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Dixon, Green among MC students thriving in Scotland

Barry McNamara
11/16/2011
Victoria Green gets some hands-on experience studying marine science in Scotland, while Britta Dixon is pictured in front of Eilean Donan Castle.

Victoria Green’s declared major at Monmouth College is biology, but the senior from Pittsfield could also say she is majoring in off-campus study.

During her first three years on campus, Green has already been part of MC trips to Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands and the western U.S. Those short trips have prepared her for what she might call the capstone course of her off-campus studies – a semester abroad in Scotland.

“I can honestly say these experiences have been the most defining of my life,” Green said. “If a student wants to really experience a culture and become immersed in it, a semester abroad is an excellent option for this. It’s also a great way to reflect and learn about oneself, which is really what college is all about.”

Through MC’s exchange program with the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), Green is studying in Oban at the Scottish Association for Marine Science.

The thought of being immersed into a foreign culture can be intimidating to some students, but Green said the level of “culture shock” in Scotland is not extreme.

“I was honestly the most surprised at how much everything was the same,” she said. “People here have accents and use different words, but I think that culturally Scotland and the States are very similar.”

“When we first got here it was shocking that people couldn’t understand our accents,” said Britta Dixon, a senior from Aledo. “We thought, what accents? We love the Scottish accents even more, and we are pretty good at understanding them now, and all the different words they use here.”

Green and Dixon are among a contingent of 17 Monmouth students in Scotland this semester.
“Victoria and Britta’s experiences are evidence as to why overseas study and a Monmouth education are so distinctive,” observed Don Capener, MC’s vice president for strategic planning. Our students all participate in some kind of active learning through faculty student research, small class settings, internships and travel opportunities. Some lead musical plays or groups. Others are elected captains of their sports team or Greek organizations. The exposure all 17 students gain in Scotland will provide the unique experience and global perspective that employers and graduate programs are looking for.”

While the cultures might be similar, Green and Dixon report that the geography is different. When contacted midway through the semester, Green said, “I joined a hillclimbing club, so I’m excited to go on more trips with them. I am looking forward to taking more hikes, seeing even more amazing sites and meeting new and interesting people.”

Hikes are a way of life for Dixon, who is enrolled at Lochaber College in adventure tourism, which is typically a three-year program. Exchange students, however, are mixed into classes from all three levels. After studying in the classroom Mondays through Wednesdays, the students participate in “practical days,” which include going out and doing adventurous activities.

“We have gone on hill walking practical days, a three-day expedition, and the last few weeks we have been doing paddle sports,” said Dixon. “We did a mix of canoeing and sea kayaking. Being on the lochs and the ocean was absolutely amazing, minus when it was raining. The three-day expedition included hiking/hill walking, camping and navigating.”

Green’s focus is on marine science, an area of study that landlocked Monmouth is challenged to provide.

“My university is primarily a research lab with a small undergraduate program,” she explained. “The classes I’m taking now are extremely fulfilling and exciting. I’m learning about things that always interested me, and it has given me the chance to explore what I might want to do after I finish my degree in biology at Monmouth. I think that anyone at Monmouth interested in marine science would love this program.”

Green agreed with Dixon that learning outside the classroom has also been a big part of the trip for her.

“Everyone I have met is really friendly and open, and I was surprised at how quickly I met people and found a niche here,” said Green. “It has also given me the chance to live much more independently and has taught me more about living on my own than if I were on campus living in a dorm.”

Dixon shared that sentiment, noting that she has “learned to take more responsibility for everything. I’ve also learned to take more initiative on life, in general, and not just sit back and let others make decisions for me.”

Dixon did share a story, though, about having to rely on the kindness of strangers, but it wound up being a great example of “paying it forward.”

“Everyone one here is so friendly and welcoming,” she said. “Within the first week of being here in Fort William, we got lost trying to get back home. We ended up going to a gas station because it was getting dark. We had the ladies there help us call a taxi, but we couldn’t even get a taxi home because we didn’t have cash. One of the ladies went to the ATM and gave us 10 pounds for a taxi home. She told us that she had to return that favor of loaning money out to us because when she was in the States as a youngster she was without cash for a taxi, and a lady at a gas station paid for hers as well. We were so grateful!”

She concluded, “I absolutely would recommend studying abroad. This experience is a million times better than I expected, and I am having the time of my life!”

Green agreed. “I’m so glad I decided to come! I love travel, and I always wanted a much more immersive, non-touristy travel experience. Living here, studying and getting to know the locals has been a great experience.”

The exchange program with UHI, a network of colleges and research centers spread across the highlands and islands of Scotland, was initiated this fall. The program was designed to enable students to study abroad at a cost that is minimally above the cost of attending Monmouth.