Scotland has a reputation of being a misty island of rolling green hills and gloom. “But it’s really just been occasional rain with sunny days in between,” says Charis Blake, an Ohio Wesleyan junior studying abroad in Scotland. “Kind of like Ohio.” But even after this disenchanting description, Charis is quick to rebuild an image of ancient lands and history you can touch.
Charis tells me about visiting Stonehenge, a bucket list item of hers. “Did you know there’s a road right next to it?” she says. “People drive past Stonehenge every day on their way to work like it’s nothing.” In America, where most of the oldest feats of human effort are no older than four hundred years old, the ancient becoming mundane sounds unimaginable.
“It was like when I went to Greece. I stood on the Acropolis and could look down on the modern city. It didn’t feel right,” says Charis. “And back in Scotland, you can see a 600 year old building right next to a brand new one, and the streets can be confusing because they’re just so old.” The first time she saw the Castle Sands, a castle ruin on the shore of the North Sea, has become a core memory of hers (see cover photo). But it’s not all man-made views and monuments. From the windows of her classrooms, Charis can even see the ocean.
University of St. Andrews
Charis is now in her second semester abroad in Scotland, studying at the University of St. Andrews, and she fits right in. When she’s not attending lectures for her comparative literature and psychology classes, she’s often playing rugby or reading everything from bizarre Spanish plays to banned books for her classwork.
“I applied to St. Andrews for multiple reasons,” explains Charis. “It has a comparative literature program so that I could finish my major. My girlfriend attends the university full time, so this gave us a year where we are not long distance. And I’ve always wanted to visit Scotland.”
Charis’ mother had traveled abroad during college, and the desire to continue the tradition informed Charis’ decision to choose Ohio Wesleyan University with its study abroad programs for her undergraduate degree. When the comparative literature program was cut a few years ago, “my desire to study abroad escalated,” says Charis. The Guardian recently ranked St. Andrews #1 for Best UK Universities and #3, just below Oxford and Cambridge, for Best UK Universities for Modern Languages and Linguistics. 1 2 Two of the most interesting comparative literature classes she has had the opportunity to take are Performing Early Modern Sexuality and Bad Books, a class on banned books.
“This semester, I only have two class days, Wednesday and Thursday. So more often than not I’m not in class but rather studying on my own in a classroom somewhere,” says Charis. She has several classes around St. Salvator’s Quad, the university’s “mediaeval heart.” 3 The initials of Protestant Patrick Hamilton are decorated into the quad’s cobblestones to memorialize where he burned at the stake in 1528. Today, religious feuds at St. Andrews are a little less… fiery. “And students always avoid stepping on it because if we do we’ll fail our exams,” says Charis, a legend that also protects the stones from daily wear and tear. The seal outside University Hall at OWU carries a similar threat, and students here take care to step around it.
This semester, a number of faculty have been on strike for living wages, so Charis has had more time than usual on her hands. “On Wednesdays, I attend my seminars in the morning and typically have rugby in the afternoon. All UK universities play sports on Wednesdays, and they actually have to end classes by the afternoon so athletes can compete.”
Being in Europe offered Charis the chance to travel outside Scotland as well. “Over fall break, I went to Greece which was a really cool experience; I traveled from Crete to Athens, spending a few days in each place. Over winter break, I was able to travel around Italy, the Czech Republic, and London, with an overnight in Paris.” Besides the Acropolis in Greece, she got to see ancient architecture such as the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
It was while traveling that Charis also found some of the best coffee and food. “I don’t frequently drink tea, though I do like Yorkshire tea. But in Scotland the coffee is pretty bad. I had very good coffee throughout Greece, Italy, and France— ordering especially in Greece was very interesting. There was also a very delicious breakfast with some tasty orange juice in France that was the best I have ever had.”
Connecting Back Home
“[The AMRS program] definitely influenced my enjoyment of Greece and Italy because of the connections I was able to make in both countries to class materials.”
Charis’ connections to the Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance program here at Ohio Wesleyan, studying things such as liminal spaces and medieval poetry, have been helpful as she transitioned overseas. “I would say that AMRS encouraged me in my study abroad endeavors in the interactions that I have had with the faculty,” she says. “It also definitely influenced my enjoyment of Greece and Italy because of the connections I was able to make in both countries to class materials.”
Studying abroad can produce a mixed bag of emotions. “Getting here is probably the hardest part, missing friends is probably the second hardest. Part of me never believed I would make it until I got on the plane in August. I’ve made several friends here, but I also miss my friends and teammates back at OWU.” Scottish rugby has to be exciting, but the pull of home is hard to ignore. “But the best part is not being in America and being able to travel and experience different cultures,” she concludes.
To any students hoping to study abroad, she says, “Definitely do it. Try to plan ahead financially so that you can travel, but also enjoy whatever location you chose to study at. If you go to the UK there is a good chance that at least some of your classes will go on strike at some point which is fine and pretty normal. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you don’t understand something in lectures. Make friends and enjoy the differences.” And maybe bring some coffee from home.
1 “The best UK universities 2023 – rankings.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/education/ng-interactive/2022/sep/24/the-guardian-university-guide-2023-the-ranking.
2“Best UK universities for modern languages & linguistics.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/education/ng-interactive/2021/sep/11/best-uk-universities-for-modern-languages-linguistics-league-table?CMP=gu_com.
3 “A brief history of St Salvator’s Chapel.” University of St. Andrews. https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/about/history/st-salvators/brief/.
Photos courtesy of Charis Blake