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A tearful guidbye from Jefferson High
Scottish students end their exchange program and head back home, but not without plenty of memories
Scottish students Rachel Gibson, 17, right, and Jenni Galloway, 17, center, both from Helensburgh, Scotland, and Jefferson High School senior Julie Wood, 17, talk Friday before Gibson and Galloway leave for Scotland. The students participated in a student exchange program between a Scottish school and Jefferson High School. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

When you close your eyes and think of Scotland, you may envision men wearing kilts and musicians playing bagpipes, but that is not the case for 18 area students.

When Jefferson High School students conjure up visions of the far away land, they see the smiling faces of their international friends.

For the past 10 years, groups of Jefferson High School students have had the opportunity to immerse themselves in Scottish culture as a part of a student exchange program.

Each summer a group of Jefferson students spends two weeks in Scotland with host families, and each fall those roles are reversed when the Scottish students spend two weeks in Georgia with the Jefferson students and their families.

"Of course the people were great, but I personally enjoyed seeing the countryside," said Tom Buffington, a 17-year-old Jefferson High School student, about Scotland.

"You will never see a more beautiful place. It’s just so green — the grass never dies — and it has these rolling hills. It’s just really pretty."

While in Scotland, the Jefferson students were split between three different communities: Helensburgh, Lochgilphead and Tarbert.

Friday marked the end of the Scots’ visit to Georgia as students and chaperones set off Friday afternoon for the return trip.

In the two weeks that they were in Georgia, Scottish visitors enjoyed numerous activities including a trip to the World of Coke, gem mining in Dahlonega and a tour of the Okefenokee Swamp in South Georgia.

"We went to (an Atlanta) Falcons game, and that was the highlight of the trip for me," said Richard Thomson, one of the Scottish chaperones.

While in Georgia, the international group also got a taste of American fare at various restaurants, and listed Waffle House as one of their favorites.

"Homemade grits have been my favorite food," said Christine Ingles, another Scottish chaperone.

As a Jefferson school bus prepared to take the Scottish students to Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Friday, there was a flurry of teary goodbyes, tight hugs and quick exchanges of e-mail addresses.

Scottish chaperones had to encourage their students to board the bus several times before the group slowly began to break away from the American crowd.

"This is always the toughest part," said Kevin Smith, Jefferson High School principal. "All of the students really bond and become friends."

Jefferson students have been able to participate in the exchange program for the past 10 years, thanks in part to school and community contributions, Smith said.

"This is really a great opportunity for our students," he said. "Parents welcome students into their homes, and the exchange students really become a part of the family."

Although the Scottish students said they enjoyed the trip to Georgia, some admit they came into the situation with some reservations.

"My expectations were that things were going to be awkward, but that didn’t happen," said Mike Donald, a 17-year-old Scottish student.

"We got to know each other and then we all got along really well. I loved meeting everyone and making such good friendships. That was the best part," he said.

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