This week's "Stories from Scotland Alumni" is a 2-for-1 special that really showcases the bonds that can be formed through studying abroad. Jenna Minser (University of Alabama Tuscaloosa) and Kayla Czaplicki (Arcadia University) both participated in the Edinburgh Internship program at Edinburgh Napier University. They didn't know each other before coming to Scotland but you can see from their story below that the friendship they formed was immediate and lasting and we were delighted that Laura was able to sit down with both of them to discuss their experience in Scotland.
A lot of my friends who didn’t study abroad, their reasoning was that it didn’t fit into the classes they could take or internship schedule or whatever it may be. But I really think you can find a way to make Study Abroad work for you.
Name(s): Jenna Minser and Kayla Czaplicki
Home School: University of Alabama Tuscaloosa and Arcadia University
Semester Abroad: Academic Year 2019/20
Major(s): Journalism and English
Scottish University: Edinburgh Napier University
Wow, we have a special 2-for-1 offer today; can you both start by introducing yourselves?
JM - My name is Jenna Minser and I studied at the University of Alabama and studied abroad with Arcadia in the Fall of 2019 through Spring 2020 at Edinburgh Napier University. It was a really amazing experience despite the fact that the pandemic hit during my Spring semester. In Edinburgh I focussed mainly on journalism. I graduated in May 2020 and now live in North Carolina and work at a university here.
KC - I’m Kayla Czaplicki and I go to Arcadia University. I went for the entirety of my third year to Edinburgh Napier (where I met Jenna). I’m an English major with a concentration in Creative Writing and I’m in my final semester now.
Why did you choose Scotland and Edinburgh Napier in particular?
JM - It would be nice to say I had some deep reason for choosing but sadly I don’t. I had done a little bit of travelling before I’d come to Scotland like to Australia and New Zealand. I really wanted to go somewhere English-speaking to study abroad and I hadn’t spent time in Scotland before, also I have a cousin who was living in Edinburgh at the time and she said it was amazing and a really great city. I really wanted to be in a city but not a huge scary city like London. I wanted it to be walkable and somewhere I’d never been before. Edinburgh Napier really fit me in terms of classes for my major and it being a smaller university that I could get involved with pretty easily.
KC - I did the Arcadia First Year Study Abroad Experience in London which was incredible and while I was there my roommate and I took a weekend trip to the Highlands. We stayed in a hostel in Edinburgh the night before the trip and it was so great. It was such a cool city and I fell in love with being so close to the Highlands and such gorgeous natural places. Also because I wanted somewhere English speaking. Edinburgh Napier offered more classes that would cater more towards the creative-writing side of things.
You both mentioned English-speaking being key; how did you manage with the accents?
JM - I didn’t know this at the time but the accent in Edinburgh is quite mild which is very nice! Kayla and I spent a lot of time together during Study Abroad and we went on a trip up to Inverness at one point where we met this very kind, lovely, Scottish man who must have been in his 70’s who ended up sitting with us on the train. We chatted about US Presidents but he had quite a strong accent and we had a real problem with his name as he refused to accept our pronunciation of Graham (in Scotland, it’s pronounced ‘Gray-em’, not ‘Gram’).
KC - laughing - I think he was from Glasgow.
When you got to Edinburgh and had your Arcadia orientation, was your impression of Edinburgh and Scotland what you had in mind?
KC - I did not do much research at all so I didn’t really have that many expectations. When I was in London I enjoyed going to a Unitarian Universals Fellowship, which is kind of a church, so I had researched that. I flew into Edinburgh very early on a Sunday morning so before my orientation room was ready we walked to the top of Calton Hill then I went to this church service on my own and so many lovely people introduced themselves to me. The service was very reflective and about new beginnings which was weirdly perfect and which set a really good tone.
JM - Same as Kayla, I didn’t do a tonne of research about Scotland before I went. My step-dad is from the UK and told me a little bit about it as well as my cousin living there who I mentioned earlier, who didn’t tell me a lot of details but told me I’d love it. I went in not trying to have too many expectations and just with the knowledge of regardless of what happens it is an amazing opportunity to properly live somewhere new. I was excited to have a brand new experience and I met Kayla really quickly and we became fast friends. The Arcadia staff were phenomenal at creating a little community; I realised quite quickly I was going to have a phenomenal time.
