Editor’s note: Chloe Koupal, of Houghton Lake, Mich., is a junior at Alma College. Through the college’s Center for College and Community Engagement (3CE), she participated in an Off-Campus Study program, studying economics at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. This essay is adapted from a survey Chloe filled out about her experiences.
Studying abroad at the University of Aberdeen was a very memorable time. One of my favorite experiences was the first time I traveled to a castle with a few of the local residents. It started off with a train ride to Stonehaven — my first time on a Scottish train — which took place on a track that curls around the North Sea borders. The views were absolutely gorgeous!
Dunottar Castle was amazing, too. The path from the town to the fortress shows so much scenery, from the waves crashing on the cliffs to the sheep pastures surrounding the grassy hills. At the very end of the passage is the castle. It’s chilling to watch the waves from the North Sea crash upon the sides of the peninsula and the landscape around it. They are so powerful!
I also really enjoyed this particular trip because it shows how long the castle has been standing here — it was built sometime between 1400 and 1600 — and how much history has happened around it. I would definitely recommend this castle to anyone who can travel to Scotland in the future.
Another highlight was going to the capital of The Highlands, Inverness — think about mountains, rivers, and rolling hills — for the Scottish ballet. The dancers had not been able to perform this play since 2020, due to the pandemic. The energy and intensity that came off the stage that night left me in absolute awe. It just showed how much work and effort they had put into the play itself to make a work of art so beautiful.
A learning experience
I have tried to keep my mind open to as many opportunities as I can. Sometimes, it’s only by growing “comfortable with being uncomfortable” that we can truly grow.
One area in which I’ve grown is in solving problems despite a fast-paced environment. There are any number of situations that can arise when traveling in an unfamiliar area, and that’s OK. I’ve learned how to slow down, assess the situation and deal with it in the best possible way.
When you’re open to new experiences, it can change your perspective. You put yourself in the shoes of another person, who lives a life completely different from yours, but still deals with the same basic issues that we all face. You see how they solve problems and understand how it differs from the way you do it. It’s a real learning experience, and for that reason, I think every student should do it.
Here’s a good example of that idea in context: One time, I went to a town in northern Scotland called Forres to go whitewater rafting (an absolutely incredible experience, by the way!). The guides that worked for the rafting company were around my age and had all lived in different areas of Scotland, with different stories to tell. After the trip, we talked for a few hours about how contrasting our lifestyles were, and yet, we all came to be in this beautiful place.
It’s the kind of conversation that I couldn’t have had on Zoom or Teams in my residence hall. I had to venture out and talk to someone new. It took some work, but was totally worth it.
Not for the faint of heart
While I think every student should study abroad if they can, I want to emphasize that it’s a big commitment. You will see people who look differently, speak differently, act differently, and view the world differently. Like most young people, this was a new situation for me — sort of similar to coming to Alma College for the first time, but more extreme. It was a little daunting and nerve-wracking, to be honest.
I was in Scotland for about six months, and I believe the long trip is better. There were times when I would miss being in my own bed back home or I wanted to see my close friends. However, I really enjoyed being off on my own adventures for the time I was there.
I was the only student at Alma College to attend the University of Aberdeen at the time. In a way, that was a blessing — I did not have anyone to lean on except myself. I had to fully put myself out there to meet others and create friend groups, and it paid off with authentic experiences. I suggest others looking into studying abroad and really try to incorporate themselves into the new environment.