Written by Kimmy Bress
There is great value in traveling abroad, not only for the cultural exposure but also for the opportunity to learn about oneself in an unfamiliar environment.
One of my favorite aspects of the Haslam Scholars Program is its emphasis on learning through exchange. This exchange can take many forms: from scholar to scholar, scholar to mentor, or scholar to environment.
The University of Edinburgh and surrounding city, vibrant with both subtle familiarity and explorative novelty, was a place in which I experienced these exchanges to their fullest extent.
The City of Edinburgh is one of great historical depth, accompanied by an aura of enthusiasm for tradition and value for preservation. One could spend a lifetime in Edinburgh and never fully experience the breadth of its cultural, social, and academic offerings. The one-month duration of the Haslam Scholars study abroad program challenged me to learn about the city with voracity, seeking out every opportunity to engage with an environment so different from the rolling hills of Tennessee. My favorite memories are the afternoons spent in the company of my fellow scholars, traversing the streets of the city, guided by a list of “must-see” sights passed down from the older cohorts.
On a fair-weathered summer afternoon, the parks and gardens in central Edinburgh are filled with people of all kinds. One day after leaving class at the university, we joined these masses. Eating a picnic dinner on the grass, we relished the rare Scottish sunshine for hours, playing Frisbee to the point of exhaustion. On all sides, we were surrounded by similar groups of people, enjoying themselves in the same way.
At first glance, it appeared that the general customs of Scottish culture were comparable to my own. However, each day in Edinburgh led me to discover important differences.
As we ate dinner in the park, I watched a rugby game and a cricket match. I listened to the echoes of distant bagpipes. I appreciated the unfamiliar accents of surrounding voices, their distinct Scottishness a sharp contrast to the Tennessee drawl. A month of living and studying in the city of Edinburgh allowed me to become cognizant of these cultural distinctions, among many others. More importantly, it prompted me to consider the meaning of my identity as a University of Tennessee student within a global environment.
The courses we took at the University of Edinburgh focused on the Scottish Enlightenment, delving into its roots and implications. Although our cohort of Haslam Scholars represents a diverse group of majors, this course allowed us to develop dialogue on the meaning of scholarship, innovation, and the social responsibility of the intellectual.The value of the course and its relationship to the Haslam Scholars Program is best represented by a quote from Scottish historian Alexander Broadie:
“By contemplating together, the thinkers of the Enlightenment had the collective audacity to challenge society and each other.”
In addition to our collective contemplation of the principles of enlightenment, each scholar had the opportunity to conduct an in-depth study of our research topics. After being matched to academic tutors within our field of interest, we were guided in an intense study relevant to our individual academic goals. Working closely with my advisor, I wrote a review of literature pertinent to my research in behavioral neuroscience. From this project I gained a better understanding of my own discipline which made me more academically literate and better able to think critically about the future directions of my research. The combination of focusing on the Scottish Enlightenment and my individual research was both personally and academically formative.
Although the trip takes on a different meaning for each student, the shared memory of our cohort’s time in Scotland is a bond that will persist beyond our time as undergraduates.
The experience of studying abroad brought our cohort together in a way that no other activity has. From discussions of Scottish Enlightenment philosophy to bus rides through the hills of the Highlands, we are able to collectively reflect on both the lessons we learned from Scotland and the parts of ourselves we left there. It is this exchange between the self and the environment which defines the experience of being a Haslam Scholar, both abroad in Edinburgh and at home in Tennessee.