Traveling to another country and living among the residents is always an interesting and educational experience. But visiting the church where a close relative had been baptized 122 years prior takes it to a whole new level.
That is what happened when Emily Coleman visited the Glasgow, Scotland, neighborhood of Gorbels last year and discovered St. Francis Church, the site of her great grandfather's baptism in 1882. "It was an experience I'll always cherish," she recently told the Mount Vernon Rotary Club.
Coleman, assistant director of marketing for the Mount Vernon Estate, was one of a four member team sponsored by the local service club under Rotary International's Group Study Exchange program that traveled throughout Scotland from Sept. 10 to Oct. 8, 2003. She and teammate, Susie Eister of Vienna, Va., related their experiences to the local club that sponsored their trip.
"We were exposed to a very different way of life," Coleman said. "Even though the Scottish culture is very similar to ours it is also distinctly different."
One of the real changes experienced by Coleman and her travel mates was exposure to a contrary point of view of America. "From the people we met we got a very unique perspective of ourselves and America," she said in her presentation.
Eister, an attorney by profession, found the people to be "extremely friendly and always ready to do whatever necessary to make their trip not only enjoyable but educational." She also came across a bit of home during her journey.
"We visited five different castles and we learned that the owner of one of them came to Virginia and eventually settled in the Vienna area," Eister told the group assembled at Cedar Knoll Inn. Coleman also discovered two of the families where she stayed had visited Mount Vernon Estate the previous year.
"It was somewhat strange to find some of our souvenir pieces in a home in Scotland," she said. "It just shows how small the world really is."
ROTARY'S GSE program, sponsored by the organization's foundation, provides "an opportunity for young professionals throughout the world to exchange knowledge and ideas," according to Helen Walutes, a member of the Mount Vernon club.
"Applicants must be between the ages of 25 and 40. They can not have any connection with Rotary to be considered," Walutes explained. The program operates in each of Rotary's districts based in 166 nations worldwide.
Coleman and Eister were part of an exchange between District 7610 and 1230. A Scottish team will be in this area in April, Walutes said. Mount Vernon's next group will travel to Chili in 2005. The club is presently seeking eligible applicants.