You’ve spoken about it briefly already but how were your classes at Napier?
JM - My classes were really interesting in that they were run a lot differently from my home university which I wasn’t expecting at all. I thought a university class would be the same the world over but there was only really one big assignment so I would have no idea what grade I had or how I was doing because I didn’t turn work in until the very end. A lot of my lecturers in Scotland had worked in the industry for a long time and then become lecturers rather than my professors at Alabama who had been academics most of their adult lives. It was a big change being taught by someone who knew the subject matter really well but wasn’t a classically trained teacher. It was a great experience in terms of getting a different sort of education.
There was a little bit of a disconnect between my major and the classes I took in Scotland but I was in my final year when I studied abroad and I had already finished most of my credits so it wasn’t that big of an issue for me.
KC - I really enjoyed my classes because I was able to have a good mix. Something that I hadn’t anticipated was that when you’re a full degree-seeking student at a place like Edinburgh Napier, that you were with the same group of people from the start and you were given a strict progression of classes that you had to take. It was very interesting being dropped in the middle of that, being in classes with people who had known each other for 3 years in some cases.
As a Study Abroad student I was able to take classes in different subject areas which the local students can’t really do. I had a more traditional English class which was very similar to what I was used to at Arcadia but then I had a TV script-writing course which was to fit within my Creative-Writing concentration but of course everyone else in the class was on the TV degree course so there were students who were interested in all the different aspects of TV production so it was good getting to see if from that perspective.
Outside of the academics, did either of you join any clubs or societies?
JM - I think, honestly, one of the best parts of our study abroad experience was having our own student radio show with our other Arcadia friend Megan. I found it kind of hard to make friends in my classes but this was an opportunity to meet people who were attending Edinburgh Napier full time. We had a lot of nights out and got to know the heads of the station really well. The fact we were allowed to get our own radio show with literally zero experience was so cool. The whole premise was about me teaching Kayla and Megan how to knit and it was called “Having a Yarn” (both laughing hysterically by this point).
KC - It was so good. I know, for my dad back home, it was a great way for him to tune in and find out what I was up to. It was fun for him to get to know Jenna and Megan through the radio show. I was laughing when Jenna said getting to know the heads of the student radio station as I’m now in a long-distance relationship with one of them!
I loved your radio show and we always talked about it in the Arcadia Center. Did your knitting lead to any other adventures in Scotland?
KC - “The Inverness Knit-Fest”
JM - I love knitting and have done for a while now. A lot of phenomenal knitting techniques come from Scotland which may have been why I chose it too. There was this great knitting festival that we found in Inverness (we met Graham on the way). We spent a lovely weekend in Inverness which was beautiful and spent the day at a knitting festival where we met a lot of different Scottish people who were knitting, spinning wool and raising sheep!
Did either of you participate in any of the Arcadia events that were on offer?
KC - The only one I went on was the Firbush adventure weekend which was so fun and incredible. We didn’t have the best of weather when we were there but it was so nice to be out of the city and do walking tours and have the local flora and fauna identified for you and to be able to go out on the water. I would never seek out wind-surfing for myself but it was so great to get to try it.
From the moment you applied right through to going home; how did you find the support offered by Arcadia?
JM - I spent a long time deciding which provider I was going to go through to go to Scotland. I picked Arcadia because of how “high-touch” the program was even before going abroad which I really appreciated and I was included in every step of the process. The staff I worked with before I left for Scotland were phenomenal. When I got there, I was at the Arcadia Center all the time! It was great to have a physical location to go to and speak to the staff who were always willing to help and really look out for you having a good experience. From helping me figure out different weekend activities to go on, to me freaking out trying to get a visa when I decided to extend my trip; I would never have been able to do it without the Arcadia staff.
