By Joel Hall
For 18-year-old Michael Campbell, a native of Scotland in America for the first time, the South is an exciting new world of sweltering heat, eight-lane highways and ubiquitous fast-food restaurants.
Over the next year, Campbell, who is from the Edinburgh suburb of Livingston, will learn more about the food, culture and people of Clayton and Henry counties as a sponsored student of the Georgia Rotary Student Program.
Since 1946, more than 3,000 international students have studied in Georgia through the program. This year, Campbell will join 68 other international students across the state who will take courses at Georgia universities, attend local Rotary meetings, and learn about American culture through host families. Campbell is being sponsored by both the Clayton and Henry county Rotary clubs.
According to Campbell, class field trips and student exchange programs have previously taken him to China, Germany, France, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands. While not new to travel, Campbell said he is excited about exploring the diversity of the Southern Crescent as a student at Clayton State University.
"This is a new experience because you get people from all over [the world] going to Clayton State," Campbell said. "In Edinburgh, you just have Scots. Just from the orientation, I could tell that this is going to be so different."
Jerry Murphy, membership chairman of the Clayton County Rotary Club, will also serve as a host parent for Campbell. He said the idea of the program is to create friends abroad through mutual understanding.
"This [program] is unique to Georgia," Murphy said. "It is not an exchange program. One of the parts of the program is to teach them as much as possible about America, so when they go back, they can be an ambassador for us there. It's world peace through understanding."
James Withers, president of the Henry County Rotary Club, said the Georgia Rotary Student Program has, historically, created "strong bonds" between students and their host families. He said in the past, both the Henry and Clayton Rotary clubs have hosted students from Lebanon, Sweden, Finland, Colombia and New Zealand, and that the program offers a learning experience for everyone involved.
"A lot of times, their [the students'] notion of what it is like to be in the United States is completely different from the reality," Withers said. "They get exposure to college life in the United States, but more importantly, they get exposure to families in the United States. It wouldn't surprise me if a lot of these kids become Rotarians in the future."
Murphy said Campbell was picked to participate in the program out of a select group of students nominated by Rotary clubs in different parts of the world. He said throughout the year, Campbell will join other students in the program in cultural excursions, special activities and other learning experiences.
Murphy said he believes Campbell will be able to stand out with his "friendly," "out-going" personality.
"He talks well to people and he's not shy ... That's all good for what we are trying to accomplish," Murphy said. "We want to pick the best people who will be able to go back, become leaders, have influence, and hopefully be our friends."
Campbell, who will be taking general first-year courses at Clayton State University, said he hopes he can serve as "an Ambassador of Scotland" in Clayton and Henry counties.
"The people are a lot more friendly and open" in Georgia, he said. "When you're walking down the street, people will say hi to you. When you are over there [in Scotland], people kind of look down at the ground. It's pretty much the heat that's knocking me out at the moment. It makes you a little more tired earlier, but I'll survive."