I made a big decision 11 years ago. It’s had a wonderful impact on my life, and I’m so, so glad I did it. I just didn’t really know why I did it at the time.
What I did was decide to study abroad in Scotland for a semester. Really, the only thing that would have made this decision even better would have been if I’d decided to go for an entire year. But I’m not going to get all hung up about that. People asked me why I chose Scotland. I got a lot of funny looks when I said, “Well, I don’t know...” It’s not like I was going to say “I’m going for the haggis, duh.” Or, “I hear the weather is fabulous in the winter.” Or, “God, I love bagpipes.” I really didn’t know why I chose Scotland. I just wanted to go.
So off I went to have a blast of a semester abroad. I laughed at highland cows (or “coos”, if you’re saying it in Scottish brogue). I hiked the tallest mountain in the UK (Ben Nevis - it’s not all that tall). I taught my Scottish friends what brownies are. I tried haggis. I learned how to arrange music for a string quintet. I sang in a choir so dreadful that the end-of-semester concert was cancelled. I found out what an electric kettle was and deemed it the best appliance ever. I drank a lot of beer and a lot of tea. And I really didn’t want to come home.
The biggest thing this semester did was just add more fuel to my travel fire (mwahaha). But 11 years and 20 countries later, I still couldn’t really say why I ended up in Scotland.
Until two weeks ago.
I was sifting through some of my parents’ old, mostly unnecessary paperwork from decades and decades ago. I think I’m single-handely responsible for choking a shredder somewhere in southern Alabama. But in my quest to get the Guinness World Record for the World’s Largest Pile of Paper to be Shredded, I stumbled across something of my father’s: a Fulbright Scholarship application from 1952. To study the origins and defining characteristics of the poetry of Robert Burns. In Scotland.
“No &*%^ing way!” I think I actually said that out loud. His proposal included researching works in the libraries at the major universities, including the University of Glasgow, where I studied. His main geographical area of concentration though, was to be Ayrshire, Burns’ birthplace.
I tried to hatch a plan to go to Stonehenge one weekend with my friend Lydia, only to scratch it because of the cost. But we were going to go somewhere, dadgum it, and we somehow settled on the town of Ayr, about an hour south of Glasgow.
We didn’t even know that this was the birthplace of Robert Burns until we arrived. But hey, that’s pretty nifty, so why not start walking 2 miles south of town to the cottage he was born in? We did just that. We also checked out the Robert Burns monument and gardens. And then we decided to go in search of some castle ruins on a cliff (Greenan Castle), which necessitated slogging through muddy fields and crawling through barbed wire fences.
This was one of the most memorable weekend jaunts of my time in Scotland. After telling my voice teacher in Glasgow about the trip, she decided to have me try singing some song arrangements of some of Burns’ poetry.
Of course, all of this seemed completely random and inconsequential at the time. But maybe this was why I wanted to go to Scotland without knowing it. I don’t think my father was granted the scholarship. Either that, or he wasn’t able to take it because he was drafted back into the military not too long after he submitted the application. I didn’t find any further documentation about it. So my father wasn’t able to go to Scotland. But I was. So maybe that’s why I went. What do you think?