In January, the Fulbright scholars were called together to Scotland for a forum to exchange ideas and learn about Scottish culture, government, and history. It was a fantastic trip that couldn’t have come at a better time, because the topic of a referendum for Scottish Independence had recently been broached and the country was a-buzz with talk. The Fulbrighters were taken around Glasgow and Edinburgh, to universities and gatherings and we learned a great deal about the past, present, and future of this fantastic part of the world.
Our first stop was the University of Glasgow where we sat through many presentations on many subjects including the fantastic research work of the physics and chemistry departments, and an introduction to the history of poet laureate of Scotland Robert Burns. We were given a tour of the famous Hunterian Museum, Scotland’s oldest public museum founded in 1807. Glasgow School of Art was our next stop, a fantastic institution alive with creative ideas, and located in the Mackintosh Building, a fantastic structure designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a famous architect and artistic genius. We visited the Glasgow School of Art and Architecture where we received interesting lectures on the history of the development and growth of Glasgow as a city. We also visited the University of Strathclyde where we heard from the economics and political departments.
Our final event in Glasgow introduced us to the music and dancing traditions of Scotland with a ‘Ceilidh’, a social dancing event. Many of the dances are for two to four couples and include making lines, exchanging places, swinging, making a bridge and having other couples passing underneath, and all done in an organized fashion (when performed by professionals). We made a splendid and hilarious mess of things, but everyone had a marvelous time. We ended the evening with the Scottish tradition of singing Robert Burns’ “Auld Lang Syne.”
We then traveled to Edinburgh where we received the majority of our update of the Scottish Independence topic at the Scottish Parliament, where a few MSPs, Members of Scottish Parliament, spent a few minutes during their busy schedule to explain the importance of the decision of whether or not to break away from the United Kingdom. To briefly explain some differing opinions: some believe that it would benefit Scotland immensely to break away from the United Kingdom because it would allow the country to focus on its own national and international interests as a small country instead of yielding to the interests of the United Kingdom. Others say that it is more beneficial for Scotland to remain a part of the United Kingdom because it is stronger as a part of a larger country. A date for a referendum, or national poll, on the issue is being discussed and latest information suggests it will be scheduled for around autumn 2014.
After our tour of the Scottish Parliament we were taken on a tour of Edinburgh and some of its most popular sites, including Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, and other common spots of interest. Traveling to some of these ancient spots had new meaning when set against the backdrop of Scottish Independence, especially the Castle with the two statues of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace guarding the entrance. From there we visited Edinburgh University, a place most well known for its infamous history in anatomy study and dealings with body snatchers that has turned into an institution with its foot on the forefront of academic pursuit and global exchange. Our final event was a reception at Dovecot Studios, a tapestry studio with a display of fascinating weaving creativity.
The entire journey was a wonderful introduction to Scotland and our insight into the topic of Independence was a major bonus. It will be interesting to follow this topic and how it affects Northern Ireland’s view of its place in the United Kingdom.
I speak for many of the Fulbright Scholars when I send thanks to the Scottish Government for their financial support and hospitality.