By Grayson Mynatt
After their sophomore year, each cohort travels and studies abroad together as a group. The Haslam Scholars Program recently developed a relationship with the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where the 2012 cohort studied over the summer and future cohorts will study as well. Here, Grayson Mynatt describes the experiences of the group.
As I sat for high tea at the Scottish Royal Botanic Gardens, sipping my London Fog and eating delicious scones with some of the other scholars, I thought I had reached the pinnacle of my Scottish experience. I always imagined teatime as the defining depiction of British culture, but as I spent a month in Scotland I was able to learn so much more about their people, their values and interests, and their way of life. Scotland far exceeded the expectations of our entire class.
During our stay in Edinburgh, most of us had the opportunity to work with tutors who had similar academic interests and goals. Our tutors gave each of us a unique experience through lectures, thesis advice, and experiential knowledge. Katie Lou Rogers, Chris Barnes, and I shared a tutor who taught us about communicating science to the public, something she was very passionate about. I think she tried to instill in us the same level of passion for our own interests that she had about her scientific outreach and research.
We also had a series of lectures from different professors and tutors concerning their dynamic fields of study. Topics included the Scottish Enlightenment, the fast-approaching Scottish independence referendum and its implications, a study of stress as a factor in obesity, scientific engagement, and a guided tour of famous works of art in the Scottish National Gallery. These lectures provided us with a greater appreciation of the dynamic fields in academia and certainly engaged us in stepping outside of our usual field of study.
One of the most helpful, albeit challenging, components of our study abroad experience was the 3,000-word paper we each wrote about our thesis-related research. For some of us, our research began many months before our trip to Scotland through independent research at UT. For others, Scotland was the first chance to delve into research related to a particular thesis project. The paper ultimately ensured that each of us had laid a good foundation for our area of interest.
On the weekends, we went on amazing tours on the Hairy Coo tour bus. The only thing better than the tour bus was our guide, named Russell, complete with his hairy coo hat and expansive knowledge about Scottish history. He took us to Saint Andrews, a small town with a rich history, boasting Scotland’s oldest university. He also took us to several Scottish castles, giving us the history relevant to each one. We even visited the castle where the opening scene of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed. Overall, these extracurricular group trips were one of the highlights of the program.
Even though we were very busy, each of us still had ample time to explore Scotland on our own. Several of us climbed Arthur’s Seat, the main peak in Scotland, providing a great panoramic view of Edinburgh. Some of us also went to Glasgow to watch the Commonwealth Games, a competition similar to the Olympics. We also went to see the Royal Scottish Symphony perform in Glasgow. Other scholars decided to make a trip to Loch Ness and Inverness in the north. A group of us took a day for ourselves at the beaches of the North Sea in North Burwick. Most of us jumped into the freezing waters simply to boast that we swam in the North Sea in Scotland.
During our final days in Scotland, we had the opportunity to attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world, which takes place for three weeks each August. One play that I saw with several other scholars was about Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. The Fringe offered limitless options for entertainment, and every event I went to was top-notch.
Overall, Scotland was a great cultural experience for our class. We got to know each other in new ways through living together, group dinner, discussions, and excursions. We also were given tremendous resources and freedom to pursue our unique research interests.