Abroad with ALEC - Scotland 2020 Recap

Scotland 2020 group photo with UGA flag
The group of 15 students enjoy the history and culture of the Scottish countryside as they learn about the country's agricultural and educational practices.

The University of Georgia works hard to provide students with every opportunity to expand their knowledge, build character and open their eyes to their full potential. One way UGA does this is by offering students a chance to study abroad. In the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication, we encourage students to participate in the study away courses we offer, where they can spend time with the professors in our department all over the world, getting hands-on experience in what ALEC looks like worldwide.

This spring, Dr. Eric Rubenstein and Dr. Jason Peake took a group of 15 students to Scotland. Dr. Rubenstein, the faculty leader of the trip, is an Assistant Professor of Agricultural Education here at UGA and serves as the Director of Teacher Education for the ALEC Department. The focus of the trip was for students to better understand food insecurity and what it can look like on a global scale. He feels that Scotland provides the best environment for students to engage in this topic. “We have the ability to see a different approach to education and, at the same time, experience some things that are similar to our way of life here in the United States,” Rubenstein said.

Each day, the students walk together to a nearby school in Dumfries, Scotland, where they teach lessons for a large part of the day. After school they are able to spend time with one another exploring Scotland. The group comes back together in the evenings for dinner with their partners from the host country. This is a special part of the day because the students are able to build connections, learn more about what each of their lives looks like and why they have a passion for food insecurity or agriculture as a whole.

Dr. Rubenstein also took the students on tours of the local buildings. He said, “For many of our students they forget that there are buildings and structures around the world that are older than our country. By visiting Scottish landmarks they are able to see this firsthand. One of the churches in Dumfries was built in the early 1400s.”

The students also had the opportunity to visit local farms and participants in the agricultural industry. This is a very exciting aspect of the trip because it encourages the students to think about how their food is produced and what food production looks like in Scotland compared to the United States.

Dr. Rubenstein said, “The Scottish people truly love to live off the earth and engage in organic agriculture with no additives. This is vastly different than here in the U.S. because the majority of our agricultural production is based on large yields, where the Scottish are concerned with the protection of the environment and they can still achieve the yields needed to feed the country.”

Although the courses that go along with this trip are ag-related, students do not have to be a part of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences to go. This trip can build on the knowledge students already have about food insecurity and agriculture, but it also can open students' eyes to how the agriculture industry plays a role in other industries with which they may be more familiar.

“One of my favorite things that we get to do during the trip is to tour and view the agricultural practices in Scotland,” said Rubenstein. “This year we had a chance to visit a local agricultural college and learn more about their training programs. This was a tremendous opportunity for us to learn more about their post-secondary educational and training programs!”

Understanding what service means and learning new ways to embody that in a career and personal life is another important aspect Dr. Rubenstein hopes the students gain from the trip. “I believe this gives all students an opportunity to see the impact they can have on others not only in our local communities, but around the world,” he said. “I hope that this helps students find other ways that they can engage in service learning throughout their future, whether it is through helping with a soup kitchen or volunteering at a local school. Everyone can have a huge impact on our local communities and the world!”

Outside of the classroom, students were able to try new foods and enjoy the arts. “I try to give the students an experience that they may not get to have on a normal basis here in the U.S. or in some cases in their lives. There are truly two places in the world that live theater is conducted at such a high level … Broadway in NYC and on the West End in London”, said Dr. Rubenstein. “On the final day of the trip, I take the students to a more upscale dinner and then take them to see a Broadway Musical of their choosing. This year the group chose ‘Hamilton.’ Many of the students who get to experience this would not have done so on their own at home, but it opens their minds to the theatrical arts.”

This year's journey to Scotland looked a little different than years passed due to the spread of COVID-19. Dr. Rubenstein and his fellow faculty members worked hard to make sure everyone was kept safe and healthy throughout the trip, taking proper precautions as needed. Thankfully, the threat of the virus only affected one day’s plans, but opened the door to visit famous landmarks and dive deeper into Scottish culture.

Studying abroad in college is a life-changing experience which many students will attest to.  Lauren Pike, a third-year Agricultural Communication student, said, “My trip to Scotland was super special to me because I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would be able to travel out of the country, much less with a group of people that I have become close with. I also never imagined I could learn so much from a study abroad experience. But to my surprise, all of that happened and so much more. This trip to Scotland truly changed my life and has helped shape me into a better person.”

Life after college can be a whirlwind, and it is important to take chances now and build a community that is strong and loyal. UGA faculty and students make any place feel like home. Haley Ballard, a fourth-year Animal Science major said, “This trip was special thanks to the people that were on it. Yes, we saw so many amazing things and went to so many cool places but I could never imagine traveling with anyone else. I became so close to some of my classmates and made new friends that I thought I never would. I also have to give a huge thanks to Dr. Rubenstein and Dr. Peake. They truly made this trip incredible. I had never gotten to know any of my professors before this. It was truly a life changing experience that I will forever be grateful.”

Overall, the 2020 trip to Scotland was safe and successful. It is clear that the students who participated in this trip were able to experience the Scottish culture both inside and outside of the agriculture classroom, while building friendships that will last a lifetime. The ALEC department is proud to have such fine professors who are passionate about providing students the chance to broaden their horizons, while learning about something much bigger than themselves.

By Mary Beth Mallard

UGA students at Hamilton in London
Attendees of the the 2020 Scotland program experienced the musical "Hamilton" during their time in London.
Scottish sheep
Students learn about Scottish agricultural production, including sheep farming. Photo by Anisha Gupta.
United Kingdom Streets
Students explore the United Kingdom streets. Photo by Kaitlyn Dukes.
Calf in Scotland
Students learned about Scottish agricultural practices, including dairy farming. Photo by Krissy Miles.
Visit with Scottish University Students
UGA students visited with Scottish university students during their trip to learn more about the educational differences between Scotland and the United States.