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Discovering Enlightenment in Edinburgh

Written by Thomas Clarity

This past summer, I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad in Scotland at the University of Edinburgh with 14 other members of my Haslam Scholars cohort. For the month of July, we studied philosophy during the Scottish Enlightenment as a component of the interdisciplinary HSP curriculum. As such, this course was the culmination of the previous HSP courses in which we studied systemic oppression, astrobiology, and the psychology underlying our beliefs.

Throughout these courses, my classmates and I have been pushed academically and exposed to different systems of beliefs. As a result, we have gained an in-depth understanding of our civic responsibility to other people and society. Similarly, we were able to apply these concepts to our course at the University of Edinburgh, taught by a professor of applied ethics in Philosophy. Our course consisted of weekly lectures, tours of Edinburgh, and written analyses. Moreover, we were immersed in the Scottish education system which focuses on independent learning guided by one-on-one tutorial sessions with the professor in order to refine concepts. Within these sessions, we actively engaged with the lecture material and explored the moral implications of the research we conduct at the University of Tennessee. Specifically, I studied the ethics of animal experimentation and the use of the medical advancements that have been produced from animal research. As a neuroscience and psychology double major my college trajectory is largely multidisciplinary. Thus, HSP has provided me an invaluable opportunity to learn from several facets of academia which will be directly applicable to my discipline and future career.


Aside from our studies, we had the chance to explore Edinburgh, tour historic castles, and travel to other parts of Scotland. Our first excursion was to Alnwick Castle in England. Interestingly, the castle was used in the first two Harry Potter movies as the setting for Hogwarts. In addition to a tour of the castle grounds, we practiced archery and visited Kelso Abbey. One of my favorite tours was of Surgeon’s Hall in Edinburgh. One of the oldest museums in Scotland, it holds a vast collection of pathological anatomy and human artifacts. I found the exhibits and the history of medicine very interesting. Additionally, we visited the St. Giles Cathedral, the Scottish National Gallery of Art, and the National Museum of Scotland. Furthermore, we had the opportunity to take day trips to St. Andrews and Glasgow. The town and coast of St. Andrews were absolutely beautiful. But, most importantly, it is home to Cromars, named 2018’s best fish and chips shop in Scotland. Similarly, as an avid coffee enthusiast, I was able to visit some of the finest coffeehouses Scotland had to offer, such as Cairngorm Coffee. All of these experiences were in the company of great friends who I have known since our first day of college.


Unique to the Haslam Scholars Program, each cohort lives on the same hall freshman year in order to foster a close-knit group of individuals. As a result, I continue to live with my freshman roommate and the others have become some of my closest friends. Notably, the study abroad in Scotland was our final academic course and collective checkpoint in the program until graduation. This opportunity to travel with my cohort across Scotland to engage with the culture and academia of another country is unparalleled. Studying abroad is critical to a holistic education that emphasizes the value of learning and living within a culture distinct from your own. Consequently, it exposes you to different lifestyles, beliefs, and traditions. I can apply the concepts I have learned throughout my interdisciplinary curriculum to our volunteerism at Knoxville community schools. Community schools are schools that partner with community resources and organizations in order to integrate education with youth development, social and health services, and family support. Knoxville schools, such as Inskip and Pond Gap Elementary, emphasize the importance of holistic character and academic development in students. Specifically, when tutoring at Cultural and Science Saturday Programs, I can teach students about traditions, foods, and experiments they have never heard about. In doing so, I can pass-along my interdisciplinary education and explain to students the value being a well-rounded individual. Altogether, the Scottish Enlightenment promoted an ideology that, “People should think for themselves but not by themselves.” The Haslam Scholars Program has embodied this style of intellectualism and, as a result, I have developed as a student and an individual throughout my time at the University of Tennessee.