The other half of the UGA trip to Scotland was spent seeing the country that measures half the size and half the population of Georgia but boasts a history and countryside worthy of any globetrotter’s time. "We traveled a circle around the country," says Potter.
Travel included trips by train and bus. Green says they ran into glitches more than once. "Our faculty advisors always stayed clam when things went wrong and rolled with whatever was thrown at them. They deserve a lot of credit for how they managed the trip."
Among the sights the students got to visit were Edinburgh, Inverness, some castle towns, and the Scottish Highlands, where they took a boat ride in the famous Loch Ness, home to the legendary Loch Ness Monster. "A lot of people in Scotland believe strongly in the monster, the way a lot of people here believe in Big Foot," says Green.
"The trip opened my eyes to so many beauties of the earth," says Green, whose favorite part of Scotland was the Highlands. "The mountains make our mountains in North Georgia look like hills. Most Americans don’t get to do what we did. It was really a blessing."
Potter and Green say they’d both like to go back to Scotland at some point but that there’s no place like home. "I learned that the great distances of the earth are attainable," says Potter, "but I’m too much of a homebody to stay away for long."