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Erskine students spend a semester in the United Kingdom

Four Erskine College students studied in the United Kingdom during the spring semester of 2023. Three traveled to the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and one went to the University of Oxford in England. Each Erskine student found ways to make the experience count—by joining a club, joining a choir, finding a faith community, frequenting a coffee shop, or simply making friends—and came away with wonderful memories.

Hailey James on the steps of Oriel College, University of Oxford

First impressions

“Being in a completely new environment was breathtaking and made every little thing seem exciting,” says Neal Blank, a senior from Camden, S.C. who studied at St. Andrews. He was impressed by the beauty of the place, and his sense of awe outlasted the semester.

When he first arrived in St. Andrews, Andrew Gaines says, “I felt like a freshman because I was clueless about everything.” A senior from Honea Path, S.C., Andrew “practiced patience in getting acclimated” and made many friends.

“St. Andrews is a history nerd’s dream,” says Annaleah Gilreath, a junior from Aynor, S.C. “There is a 16th-century castle, there are the ruins of a cathedral, and just so many sites across town.” As she walked to class each day, she thought about the many students who had attended the university over the centuries.

Hailey James, a rising junior from Beaufort, S.C., studied at Oxford, where her first impression “was that there was a very high standard for students to keep.” She observed that “the atmosphere of the city…really fed into that.” Being surrounded by beautiful historic buildings “at first felt daunting,” she says, but later “began to feel inviting.”

Getting involved

Neal Blank at the summit of Ben Nevis, the highest peak in Scotland and the U.K.

Neal followed what some might call an Erskine recipe for making the most of his role as a student in a country far away from home—campus involvement.

“I joined clubs like the Breakaway Club (walking the hills and mountain climbing) and the Psychology Journal Club and was able to play football—soccer—with the St. Andrews Men’s first and second teams, along with the teams for my hall and other halls,” he says. “Everything I joined was welcoming and positive.”

Andrew tempered his campus involvement with a steadying routine and eventually “started feeling like an official St. Andrews student,” he says.

“During my time at St. Andrews, I dove into the culture of the university. It was truly exhilarating because it allowed me to make numerous friendships with people from all over the world,” Andrew recalls.

Still, he needed some daily rituals, including “listing things I was grateful for” each morning, an afternoon trip to Black Sheep Coffee, where he would study and write, dinner with a friend from St. Andrews, and evening study at the library.

For Annaleah, friendships were “a great support system while so far away from home.” This included making “some wonderful memories with my friend Andrew from Erskine” as well as with study-abroad students from across the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

“Getting to share stories and worldviews with so many students from across the globe was fascinating.”

Andrew Gaines and Annaleah Gilreath, friends who were active in South Carolina Student Legislature together, were on the same flight to Scotland. Andrew reports that Annaleah broke a wheel off her suitcase at the airport. “This made for a very tiring trip to our hostel,” which was in Edinburgh Old Town. But all’s well that ends well. “That evening we ate at a local pub and had freedom fries.”

Getting used to it

While making memories and friendships, all four students also had to make adjustments. Annaleah missed “the intentionality and caring spirit” of her Erskine professors, she says, and it took some time to become accustomed to a different style of teaching.

Her Erskine professors “emailed with encouraging words and updates,” Annaleah says, “so that was lovely, and honestly, it just showed that they cared for me as a human and a student.”

Both Annaleah and Neal say they had to get used to fewer but more heavily weighted assignments. “I feel like this forces students to manage their time properly, and when they do have an assignment, they try harder,” Neal says.

At Oxford, Hailey’s daily routine consisted of “several hours at the library reading course material and researching case studies and clinical trials regarding my topic of study,” which was “The Biochemistry of Abnormal Psychology.” She wrote a five- or six-page essay each week “explaining and defending a thesis set for me by my tutor.”

