A Year Abroad in the Athens of the North

Haley Waites, Political Science. Class of 2019.

Minors: international relations and environmental sustainability studies


The first thing I thought of when asked to write about my recent year studying abroad was: how on earth am I going to summarize the best year of my life in one blog post? Well, to begin it all started when my incredible advisor, Dr. Baglione, nominated me to apply for the St. Andrew’s Society of Philadelphia Scholarship. The St. Andrew’s Society is a charitable membership organization that has been around since 1747. It was established to help Scottish immigrants settle in the United States, and since the 1950’s they also created a scholarship fund to send 3-5 students from the U.S. to study in Scotland for a year. The students are sent to either the University of Aberdeen, the University of Glasgow, St. Andrews University, or the University of Edinburgh. After about a year-long application process, including a full day of interviewing, I was lucky enough to be chosen as the student to study at the University of Edinburgh for my junior year.

Fast forward a couple months and I found myself stepping out of Edinburgh Airport into the brisk, rainy weather of a Scottish September with more suitcases than I care to admit. Although I felt strange driving on the left side of the road, I somehow never felt more at home in Scotland’s capital. I remember how I instantly fell in love with the tall grey stone buildings that line narrow streets, set against the dramatic backdrop of Arthur’s Seat, a nearly 1000 foot tall mountain that was once a volcano. Being there feels like you’ve stepped back in time, which makes sense when you learn, as I did the first day I arrived from my cab driver, that the whole city is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s an amazing place, and I couldn’t have been more excited to be there.

Sunset in Edinburgh

The same day I met my roommate for the year, a girl from the middle of England studying graphic design who very quickly became my one of my best friends. After saying goodbye to my parents she and I spent the next week exploring different activities during what the University of Edinburgh rightfully calls Welcome Week. We went on coffee shop crawls, to activity and academic fairs, and even got to attend a Welcome Ball at the end of the week before classes started. Every day I got to do something new and exciting, and I was able to meet tons of people from all over the world.

As the first semester went on I definitely went through a whole lifestyle change. From taking 5 classes or more a week I now only had three, only one of which met up more than once a week. It was a lot of independence and freetime to get used to at first, but after a little while I began to adjust to the different academic style. The courses that I took were some of the best I’ve ever had. I was able to take courses on sustainable development, public policy, and even take an art class that explored Edinburgh’s architecture, culture, and history. Outside the lecture theaters I continued to make more friends and even joined a few of the university’s many student societies. My roommate and I also go to travel around Scotland and venture into the incredibly beautiful highlands, which quickly became my new favorite place on earth. I was even able to travel internationally and got to spend Thanksgiving with many of the other International Relations and Political Science Juniors from SJU who were studying abroad in Belgium. At Christmas time I also spent several days at my roommate’s home where I ate many a Quality Street and hung festive decorations before traveling back to the States to spend the holiday with my family.

The stunning views from the shores of Loch Lomond
Glencoe Valley, a highlight from Haley’s time in the highlands.

Even though I had missed my family and other friends in the U.S. a lot, I was very eager in January to return to Edinburgh and start my second semester. Although, this semester turned out to even more interesting than I thought it would. My courses on British politics, energy policy, and gender and environment studies were great and showed me new perspectives on politics and environmental studies that I never even considered before. However, a new pension program in the U.K. was announced that cut down on pensions considerably and a good majority of the professors at the university went on strike for various times over a month. Then in the same month, Edinburgh got hit with the biggest snowstorm it had seen in years. Although classes were cancelled I was lucky enough that I lived close to Arthur’s Seat and got to climb to the top during a break in the storm.

View from the top of Arthur’s Seat overlooking Edinburgh in the snow.

Thankfully the weather began to warm up by the time I was able to travel to Ireland for St. Patrick’s day and Mallorca off the coast of Spain for a few days during spring break. Before I knew it my final papers and exams came and went, and I still had a month left before my flight back to United States. I was lucky enough that two of my best friends from St. Joseph’s were studying abroad in Galway, Ireland the same semester. Together we were able to plan a backpacking trip through Europe and visited Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, and France over two and half weeks. I have never walked so much or slept so little in my life, but it was so worth it. Together we were able to see so many stunning places in Europe which I never even imagined I would have seen in my life. After the trip I got to spend more time in England with my roommate before heading back to Edinburgh to be picked up by some of my family and return home to the States.

Alyssa Lamont and myself at La Tour Eiffel in Paris, France.

It was a tremendous honor to be chosen to study at the University of Edinburgh, and an opportunity of a lifetime that I thank the St. Andrew’s Society of Philadelphia immensely for. However, I wouldn’t even have received the scholarship were it not for the hardwork and dedication that so many members of the SJU faculty and staff, like Dr. Baglione and Dr. Reynolds, the director of fellowships, and the International Relations and Political Science departments put into helping me apply for the scholarship. Without their help receiving the scholarship and being able to study abroad would have never been possible, so to them I give all my gratitude. The past year was an experience of a lifetime, and one I will never forget. Although I was heartbroken to leave the city I had fallen in love with, I am excited to return to Saint Joseph’s for my senior year. However, I have a strong suspicion that I’ll find my way back to Edinburgh sooner rather than later…University of Edinburgh Graduate class of 2020 perhaps? 



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