LAURINBURG — While most students were planning their summer with work, beach trips and get-togethers with friends, 12 Scotland High students were preparing for a trip of a lifetime. There were passports to acquire, fundraisers to participate in, deciding what to pack, a slew of meetings, figure out money exchanges and much more.
More than 25 years ago, Laurinburg and the city of Oban, Scotland, partnered to become “sister cities.” Individuals from both places worked together to develop the student exchange program that has evolved into the Laurinburg/Oban Exchange.
Now, each year, 10 or 12 high-school students are chosen from each location and paired with a student from the sister city. Those students are united when Scotland High students travel to Scotland for two weeks in June and, in return, again when the Scotland students come to Scotland County in October.
Chosen from Scotland High this year were 11 rising seniors and one rising junior. They were: Haden Allen, Dionysus Dionysus, Hunter Edkins, Jamiah Harris, Miriam Hewett, Liam Lentz, Maddie Litty, Scott Mager, Liza McIntyre, Dawson McQueen, Bailey Sloop and Madison Wilkes.
Chaperones for the trip were Tilisa Adkins and Alyssa Johnson.
“The goal is for our students to grow as people and to embrace a new culture,” said Kelly Ficklin, an assistant professor at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and organizer of the exchange program. “Through this amazing opportunity, lifetime relationships are formed.
“It really is a year-long adventure,” she added.
The anticipation and excitement prior to their 3,666-mile trip from Laurinburg to Oban, Scotland, was soon replaced by the lasting friendships and an extension of family formed while in Scotland.
“I wanted to make new friendships that would last beyond the trip itself,” said Litty, the lone rising junior on the trip, ” and overall, my favorite part (of the trip) was becoming closer to some amazing new friends.”
“Making lasting friendships” and “gaining a second family” were the hopes of Edkins before the trip, each of which were accomplished.
“The sense of family within the group, even after a few days, was awesome,” he said.
McIntyre said her favorite memories will be the family days, group events and the hospitality of everyone — even those who weren’t part of the trip.
For some of the other students, their favorite parts of the trip centered around trying new foods, visiting different locations, the beauty of the countryside and the numerous activities that were planned.
Even the two chaperones had experiences that are now stamped in their memories.
“I was surprised how eco-friendly Scotland is,” said Adkins. “They are very earth conscious … not using paper products extensively like we do in the U.S. I’ll also remember all the food … cakes, cakes, cakes.”
“I really enjoyed the 10-mile walking tour of beautiful Edinburgh,” Johnson said. “It was surprising the smaller sizes of things like cars, roads, appliances and home — it’s a great reflection to think about how much you really need.”
During the two-week stay in Scotland last month, the students were able to take trips from Oban to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Tiree and others.
Now, with the start of the 2018-19 school year looming, the 12 students will also be looking forward to playing the part of host for a group from Oban, Scotland. That visit will take place Oct. 3-18, during which time the visitors from Scotland will be kept busy sightseeing and getting to know the people and area around Laurinburg.
“We’ve already started our monthly meetings to prepare for the arrival of the Scots,” Ficklin said.
Part of that preparation include a number of fundraisers — including two at Pizza Inn (the first is scheduled for Sept. 18 from 4 to 9 p.m.); a Highland Games concessions fundraiser (scheduled for Oct. 6 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.); and the Sunburnt Boys and Girls Canoe Trip (set for Aug. 25) that will include a pig pickin’ and music at Chalk Banks State Park.
“All funds raised for the Sunburnt Boys and Girls is used for scholarships to help fund the trip,” Ficklin said. “All other funds are used to offset expenses when the Scots are in Laurinburg.”
With a track record of more than 25 years sending Scotland County students overseas on exchange trips, there is no thought to discontinuing that tradition.
“We hope the Exchange will continue every year,” Ficklin said. “We start interviews in November or December and we begin monthly meetings to prepare for the trip to Scotland in June. There’s really no down time.”
Anyone wanting to contribute to the Sunburnt Boys and Girls Canoe Trip fundraiser on Aug. 25 can send a check made payable to Sunburnt Boys and Girls in care of Gus Purcell at 708 W. Church St., Laurinburg, N.C. 28351.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-506-3023 or [email protected]