Sarah Schatz, right, and some of her fellow American students smile for a photo outside the historic Oxford University campus in England. Schatz is a junior at the University of Georgia.
ALBANY, Ga. — Traditionally, education has been a finite endeavor, bound by the four walls of a classroom and a precise geographic location on the map.
But a number of students who got the basics of their education in Albany have broken down traditional barriers and made the world their classroom.
They all came home to Southwest Georgia for the holidays, but students with Albany ties spent part of 2011 studying in such exotic locales as Cortona, Italy, Oxford in England, at St. Andrews in Scotland, in the West African nation of Benin, in Paris, Australia, Austria and India.
“I knew studying in Italy would be a stepping stone to the rest of my life,” University of Georgia junior Emily Stubbs said. “I came away feeling the experience shaped me in many ways.”
Such sentiment was echoed by Stubbs’ fellow Deerfield-Windsor School graduates Sarah Schatz, who is also a junior at UGA, and Whitcomb Barnhill, a junior at Auburn, and by former Deerfield student Daniel Dorough, who finished his four years of high school at the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School in north Georgia, during holiday conversations.
“The time I spent in Benin was life-changing,” Barnhill, who is an Agricultural Business major, said. “As part of a mission trip, it was amazing to see the spiritual impact our work had on the lives of some of the people in that country, especially the children. And working with the nonprofit Projects for Progress was as educational as any class I could ever take.”
Barnhill made the trip to Benin as part of a mission group representing his friend and former Peace Corps volunteer Jace Rabe’s Atlanta church, but after the weeklong stay, he stretched the trip over the month of June to help with a start-up cashew processing plant that will serve the farmers of the country. Despite its designation as the world’s largest cashew producer, Benin is seeing little monetary return for its crop.
“The money in cashew production is in the processing,” Barnhill said. “But the farmers in Benin process only about 20 percent of their crop in their country. An overwhelming majority is shipped to India, where it is processed. They’re basically given a price for their crops and told to take it or leave it.
“Projects for Progress will use the processing plant to help the farmers in the country and to finance education programs as well as other projects.”
Stubbs discovered her passion for art in a survey course during her freshman year at Georgia, and her decision to major in Art History was confirmed with the trip to Italy, home of many of the world’s acclaimed masters.
“At some point, I made a promise to myself that I would take a semester of art because I had always loved it,” she said. “And ever since I ‘discovered’ Italy in the sixth grade I’ve wanted to go there. When I found out about the program that allows art students to study for a semester in Cortona, I knew it was something I should do.
“I knew almost no one, and I didn’t speak the language. But I decided to follow my gut, my curiosity and my passion, and now I’ve discovered I want more from life because of this trip. In some ways, this is where my life began.”
While Shatz is a declared Biology major, her love for the written word led her to apply for a semester of study at Oxford.
“The director of the program came to talk to one of my English classes last semester, and a couple of my friends and I decided to apply together,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to go to England, and even though the (study-abroad program at Oxford) is more for English majors, I knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.
“Taking classes at Oxford helped me to realize how small the world has become. It was an opportunity to experience another culture and to see how that culture views the world and the United States in particular. I’ve grown a lot as a result of the trip.”
Dorough, who said finishing high school at a boarding school helped prepare him for the distance that would separate him from friends and family while he studied in Scotland, was two days away from graduation and enrolling at UGA when he learned that he’d not only been accepted at his first college choice, the College of William & Mary, but that he’d also been selected for the university’s joint enrollment program with St. Andrews, which was founded in 1413.
“I’d been wait-listed (at William & Mary), so I prepared to go to Georgia,” Dorough said. “I got an email from one of the professors in the joint program saying I’d been accepted, so I started getting everything ready — my visa, finishing paperwork, a whole lot of packing — to head overseas.
“I found out about the joint program when a representative of the program visited our school during my senior year. When I told my dad (Albany attorney Bo Dorough) about it, he did some research and it sounded like something I might want to do. I didn’t think I’d get in, so it was cool to find out I’d been accepted.”
Dorough, who is majoring in History, will study at St. Andrews during his freshman and junior years, and he’ll take classes at William & Mary (in Williamsburg, Va.) during his sophomore and senior years.
“There’s just so much history at St. Andrews,” he said. “The educational and grading system are different, and there are some unique traditions that I’ve had to adjust to. But there’s a sense of camaraderie among the students, and I like that. I’ve had a few misgivings, but all in all it’s been a great experience.”
The magnitude of their experience is a recurring theme among local students who stretched the boundaries of their educational institutions, and in the process confirmed that their possibilities are limitless.