How does one put into words the most incredible experience of their life? This is where I try my best to describe it to you.
I saw the poster. Geology Field Experience 2023: The Geology of Scotland. It was lying on the desk in the geology offices. I can recall the feeling of my heart lodging in my throat. Immediately, I went to Dr. Brock-Hon, one of my professors listed as a leader of the expedition on the poster. She confirmed. There was no hesitation in my decision – only determination. My name would be on that roll, somehow.
And then it was. Better than that, I was joined by some of my favorite classmates that I had met through previous classes. Two of my favorite professors – both brilliant, respected geologists – led the class, instructing us on the fantastic geology of Scotland. Every week, I grew more and more eager for the trip to come. As a geology student with a passion for the science, I couldn’t fathom an opportunity better than this – to study geology in the very place it has its roots as a science. Each week, I studied the rich geology of Scotland. Part of those studies included selecting a topic relative to Scotland that I would present to my fellow classmates both in the classroom and in the field once there. My selected topic was the extinct volcano of Edinburgh – Arthur’s Seat.
Once in Scotland, my field presentation was the first of the trip. We were guided up the volcano by a local geologist who (as kind and fun as he was) nearly stole my thunder, feeding us all the information I had read up on prior to the journey. Thankfully, we stopped halfway up the ascent at a lovely overlook, before our guide had the chance to finish sharing all the material I had prepared and memorized. There, overlooking the city of Edinburgh and a few of the geologic features we had just visited, I presented my knowledge of Arthur’s Seat to the class – and the local, professional geologist who knew much more than I did. Despite that last nerve-wracking factor, my presentation was applauded, and I was able to discuss relevant thoughts and ideas with our guide as we continued our ascent. Until, that is, we reached a point where I had to make a challenging decision: summit Arthur’s Seat, or take an easier path with geologic interests. After a moment’s hesitation, my legs seemed to move on their own, carrying me up the remaining stretch of steep hill. I had studied this location for months. I read books, scoured the internet, made flashcards and PowerPoints, and now I was going to summit it. Eight hundred twenty-three feet above Edinburgh, the wind was voracious, laying claim to hats and anything else that was not held tight. That included my balance, as I was shoved by gusts from left and right. But I did it. I reached the top, and what a moment it was. It felt like the wax seal on a letter I had written to someone far away. I stored that deep sense of accomplishment and amazement in my heart, and I relish in it now.
This was only the beginning of the trip. The days that followed were that of something out of a story book. Scotland is a wonderland of geologic marvels, offering landscapes carved out by Earth’s processes. From James Hutton’s iconic unconformities, to the three glacier-formed Sisters of Glencoe, to the landslides that gave us the Old Man of Storr, the Fairy Pools, and beyond. At every stop, we applied the theoretical knowledge learned in the classroom to our now hands-on situation. Guided by our professors and the occasional local geologist, we pieced together the history of Scotland on Earth. Reading the rocks like a book, they tell us fascinating stories of ancient seas, volcanic activity, tectonic plates colliding, and the sheer power of glaciers to reshape the surface.
Though a study abroad trip, academics was not the only focus; it allowed us to delve into the rich cultural heritage of Scotland. The locals absolutely aided in that experience – all kind, lively people willing to share bits of their culture with us. The Scottish castles, traditions, and delicacies that we experienced made it even more memorable and immersive. The cherry on top of this once-in-a-lifetime trip was the camaraderie amongst the group. Lifelong friendships were forged in that cramped van, in the hostels that somehow felt like home, and on those grueling hikes. The passion for geology that we all shared fueled intellectual discussion and curiosity, while the shared sense of humor kept spirits high and laughter frequent.
In conclusion, the short two weeks abroad was a transformative experience. It fanned the flames of my passion for geology and fostered personal growth. It was all over too quickly, but the memories I have from it are invaluable. The goodbyes at the end were the hardest part as I said farewell to Dr. Mies, my retiring favorite professor, and to my recently graduated friends, most leaving shortly after the trip for graduate school. As I reminisce now, there are so many moments I look back on fondly. As an adult student supporting herself through college, it would have been the worst decision to let fear and doubt prevent me from choosing to study abroad. This experience has truly been the best two weeks of my life. Perhaps all my previous lack of luck was saved for this adventure. Perhaps the stars aligned, and the universe granted it to me. Whatever the case, I am eternally grateful for the opportunity. To anyone that may be considering studying abroad, this is your sign. Do it.
Amber Newbille (BS Geology) spent part of July 2023 participating in a faculty-led trip to Scotland with the Geology department. Amber had the following to say about studying abroad, “The world is both bigger and smaller than we realize. Explore it to every end.“
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