Study Abroad: The Class of Life Experience
Editor's note: Derek Fye is an English major working in University Relations as a communications assistant. Derek served four years in the Marine Corps after starting his college career at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania. He enrolled at UW-Parkside in the fall of 2015 and spent last semester studying in Scotland. Here is a wee bit of his Scottish experience...
The learning environment provided by institutions of higher education is not only one of great importance for intellectual development, but one with a wide range of opportunities encompassing a variety of life experiences that, in my opinion, can be just as significant as those available in the classroom setting. It is easy to settle into the routine of college life and to forget to actively consider and explore the outside world - the one for which a college or university is supposed to be preparing its students. The best way to prepare for the world is to get out of your comfort zone and go live in it.
Worth the effort
As with most things worth pursuing, this is much easier said than done. The process and all the paperwork does take some time and effort to complete, and of course costs money - like most things in life. However, I do not view these obstacles as bad things. I think they are just a foretaste of an important life lesson: that everything worth doing in life will have some sort of price tag, whether it be physical, emotional, monetary, or what have you. If it were easy, what would be learned from the experience? In the beginning of my stay in Scotland I was faced with the nagging question (at least for me when I’m in a completely new place): what am I doing here? Scotland answered that question faster than any other place I have ever been to. The people are warm and friendly, the food (and drink) is unique and good, and the scenery (whether you’re in the city or outside of it) is absolutely stunning.
The power of being an individual
The most significant lesson I learned from this experience is definitely the power of being an individual. I do not mean that in the march-to-the beat-of-your-own-drummer sense, although that, too, is an important truth. Rather, I mean: be an individual by going completely out of your comfort zone by yourself, trying new things, and meeting new people. I learned this by observing the difference between how people would interact with me when I was alone vs. when I was with a group of other students. This is not to say that hanging out with other students is a bad thing; there were many great students in Scotland, and that certainly is another selling point for this already-incredible experience. However, from my perspective, it was immeasurably more meaningful and enlightening to go out with local residents and get immersed in their culture and their way of life.
Learning is an endless pursuit
During my time in Scotland I learned and experienced a great many things. What stands out the most is the realization that there is no end to the things there are to learn and that travel is a great facilitator in this pursuit of learning. Through travel, you learn things not only about other peoples, cultures, and places, but also about yourself. The simple act of walking around in a foreign country and interacting with the local people can enlighten and educate us in a way that sitting in a classroom never could. The importance of learning about refugees, globalization, high and low culture, and the effects of tourism is now more clear to me than ever before.
I also learned that people will never cease to amaze and inspire me. I found the openness and acceptance of the Scottish culture to be very touching and comforting. The understanding, compassion, and thoughtfulness of my fellow students was also a pleasant surprise, and has partially restored my faith in humanity, and has given me hope for the future knowing that these good people will one day be doing great things to influence the world. One quote that will stay with me from my time in Scotland is by H.M. Tomlinson: "We see things not as they are, but as we are ourselves." This quote and my entire experience last semester has been a humbling reminder that we need to actively work to suspend judgments and assumptions, and to accept people as they are, in addition to trying to see things from their point of view and through the lens of their personal experience.
Cultural access points
One of the most accessible cultural entry points was the Scottish pub culture. From a very early point of my time in Scotland, I was able to feel welcome and at home in the pubs and I made many good friends in these establishments. Because of my age, gender, and the way I carry and present myself, I felt that I fit into the local pub culture, and consequently found it as a great resource to meet and connect with people and to learn about their lives. Pub culture, of course, is about the consumption of alcohol; but it is also about so much more. Pub culture provides many people, including myself, with opportunities for social interaction, sharing of ideas and experiences, and other cultural components such as music and sports. Before I came to Scotland, I would never watch soccer on television (and probably won't now that I am back home). However, watching soccer added great meaning to my time in Scotland, and was reminiscent of watching football with family and friends at home.
Music was another important part of my experience in Scotland. "The Tubby Horse Company" is a local band that plays some weekends in Mayson's - what turned out to be my favorite local pub in Dalkeith. The group plays a mix of originals and covers, and was a good representation to me of the musical culture and tastes of the people of Scotland.
Another aspect of Scottish relationships that I noticed is the recurring theme of a statement: "Mates are Mates." It means that your friends are your friends no matter what, and you will support and defend them in any situation - including a physical altercation that you weren't actually involved with in any way.
The Scottish pub culture provided many interesting conversations ranging anywhere from movies to politics. Many people enjoyed speaking with me, telling me their thoughts, views, and opinions and hearing mine as well. Sometimes the arguments got a bit heated; however I found that respect does go a long way in pub culture, and as long as you are respectful to others, they will show you the same courtesy. After all, mates are mates.