Islanders in Scotland Study Gender Theories, Print Culture, and More

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Lush green hillsides and archaic centuries-old towers set the scene for the latest iteration of Islanders in Scotland, a month-long Summer II program that took Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi students on numerous adventures in Scotland throughout the month of July. New to the program was a first-time focus on Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGST), with each course offered counting toward the WGST minor. As students explored ancient castles and historical highlands, they also examined the gender dynamics of the past and present.

“The incorporation of WGST into this study abroad program was the essential reason I wanted to go on this trip,” said Robin Ortega, education interdisciplinary studies major and one of 28 students who attended Islanders in Scotland. “Learning the history and background of famous Scottish women writers allowed me to explore my goal of becoming a writer in a way that a traditional classroom setting could never fulfill.”

Led by Dr. Lisa Comparini, Associate Professor of Psychology, and Dr. Jennifer Sorensen, Associate Professor of English, classes took place in Dalkeith Palace, a historic estate located in the town of the same name. Courses included Women Writers and Scottish Print Culture, taught by Sorensen, along with Intro to WGST, and Feminism and Science, taught by Comparini. The palace also served as a hub for both students and professors to recharge between excursions in and out of town.

“Dalkeith Palace was one of the most memorable parts of this trip,” said Arianna Rodriguez, graduate student in Public Administration. “We stayed where Queen Victoria and King George IV once rested their heads. For one month, we were free to make it our home and care for it like it was ours, which was truly a unique and grand experience.”

Throughout the program, students made connections between gender and sexuality theories and Scottish culture. The first week of the program took students to the Writers Museum of Edinburgh where the manuscripts, diaries, and personal belongings of literary icons Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson were displayed, and where students noted the apparent lack of women writers in the space. Students also explored the Scottish National Gallery, where works of art by Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh were exhibited alongside pieces by Scottish realist painters. At the gallery, students pondered how women’s historical representations in art reflected their treatment throughout the ages and how class was represented differently before and after the works of the Scottish realists.

During the second week of the study abroad program, students found themselves on a very different campus: Hogwarts! More specifically, they visited Alnwick Castle, a famous estate used in countless films and television shows, including the first two Harry Potter films. This experience was especially enriching for students in Sorensen’s class, where the illustrated edition of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was an assigned reading.

“I enjoyed relating Harry Potter to Alnwick Castle,” said Tory Reid, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology on Aug. 10. “The excursion offered a unique experience where I could relate the illustrated versions of the text to the physical castle and have fun at the same time!”

The third week of the program kicked off with an outing to the National Museum of Scotland, which housed exhibits like Dolly the Cloned Sheep and the Body Beautiful Exhibition, a display that tied into the Intro to WGST course by challenging stereotypical and misogynistic standards of beauty. Later that week, Islanders embarked on a bus tour through the Scottish Highlands to the Isle of Skye. As they weaved through mountains and drove past Loch Ness, students were informed on the myths, legends, and historical contexts of their surroundings.

“There was an explicit focus on gender issues across the settings we visited,” said Comparini. “We were able to draw from our experiences in Scotland when discussing these topics. Though there were powerful moments in the classroom, it was the connections made outside the palace that made this setting so special.”

The fourth and final week of the program included a trip past the royal mile to Edinburgh Castle, where the Stone of Destiny and the Scottish Crown Jewels reside. As this was the last week of classes, students banded together in small groups to relate their classroom experiences to the numerous places they visited.

“The post-excursion collaborative presentations helped students connect the excursions to course work in substantial and meaningful ways,” said Sorensen. “This unique experience could only happen in Scotland.”

At the end of the fourth week, it was time for the abroad Islanders to return home. Though leaving Scotland behind was a tough task for some students, the things they learned there will remain with them forever.

“Since I have returned, I feel like a new person,” said Rodriguez. “After a month of moving around at a fast and busy pace, I feel like I can do anything. I am more motivated and excited about my projects. The challenges I faced in Scotland taught me that I can adapt to and overcome any trials or tribulations that come my way.”

A Scottish Engagement 

Mathew Mendoza, English major, and Robin Ortega, education interdisciplinary studies major, have been a couple for five years, and decided to take this trip together. While in Scotland, Mendoza took the opportunity to propose marriage to his soulmate.

“Getting engaged to my best friend in unimaginable scenery was such an incredible moment,” said Ortega. “When my boyfriend asked me to marry him near a beautiful lake, it made the experience a million times more memorable.”

“Becoming engaged on this trip was amazing,” said Mendoza. “It allowed for a wonderful moment that revolved around my beautiful fiancé and nature. The Scotland trip will play a part in all of our days going forward.”