When I told people last year that I would be studying abroad in Scotland, most were very excited for me and I am very thankful for the support and encouragement that I have continually received. The next logical question I would be asked was generally where in Scotland I would be? I imagine most people were expecting to hear something like Edinburgh, Glasgow, or St. Andrews. I would reply that I would be in Airdrie, Scotland but was generally at a loss of how to really explain the program well in a few minutes. You mean you aren’t studying at an actual University? There is only one other student in the program? You’ll be studying primarily Bible courses even though you’re an Ed major? How does that work? These were all questions that people were at least driving at if not asked directly as I got ready to go. And it does all sounds a bit strange, doesn’t it? Semester in Scotland is not your usual study abroad program. But I have found it is the unusual things that make this program so wonderful. The program goes beyond unique –it is a rare gem because of its very essence as a special opportunity to learn about the most important thing – God and how he impacts everything in our lives.
So what exactly is the Semester in Scotland Program? For starters, it is an academic study abroad program focusing primarily on Biblical studies and history. But in saying this I do not refer to the majors. The program is relevant to any discipline because of the program’s focus on godliness which is relevant to any Christian and is applicable to any area of life. Because it is a unique program it is still hard for me to explain it in a sentence or two. Instead, here is a mini tour of the program.
Each week starts out with worship at the Airdrie Reformed Presbyterian Church where the program is based. Each Lord’s Day starts with Church School classes followed by a prayer meeting where the whole congregation comes together to pray. It is such a blessing to hear the Word of God preached in both morning and evening services. We have also been very blessed because each week we are able to go to someone’s home for lunch and this way we have been able to fellowship with different members of the Church. Nicki and I also attend METs (or Mutual Encouragement Times), which are like small group Bible studies during the week. We have been involved in the Kids Club and Covenanter Youth, which run on a Friday night. I am so thankful for the privilege of being involved in the church life here. I have seen so much of Christ shining through the love that the church members show for Christ, for one another, and for strangers like us.
Next are our classes. The classes we are taking are as follows: Church Ministry, Women’s Ministry to Women, Systematic Theology, Scottish Church History, The Life and Work of Paul, and Humanities in England and Scotland. It is an incredible privilege to study the things of God’s Word and have time to concentrate on doing so. Each of the classes is rich in content but also eminently practical. Our professors are also fantastic. The only thing which seems to me a tragedy is that there are not lecture halls packed full to hear what we are being taught because the classes are that good! I could say so much more about each of these classes but here is a brief overview.
The other main component of the program is the historical and cultural tours that we are able to take each Wednesday afternoon. These tours are led by Jimmy and Helen Fisher, who primarily give Reformation Tours. The tours have been incredible ways to explore Scotland and an excellent springboard from which to go on adventures of our own. But what I love is that Jimmy and Helen take us to the places we would never find on a general tour of Scotland. How many people are able to go to a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, knock on the door, and be allowed to enter a room full of family history with the library of great Christians from the 17th century at your fingertips? How often do you get to hold a sword from the 1680s? That’s not your normal museum sort of experience.
But it has been the content and importance of the places we have seen which is so distinctive. Few people know or care about the rich Christian History in Scotland. Go to Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh and you can easily sign up for a Harry Potter Ghost tour, but where else do you find a tour guide like Jimmy, who not only is well informed about the places, but also explains the significance of those who died and were buried there. Many Covenanters were buried in the grave of criminals simply for loving Christ and standing up against anyone who would try to rob Him of his place and honor. With our one week Scottish Reformation Tour we have been able to see places where God has worked mightily in the past and where our teachers and guides speak about it unashamedly. We have seen places and learned about people who truly shaped Scotland and impacted the world, but who are sadly passed over by general tourism and even the greater populace of Scotland itself.
I do not know of any other program where you can find such a tour coupled with great classes. I have been so blessed with the opportunity to see amazing things. But it is much more than travel. It is the ability to grow in the faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ together with academics, church life, rich relationships, travel and so much more. Even this long description seems inadequate to fully express how amazing the Semester in Scotland program is. Hopefully it will at least give a big picture.