At weekly tutorials, Hailey and her tutor “would discuss my writing and set another topic for me to research the next week.” She found Oxford’s tutorial system “very difficult” at first, but it became easier. “It was a great way to test my persistence and capability as a student, and tested my skills in research, reading, and writing.”

Finding community

Outside the weekly round of preparation for tutorials at Oxford, “I got the opportunity to join the choir in my college, which really helped me cultivate new friendships with both students and tutors,” Hailey reports. “Joining the choir really helped me feel more integrated into the community as a student.”

Neal found ways to nurture his faith while at St. Andrews, including weekly worship at the official university chapel, the interdenominational St. Salvator’s. It was “situated right by the coast, had an amazing interior, had one of the best choirs I have ever heard,” he says. After worship, participants walked down to the pier, and this provided a time of fellowship.

Reflecting on his time at St. Salvator’s, Neal says, “The entire experience never lost its luster even after having done it many weeks in a row. I felt that it really fostered my faith and connected me to like-minded students.”

Annaleah’s experience differed from Neal’s. “I did not find the church I was looking for until Easter Sunday,” she says.

It was a sunny day, and the outdoor Easter service consisted of the singing of hymns and a simple testimony. “I was so thankful because God had reminded me that the church is a global family,” she says, and “even though I knew no one there…at that moment I felt at home with my family in Christ.”

Getaways and gratitude

Oriel College, University of Oxford

Whether they had the time and resources to travel around during their study-abroad experience or spent most of their time on campus, all four Erskine students are glad to have studied abroad.

From her base in Oxford, Hailey took trips around England, visiting London, Manchester, the Cotswolds, Hampton Court, and Warwick. She also traveled to Austria, Germany, Scotland, and Wales, and this gave her “a new perspective of the world,” she says.

“I was able to do things like try new foods, hear different languages, see beautiful scenery and architecture, meet different people, and experience new cultures.”

Referring to his semester at St. Andrews, Neal says, “I have been given an opportunity to see an entirely different side of the world for the first time in my life.”

He traveled around Scotland as well as to England, Iceland, Ireland, and Wales during his time studying abroad. Even if he had not been able to travel, his weeks spent in a country an ocean away from his native land would still have affected him deeply.

“The architecture, weather, culture, and community have all made a significant impact on how I view the world,” Neal says.

While Neal’s experience was one of immediate enchantment with his surroundings in Scotland, Andrew found that he needed time to adapt to his new environment.

Practicing gratitude every day as part of his routine helped him sustain a “positive mindset” and heightened his experience, enabling him to face such challenges as speaking at a radio station in St. Andrews about his college experiences on both sides of the Atlantic. But that’s another story.

“I had to remind myself to give everything and everyone time, because adaptation takes patience,” he says.

Summing up his study-abroad experience, Andrew says, “St. Andrews allowed me the confidence to embrace new adventures in the world.”

Annaleah took trips around the United Kingdom and Europe, visiting a dozen countries during her semester abroad. She found that travel “can definitely be difficult at times,” but like her friend Andrew, she is grateful, asserting that struggles she has faced as a student abroad “have served as the keys … to so many beautiful experiences.”

Hesitant about solo travel—she describes herself as “someone who has watched all the ‘Taken’ movies”—Annaleah pushed past “that underlying fear” and took a few excursions alone in addition to her trips with friends.

“Traveling has shown me so many things, including the brokenness of the world, even in the most beautiful places, the majesty of God’s created order, and the truth that even the smallest glimmer of light can change an entire room,” she says.

“Exploring so many different countries has offered me a far more well-rounded view of the world and has allowed me to share stories and build friendships with wonderful people from all over the globe,” says Annaleah. “I am so thankful for this experience, and I look forward to traveling more in the future!”

Neal expresses a similar sentiment. “I am so grateful to Erskine for providing me with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he says, adding, “I encourage anyone with an interest to study abroad.”

Pictured at top, St. Andrews, located on St. Andrews Bay of the North Sea












Erskine and Due West Skyline

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