A life-changing experience
Hannah Sharp, an exchange student from England, had always heard about Southern
hospitality, but faced a dilemma when she experienced it for the first time.
“I wasn’t entirely sure how to respond to people I didn’t know who greeted me
on the street,” she says. “They’d say ‘Hello, how are you?’ when they were about
level with me, but when I went to reply, they’d already be past. Do I carry on
the conversation, even while we’re walking away from each other? That took some
getting used to.”
It was that openness that endeared the South to Hannah, who spent the last academic
year at LaGrange as a Georgia Rotary Student Program.
“People are much more friendly here, so much more interactive with strangers,”
she says. “The experience of America as a country has been very different. Although
it’s the same language, it’s completely different – the culture, weather, food
– everything's a lot more different than I expected it to be, considering that
it was still Western culture.”
Even the approach to higher education is unlike what Hannah is used to in England.
“Here in the U.S., you can choose your classes and your major, you can even change
your major if you want to,” she says. “But in the United Kingdom, you don’t apply
for a university, you apply for a course. I will be doing primary (elementary)
education, and that is all I will study for three years. Nothing outside that area.”
So Hannah was thrilled to be able to sample subjects that interested her – especially
“My big passion is theater, so it's really wonderful to have a year to study it,”
she says. “One of the great things about LaGrange College theatre department is
that you're also involved with other things, so I've learned about props and building
sets, which is something I would have never had the opportunity to do at home.”
She also had the opportunity to appear in all three of the program’s productions.
She says the fall show, “Metamorphoses,” was very interesting because of the multi-casting.
“We all played multiple roles,” she says. “We got to be narrators, gods, regular
people. It was fun, but it also was a serious play with deep messages.”
The winter production, “An Evening with Tennessee Williams,” was the end result
of a Jan Term course.
“We were able to travel to the places where Tennessee Williams was born, grew
up and worked,” she says. “We visited sites in Mississippi and on to New Orleans,
which was fantastic. It made it easier to see his plays from his point of view.”
But it was her last show at LaGrange that Hannah enjoyed the most.
“‘The 39 Steps’ was so much fun. It was an extremely fast-paced comedy.”
Hannah says she wasn’t on stage very much in the first half of the production,
but she was able to sit in the wings and watch.
“It was so exciting, getting that wonderful vibe from the audience. Everyone was
laughing and I got very excited to go on stage. It’s a really, really great feeling.”
Because the play was set in England, Hannah served as a dialect coach.
“D.J. Grooms, the star of the show, was pretty good with his English accent, so
I just helped with some words,” she says. “He had trouble with the word ‘Sorry.'
Two of the actors shared many roles that required several accents.
“We worked mostly on their Northern accents because they were already pretty good
with their Cockney London accent,” she says. “Considering how small England is,
there is a surprising amount of variation in the accents.”
There was one course in particular Hannah says she will be able to use in her
“I took a class called Creative Dramatics where we worked with puppets and the
dramatic interpretation of poetry aimed at children,” she says. “We actually went
into a number of schools to work with the children. It was a wonderful experience
that will transfer home with me.”
Home for Hannah is the small town of Gillingham.
“It’s in the southwest of England in a county called Dorset,” she said. “It is
a beautiful part of the world.”
While she says she missed her family while in the States, she wouldn’t trade her
experience for anything – especially her time spent with other Rotary scholars.
“We spent a lot of time together on weekends learning skills like diplomacy and
community service that we can incorporate when we get home,” she says. “We’ve formed
friendships with so many people from so many different cultures – Lebanon, Turkey,
South America, Denmark, Sweden, Zimbabwe, literally all over the world. These
things will stay with us for a lifetime. We all are incredibly grateful for this