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Voices of ACES Blog

A semester in Scotland

Paola in Scotland, mountains in the background.

Something I dreamt about after watching Monte Carlo starring Selena Gomez has become true. After a long wait and many meetings with the director of ACES study abroad, I had the pleasure of studying abroad in Stirling, Scotland.

Stirling is a beautiful city with rich history. I was surprised to learn it was considered a city because coming from a place like Chicago, where I can travel from north to south for hours and still be in the city, Stirling is walkable with hills, mountains, and endless horizons of green. 

Studying abroad in Scotland has been one of the most fulfilling experiences for me. Not only because of the academic content I learned attending the University of Stirling but because of the many aspects I learned about myself along with habits I am still applying to my life in the U.S.

Before spending time abroad, I led a very occupied lifestyle. I was used to planning my days from 8 a.m. until 1 a.m. - fully booked with school, work, extracurriculars, internships, and volunteering activities. This was a normal pace, and I felt unsatisfied if I wasn’t leading a “productive” lifestyle. Scotland redefined productivity for me. Being in a country where shops open at 10 a.m. and close by 5 p.m. allowed me to slow down and spend time learning, doing, and experiencing a pace of life I learned to value and appreciate. My mental health was the best it’s ever been! Throughout my study abroad experience, I’ve become more patient and have developed a better relationship with academics. Before studying abroad, academic and student involvement validation was important to me. Attending the University of Stirling where academics are more about personal development in skills and critical thinking versus tests score and essay feedbacks was refreshing. All the extracurricular I joined, like the Gaelic Society, were about meeting people and learning something new.

Apart from school, I had to adapt to a country where I was the only Mexican-American I knew. Speaking Spanish, cuisine, music, traditions were not present around me for a couple months. Having to adapt to this was a little strange but not difficult, mostly because I am confident in my personal identities and because I was prepared to deal with adversities. I was a bit nervous and little scared traveling to Scotland because I had heard little about Latines or Mexican Americans in Scotland. I searched YouTube, reddit, TikTok and was unlucky. I went to Scotland with a foundation of their culture, customs, politics, but I wasn’t sure what MY experience would look like, as a Gen Z woman of color who hadn’t traveled to Europe. I am lucky to say that my experience in Scotland was quite positive. I experienced microagressions with more non-Mexican-American Americans than with Scottish folk.

It is such a privilege to have studied abroad for as long as I did in a country like Scotland. My time abroad showed me that I am quite small, and the world is quite massive. It’s confirmed that I am a learner and curious about the world, other people, cultures, histories, and what makes each culture unique. Meeting Scottish people and others around the world has taught me to live in harmony with other identities and ways of life, even if they don’t reflect my own. It has taught me to enjoy the little moments and the big things because time flies so quickly. I learned that I value nature and can connect with people who also like to travel. If I could go to Scotland again, I would be there in a heartbeat. Thank you for the opportunity.

To learn more or apply to study abroad at the University of Stirling in Scotland, click here.