By KATIE JUSTICE, firstname.lastname@example.org
For two weeks this past summer, 20 Jefferson High School students had the opportunity to travel more than 4,000 miles across the Atlantic to Helensburgh, Scotland.
The Jefferson students spent two weeks with their counterparts in an exchange program with Hermitage Academy in Scotland.
Then, from Sept. 28 to Oct. 12, the Hermitage Academy students visited Jefferson.
“It’s a cultural exchange. The premise behind it is to give our students the opportunity to explore other cultures,” said Jefferson principal Dr. Kevin Smith.
During the two-week visit to the United States, the Scottish students and their Jefferson hosts visited a variety of cultural, historical and entertaining destinations.
The day after the Hermitage Academy students arrived, they spent the day in Atlanta at Six Flags.
Then, they headed to St. Augustine, Fla. There they visited historic locations around the area, saw alligators at a farm and saw the beach.
Throughout the remainder of the trip the Atlanta Cyclorama, aquarium and Martin Luther King Center were visited as well as areas closer to Jefferson such as Shields-Ethridge Heritage Farm.
“A lot of people in Scotland think the U.S. is New York, Las Vegas and Disneyland, and coming to Georgia lets them see America is more than those three places,” said Geoff Urie, principal at Hermitage Academy.
For the students, the most memorable part of the trip is the friendships they have formed.
“We all fit so well together. It’s like one big, giant family,” said Isabella Hisky, a junior at Jefferson.
“I pretty much have a family of 40 now,” said Shelby Webb, also a junior at Jefferson.
Webb’s exchange partner Sara Gilchrist agreed that the best part was the people, saying that she and Webb were like sisters.
Some students have already begun planning trips to visit each other again.
“I would definitely recommend it, it was the best experience I’ve ever had. I’m definitely planning on going back to Scotland and hope he’ll come back to here,” said John Burton, a senior at Jefferson of his exchange partner Jack Turnball.
Jefferson students have already taken their turn overseas, during the summer.
The program is in its 13th year.
At Jefferson, any rising junior or senior is eligible to apply. Applications are accepted before Christmas break, and participants are chosen by the end of January. Smith says that there are usually more than 80 applicants for the 20 spots available.
Once the Jefferson candidates are chosen, students fill out biographies which are sent to Scotland. Those biographies are used to choose appropriate Scottish partners for the Jefferson students.
By early April, the students are told who they have been paired with and begin using social media site to get to know one another.
The cost of the trip for Jefferson students is the price for half their airfare and any spending money they use while in Scotland. The Jefferson City School System pays for the other half of the student’s airfare, and there are fundraisers to help students pay for their half.
“No one has not gone on the trip because they couldn’t afford it,” said Smith.