During the Spring 2021 semester, Dr. Brock-Hon told me that an international geology field experience class to Scotland was in the works for 2023. I (semi-)patiently waited through two agonizing semesters to hear more information about the trip. In Fall 2022, the trip was confirmed and I signed up as soon as I could. The opportunity to visit the motherland of geology with two professors whom I admire so much was not something I was willing to pass up.
The field experience class, both engaging and entertaining, was one of my favorites in my undergraduate career. In the semester leading up to our summer trip, each student chose an important geologic location in Scotland and taught the rest of the class about it. Topics ranged from glaciation and isostasy to volcanism in Edinburgh. My chosen topic was the Glencoe supervolcano and subsequent glaciation of the area, which exposed the internal working of the volcano and led geologists to understand subsidence calderas. Being able to visit these locations and put my hands on the actual rocks was a surprisingly emotional thing.
A few highlights of the trip were hiking Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, seeing Stirling Castle, dancing in a Scottish pub, hiking among glacial moraines in Inchnadamph, enduring sideways rain while climbing Knockan Crag, enjoying the peaceful solitude of Lochranza, seeing two of Hutton’s unconformities, hiking the ever-so-steep trail to Old Man of Storr, and of course, visiting the mystic Glencoe. It’s impossible to visit Scotland and not be mesmerized by the landscapes. Luckily enough for us, we were able to learn about them through professor- and student-led discussions at almost every destination we visited.
My favorite day (or at least one of them – it’s difficult to choose) was on the Isle of Skye. We started the day off with breakfast at our hostel, then made the short trip to the Sligachan River to learn about the North Atlantic Igneous Province. There is an old Scottish legend that states that if you stick your face in the river for seven seconds, you will be granted eternal beauty by the faeries. Without hesitation, almost the entire class participated (and I think it worked for me, at least). From there we traveled to Old Man of Storr and learned about mass wasting on the Isle and got to climb the trail to the base of the massive rock feature. Although tired after the hike, everyone was in high spirits. We visited a fossil museum and Staffin Beach to (unsuccessfully) find dinosaur footprints. Around midday, we stopped in the quaint town of Portree for some lunch and shopping. Although crowded with summer tourists, the shops were cute and the ice cream hit the spot. On the drive back to our hostel, we took a small detour to the Fairy Pools at the base of the Black Cuillins. After a short, yet rainy hike, we reached the crystal clear pools. A few of us were brave enough to get in the frigid water, which was a personal highlight of the trip for me. We made the cold and wet hike back to the van and went back to our hostel for the evening. Even just a few weeks after the trip, I think back so fondly to this day.
Although a two-week trip, loads of hiking, foreign food, hostel-living, and constant company of classmates might sound daunting, I promise that it is not.
I can’t give enough praise to Dr. Mies and Dr. Brock-Hon for planning and leading this trip. Their knowledge of the area, preparedness for lectures during hikes, and excitement for geology during the trip made the experience incredibly enjoyable. Dr. Mies had printed geologic maps and short lectures prepared while we were hiking. Dr. Brock-Hon created a Glacial Bingo card for everyone, so even on long bus rides we were looking out the windows observing the landscape.
On this trip my classmates became lifelong friends and I feel so fortunate to have been a part of this group. No other combination of people could have made this experience more perfect.
Together we lived – and laughed – through grueling hikes, interesting bus drivers, “rubbish” weather, hostel-living, and each other’s cooking.
Two weeks was not enough; two months, not even two years, wouldn’t have been enough time in this beautiful country, with those beautiful rocks, and those beautiful people. This trip was the best two weeks of my life, and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in broadening their horizons.
Sera Thomas (BS Environmental Science) spent part of July 2023 participating in a faculty-led trip to Scotland with the Geology department. Sera had the following to say about studying abroad, “This was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I encountered new food and new culture, made lifelong friends, and got to explore the geology of Scotland up close and personal. If you’re interested and able to – study abroad. It’s worth it.“
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