Fiona of Fulbright

Exchange program brings teacher from Scotland to Betsy

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  She uses words like snogging.
  Fiona Malcolm finds herself in a familiar setting - teaching history in a high school classroom; however, her job for the current school year has relocated her geographically from her native Scotland to Elizabethton.
  "It was more of a culture shock than I thought it was going to be," says Malcolm with a lilting Scottish brogue.
  Malcolm journeyed across the pond to teach history at Elizabethton High School this year as part of the Fulbright Teacher and Administrator Exchange program. Sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs under the U.S. Department of State, the program offers exchange of teachers to schools from the United States with foreign countries such as Senegal, India, Romania, and Chile.
  Malcolm, 28, was one of only 400 teachers selected to participate in the Fulbright Exchange program for the 2004-2005 school year. Her classroom is adorned with the national flag of Scotland as well as a life-sized movie advertisement for Mel Gibson's film "Braveheart", a Hollywood account of the life of Scottish folk hero William Wallace, which Malcolm is quick to point out had many historical inaccuracies.
  After graduating from Glasgow University, she received a post-graduate certificate of education in history and modern studies from Strathclyde University in Scotland. She was hired as a history teacher at Elgin Academy, a school located at Larkhall, Lanarkshire.
  Malcolm says EHS students differ little from those she teaches at Elgin.
  "Kids are just kids," Malcolm says. "The differences come from the actual system itself."
  Do they ever.
  The school day starts one hour later - at 8:45 a.m. and ends at 3:25 p.m. High school in Scotland extends six years and is equivalent to grades seven through 12 in U.S. schools. Students receive graduation diplomas but there is no graduation ceremony. The grade point average system used for academic class rank in most U.S. schools is unheard of in Scotland.
  Malcolm says high school students in years four through six take strenuous final exams in each subject. Unlike the Gateway exams that place an emphasis on specific subjects, final exams in Scotland can cover anything taught each academic class during the school year. The tests require a comprehensive knowledge of the entire subject by a student.
  "They have to study a whole year's work," she says. "Those exams are what you need to get into university."
  Few organized athletics exist in Scotland's schools other than the game of football that the Yanks call soccer. Scotland's schools saw the arrival of high school proms only 10 years ago, Malcolm says. Oh, Malcolm and her colleagues do police snogging - the Scottish slang for kissing - at school dances that have remained popular for many years.
  Interestingly, Malcolm says her home school system could learn a few things about the advantages of athletics within the education system.
   "One area Scotland could benefit from the States is how much focus they put on sports," she says. "They learn teamwork and discipline."
  Despite the differences in educational method, the value placed on an education is not more demanding in Scotland.
   "The whole attitude about education is pretty much the same at home," Malcolm says. "Some people value it, and some people don't."
   Having visited the United States before, Malcolm's travels have taken her to metropolitan areas such as Washington, D.C., New York City, and Houston. She says her first foray into rural America was not what she expected. Much like the legendary hospitality of the Scottish people, Malcolm says the South's reputation for friendliness has lived up to its billing.
   "That is a stereotype I have found to be true," she says.
  She says her most difficult adjustment was getting used to the American dependence on automobiles to travel everywhere. In Scotland, as in most European cities, travel is built around pedestrians and not sprawl developments requiring exits and by-pass highways for access.
  "I'm used to having a town center where everything is in walking distance," she says.
  The genealogical and culture ties of Southern Appalachia to Scotland run deep.
   Scots-Irish immigrants coming to America throughout the 18th and 19th centuries made their way into Southern Appalachia. Those same settlers brought their traditional Scottish music that ultimately evolved into bluegrass and mountain music.
  Malcolm says Scotland has suffered its own brain drain with many of the land's sons and daughters leaving their country for work in England or the United States.
  "One of the biggest things we are facing is the loss of our educated graduates," she says. "They expect (Scotland's) population to fall below 5 million people in less than 10 years."
  Malcolm says she has attended local events such as the Rhythm and Roots Reunion in Bristol and the Celtic Days Festival held at Sycamore Shoals Park earlier this month. She found the Celtic festival particularly fascinating given the interest participants and attendees had in the Scottish and Irish cultures.
  "I think it is great when anyone follows anything having to do with culture and history," says Malcom, who also admits to gaining a taste for the Southern delicacy of cornbread.
   Malcolm's family still lives in Scotland. She has one brother, Douglas, an engineer who resides in Bristol, England. She says her family was thrilled when they learned she had been accepted into the Fulbright program.
  Malcolm says that despite her travels, she has no plans to leave her native land permanently. She'll return to Elgin next year with a year's worth of stories about life in the States.
  "It is an experience I'll probably never get a chance to do again," she says. "I don't know if I would ever move anywhere permanently.
  "I would always want to go home to Scotland."