Alumni Advice: Learn some History BEFORE You Go!

Today’s blog post comes to us from API Global Leader Ellen Bennett! She studied abroad with us in Edinburgh, Scotland.

An important part of traveling to any place is getting to know its history.

When given the chance to study abroad, a big part of getting to know the culture is getting to know its past.  The history that I learned about Scotland before I went and while I was there greatly enriched the experience that I had.  Scotland has two major pieces of their history that I learned about before I went over.  These two are Mary Queen of Scots and the Jacobite Rebellions.  Before heading over, there are many books, movies, and TV shows about these two pieces of history that I embraced.  Not all of them were terribly accurate but they are what captured my interest and got me wanting to learn more!  

Our first excursion there was Edinburgh Castle.

This was the day after we had all flown in and it was beautiful and sunny!  Once we got inside the gates we got to explore the different rooms.  I went straight to the bedchambers.  I was standing in the exact place where Queen Mary had been almost 600 years before.  I then got to step into a side almost closet-sized space where she had given birth to King James I and VI who was the first monarch to peacefully unite Scotland and England.  Knowing this information beforehand made the whole experience that much more exciting and interesting.  I already had an understanding of the people and events so that when I was in the same spot as those historical figures were so many years ago, I could really appreciate how amazing it was!

Later in the semester, I visited Holyrood Palace, another historical place in the beautiful city of Edinburgh.

Here I got to stand in the room that Queen Mary’s secretary, David Rizzio, was stabbed 56 times orchestrated by her husband because he thought that they were having an affair!  I had watched an episode just a few months before that had depicted that exact scene and now I was standing in the room where it actually happened!  It was not just a movie, it was real. 

Just about every castle and every tour guide would give you some information or connection to Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie from the Jacobite Rebellions, having already learned a bit about each I was able to place these bits of information in my head and keep track of all of the fun stuff I was learning!  Understanding who Mary Queen of Scots was, her importance to the country, and her significance made me aware of just how incredible it was that there were things of hers that are still around and that I am able to go visit. 

I would highly encourage anyone who is going to study abroad to get to know at least one or two bits of history before you leave.

This will give you the understanding you need to appreciate the intricacies of what you are about to visit.  It makes a much more lasting influence and makes things like museums and exhibits all the more exciting.  It allowed me to get a better understanding of how Scotland got to where it is today by learning about the tensions and pressures from a history full of fighting with the English.  I am continuing to learn more about the Scottish history from books, movies, and shows and it all feels just that much more real since I can picture the places and castles that these things happened at — it is a way for me to continue to connect with my experience abroad!

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