Studying Abroad… in Scotland

Something that we tell every prospective and entering history major at Bethel is that our program’s size and flexibility make it easy to study abroad. Indeed, we encourage every one of our students, if at all possible, to get off-campus for a semester (or to take a J-term trip like the one we’ll be leading next January). Occasionally, we’ll showcase interviews with current students who are studying far from Bethel. Starting today with Katie McEachern (’12), who is wrapping up a semester at Scotland’s oldest university.

1. How’d you decide to major in History? Was it something you knew you wanted to study when you started college, or did you choose it later on?

I came into Bethel as a declared history major, but I didn’t really decide to stick with it until half way through my freshman year. History has always been one of my favorite subjects, but I was unsure if it was something I wanted to study in college and use for the rest of my life, and I also wanted kind of wanted to major in Political Science instead. Then I realized that I could double major, and that I loved learning about history…. and there was no turning back.

2. When’d you first think about studying abroad? How did you pick your destination? (If you had the chance to do a second semester abroad, where would you go?)

I knew I wanted to study abroad before I even came to Bethel; it was never really a question for me. Two of my cousins, who are both Bethel alums, studied abroad for a semester, and after hearing their stories I couldn’t not go for myself.  When my roommate studied abroad as a second semester freshman, because it was the only time she could fit it in her schedule as a bio major, it kind of solidified my desire to study abroad.

Katie McEachern with a statue of Adam Smith
Katie in Edinburgh next to a statue of the great Scottish economist Adam Smith

I chose Scotland because I’ve always wanted to visit, and from hearing others talk about their time in Scotland, it sounded like an interesting place to study abroad. I chose the University of St Andrews, among other reasons, because it was Scotland’s oldest university [founded 1413], and of course as a history major I love old places. It seemed like a logical choice. This university was founded before the printing press was invented. There are ruins of not only a cathedral, but also a castle meters away from me right now. Come on.

But if I could take another semester abroad, I would probably go either to a school in London or in Spain. Spain was really cool when I visited, although I’d have to drastically improve my meager Spanish skills. And I hung out with a group of study abroad students from London when I first got here, and they each  loved London so much they wanted to transfer. It was a pretty cool city.

3. What’s been most enjoyable about your experience abroad? Most challenging?

The most enjoyable part of my time here has probably been a combination of the friends I’ve made and the places I’ve gotten to visit. It’s surreal seeing places you’ve only ever read about before, and it makes the world seem incredibly small. And being able to have the opportunity to meet and get to know people from the UK and from all over the world has been really fun.

The most challenging part has probably been adjusting to the new school system and new surroundings, and figuring out how to balance my desire to visit and enjoy Scotland with the need to finish my school work. It is easy to forget that I am actually here to do school work, too, and not just drink tea and go to Ceilidhs (although what a life that would be…).

4. How has studying abroad broadened or deepened your understanding of history?

The University of St Andrews, and the town of St Andrews itself, is really old. My tutor the other day was telling us during class that the building our classroom is in was built in the 15th century. More than anything else, the antiquity and history inside the town itself, I think, has influenced my understanding of history because it has made me think a lot about how we interact with the history around us–how we build upon and and live amidst history and how it affects us whether we realize it or not. Most of the students and people who live in St Andrews are considerably less impressed by the history of the town than I was when I first arrived, and as an outsider from a part of America where the oldest thing dates back to the 1850s, it was pretty exciting.

My classes have taught me a lot about how to study history, and think critically about the history I am learning. In taking a Anglo-Saxon society course, and a class on the Age of Revolt from 1250-1400, it has been interesting to learn about periods of history in depth that I had never gotten the chance to before.

Read the next entry in this series>>

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