- Associated Press - Saturday, April 19, 2014

PENDLETON, S.C. (AP) - A class full of fourth-graders at LaFrance Elementary School let out a collective “Wow” when David Gray told them that if they asked for “chips” in Scotland, they would receive an order of french fries instead of potato chips.

Without letting up, the students grilled Gray and Peggy Maclennan with questions about their homeland, Scotland.

“Is your school in a castle or a school like this?” one girl asked.

“What does Scotland look like?” one boy asked.

“Do you play football in Scotland?” another boy asked.

Gray and Maclennan attended to each query. Yes, they have had, at one time, a school in a castle in Stornoway, Scotland, Maclennan said. Yes, they play “real football” in Scotland, Gray said, laughing a little. “You call it soccer over here.”

And well, what does Scotland look like? “It is beautiful,” Maclennan said. “There are mountains and beautiful beaches.” Gray added, “We live in a little village, but we have big cities in Scotland as well.”

For 30 minutes, the class fired away with questions. All the while, Gray and Maclennan wore smiles - clearly happy to have the chance to answer the queries.

They were happy to be here because for them, it is a return trip. Like a homecoming.

“It is wonderful, being able to come back,” Gray said.

Fifteen years ago, he was here when he was an 17-year-old high school student. And, 17 years ago, Maclennan was here, also as a high school student.

They are among the hundreds of students who have learned about South Carolina and Scotland by traveling to the countries through the Sister Cities program in which Pendleton and Stornoway, Scotland, participate.

Both of them heard of the program through their schools.

At first, Maclennan said she was a bit nervous about coming to America and staying with someone she’d never met. So she agreed to host an American student, one from Pendleton, first.

News of such a trip was a big deal in their school, both of them recalled.

“It’s America,” Maclennan said, her eyes sparkling. “It’s the place where movies are made. And, when I came in 1997, everyone here, it seemed, had mobile phones.”

Gray said, “I came because I wanted to see what life was like in America.”

In a journal that he kept about that first visit, in 1999, he wrote, “I want the opportunity to make new friends with people our own age.”

Like the current fourth-graders, Gray and Maclennan each had tons of questions about life and culture across the Atlantic Ocean.

But the funny thing is, they said, is that much of what they discovered then - and are still discovering - is that there are many, many similarities between the two places and their people.

Gray said he finds it interesting to hear that the ways in which they relax and unwind at home are much the same as here in Pendleton. There are games, sports, youth clubs and lots of opportunities to volunteer.

Or take for example, Gray’s journal from 1999.

The entries sound much like the thoughts of any teen boy. He wrote about the airplane journey, noting the movies he watched (“Antz” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer”). He wrote about his trip to the Haywood Mall in Greenville and to Six Flags in Georgia. And how he stayed out in the sun way too long on his first trip to the beaches of Charleston.

His worst time on the trip: when he had to leave his host family in Pendleton.

“Before our visit to the theme park, we had to leave our hosts … with the strong possibility of never seeing them again,” Gray wrote. “This was the worst time on the trip - leaving my new family.”

Now, they are both teachers.

For Maclennan, this is her third visit to Pendleton. And for Gray, it is his first time coming back since that eventful trip he took in 1999.

They were here, this time, leading a new group of high school students on this exchange program. Again, journals were being kept and new discoveries were being made. On a recent Saturday, the group from Scotland was scheduled to take the stage at the Pendleton Spring Jubilee and perform some dances.

The learning for them has continued. But now, they come knowing some things, too, they said.

For instance, Gray said he knew he would come over this time and feel at home almost instantly. Because that happened on his first trip.

Maclennan knew she would love seeing, again, the similarities and differences between the two places.

“I love seeing the things about us that are the same, and the things that are different,” she said. “Children are really the same, the world over.”


Information from: Anderson Independent-Mail, https://www.andersonsc.com

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