KC - It was really nice to have that base, knowing there were people in the city that were there to support you. Getting my visa was difficult and I don’t think I would have gotten through it without the Arcadia support before leaving. Also just getting to meet people like Jenna straight away who were going through the same program was so fantastic. I’m visiting her in North Carolina just now, I would never have visited North Carolina if it wasn’t for Arcadia
JM - Yeah, I will echo that. Having a built-in community as soon as I got there, not just the people I was going to Edinburgh Napier with but also people going to other Scottish universities through Arcadia. I would never have met those people and explored the other cities if it wasn’t for meeting them through Arcadia.
Now that you’ve both had your Study Abroad experience and looking back, what did you learn from it?
JM - For me, I’ve always considered myself a very studious person and dedicated student and, especially when I was at Alabama, my studies were a very big part of my life. Going abroad was a great opportunity for me to learn that there were so many other things in college, and life in general, to appreciate and prioritize; not that I didn’t prioritize my academics while in Scotland! I never would have dreamed that I could randomly go to Luxembourg on a Wednesday. These spontaneous trips and having so much fun with the radio show and just walking around the city, I feel like I had a very fun year and I’d never had a year where I prioritized fun. Studying abroad is a really cool opportunity to give you the chance to break out of the mindset that your whole life has to be focused on College.
KC - I would agree with Jenna. It’s really nice to have a period in your life and your College career where you are prioritizing having a wide variety of experiences and connecting with a wide variety of people as well. There’s a lot of pressure when you study abroad to do everything and travel every weekend but some of the best times I had in Edinburgh were when Jenna and I decided we didn’t want to go out so we stayed in and made a beautiful dinner from things we’d got at the farmer’s market. Some of my fondest memories were things like that where it was about the people I was with and the idea of doing what we wanted to do without the pressure of having to see and do everything.
Would you recommend future Study Abroad students come to Scotland through Arcadia?
JM - Yes! Just in general I think studying abroad is one of the best experiences you can give yourself. Yes you can travel and maybe even live abroad after College but I think studying abroad, especially through Arcadia, is such a phenomenal experience to be able to live in a country for a little bit and not have a job to worry about. You can travel, meet a tonne of really great people and learn a lot about yourself. Scotland specifically is one of the most underrated places in my opinion and there are some really phenomenal cities. Oh my God, the Highlands! Are stupidly pretty and stupidly beautiful and you just don’t see that sort of stuff every day. The fact I got to spend a whole year doing those things and seeing those places I feel very very grateful and would wholeheartedly recommend anyone take the leap.
KC - Yeah, absolutely. It’s so crazy for me because I feel like my life has shifted so much; it sounds corny. One of my closest friends and also my boyfriend and the things I wanted to pursue academically came from this year. I got to do my internship in a gorgeous cathedral and met so many incredible people. It’s really impactful and an incredible experience.
JM - A lot of my friends who didn’t study abroad, their reasoning was that it didn’t fit into the classes they could take or internship schedule or whatever it may be. But I really think you can find a way to make Study Abroad work for you. My internship helped me get my job which is great. If you decide yes, I want to study abroad, you can find a way to make it work for you and it’s so worth it!
Thank you so much for answering my questions; is there anything else that you would like to add, or advice you’d like to give future students?
JM - I would just say that one of the best things you can do, first of all, study abroad, but second of all, try to go in with as few expectations as possible. As Kayla mentioned earlier, don’t put a tonne of pressure on yourself to see and do everything and don’t compare your experience to what others have gone through or what you see on Instagram. You can have such an incredible experience; going to Warsaw (Poland) because plane tickets were £21 or even just cooking dinner with one of your friends in your dorm room. If you’re open to whatever comes your way and taking it all in your stride, you’re going to have a phenomenal experience, not when you put pressure on yourself for your time abroad to look or be a certain way,
KC - I would definitely agree with that; being open to new experiences and also not to be afraid of making lasting connections. You definitely don’t need to but it can be hard studying abroad feeling like your life back home is on hold in a way but I don’t think that’s the case. There are so many people that we met in Edinburgh that we will be in touch with forever.