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  • Kylie Rae Barr

My Experience of Scotland Field School (and why you should sign up next year!)

The Basics

Since 2017, the criminology department here at SFU has offered a Scotland Field School. Of course, it was cancelled during COVID and this year was the first year it ran since 2020. I’d originally heard about it back in 2019, my first semester when one of the OG organizers taught me and was talking about the trip. This past spring, feeling a little mystified that I was on the verge of graduating, I decided to apply on a whim. I had no idea exactly what I was signing up for. I can be quite spontaneous and that’s how I find myself currently in Scotland writing this up for you on a bus to the Tulliallan police training facility.

The Non-Scotland Stuff

Let’s get the less interesting stuff out of the way before I dive into my trip. Firstly, you have to apply through the International Services for Students. It’s a bit of a process but if you start early enough, you can get it done easily. As far as field schools go, the Scotland one is the most affordable! It does depend on how many people join your trip of course. SFU offers bursaries you can apply for (even if not doing field school) that can be found on the site, plus the ISS offers multiple bursaries and funding options! Starting in May, our group met three times in person (with the option to attend via Zoom). These meetings served as an opportunity for us to introduce ourselves and seek assistance with the assignments that needed to be done pre-departure. We were responsible for researching and writing a paper that had relevance to cybercrime and international perspectives. We also made presentations to explain our papers that were posted to Canvas and classmates commented on them. I wrote about international laws surrounding the online sexual abuse of children and the effect the AI generation may have. These meetings also served as an opportunity to discuss what was going to happen in Scotland. For me, I found a group of wonderful girls who wanted to travel after the field school was over with me.

The in-Scotland portion of the trip began for my little group on August 17th when we met at the airport for our flight to London. I arrived early and breezed through security. We had a layover in San Francisco which required going through American security - side note, I don’t recommend stopping at the San Francisco airport. Our first flight was delayed because the crew hadn’t arrived yet, this was insanely alarming because our layover was short and we needed to be on the flight to London. Luckily, our second flight was also delayed. And then we sat on the runway for at least an hour before we were cleared to fly. American Airlines has excellent movie choices so I started my trip by watching 3 Tom Cruise movies. I don’t sleep on planes so I mainly watch movies.

When we landed in London, it was the morning. We were already feeling the effects of jet lag - plane breakfast is not very nice to your stomach after a ten-hour flight. One of our group had a direct flight so we had to hang out at the airport to meet up with her. Our hotel was right next to the airport so we got a quick Uber over and checked in. We tried to stay awake by walking to the nearest McDonalds and getting food, however, upon return to our hotel, we just passed out at 6:30 pm. Which was nice after not sleeping for so long, until we woke up at midnight. The girls in my room spent two hours chatting and laughing before we attempted to sleep again. It was a fruitless attempt though as we had to be up at 4 am anyway to get into London.

Our train to Glasgow left London Euston station at 6:05 a.m. We had assigned seats, and having purposely picked the window seat to ensure I had the views, I was left without an actual window. So instead, I watched 2 more Tom Cruise movies. The Tom Cruise movie count is now at five (before this trip, I have only seen Top Gun and Top Gun Maverick - email me if you’d like my Tom Cruise Trip Movie Reviews). An almost five-hour train ride later, we’d arrived in Glasgow and had already learned something - it’s never too early to drink in Scotland. A group of men had joined our train around 9:30 a.m. with three kind-sized beer cans each.

Almost instantly, we were in awe of the beauty of Glasgow. We were very eager to get to the residence and rest, so we grabbed an Uber. Side note - five people with a butt load of luggage is very much frowned upon by Uber drivers. It was about a ten-minute drive from the train station to our residence. Normally, the group stays at the University of Strathclyde Glasgow in their residences on campus, this year they were renovating so we stayed a bit away in the Queen Margaret Residences. After settling in a bit to our dorm rooms, our now larger group proceeded to head to the nearest store for groceries. In total, we went to the grocery store three times that day. Two different stores but still. Our group was rolling in slowly but surely. Everyone was exhausted so it was an early night.

Our first real day in Scotland started with a distillery tour. We met up with the group of German students who would be attending the conference with us for the week. Whisky is the biggest export for Scotland so we learned the process of how it’s made! It was very cool, the distillery used to be a boat house for the old port of Glasgow. It utilized the River Clyde to take most exports (mainly whisky) to places all over the world. It is no longer in use. The ships we use today would no longer fit inside the port.

Not all of our group joined us for the tour, so we met up at the Kelvingrove Museum. Then we proceeded to have a bit of a walking tour of Glasgow. This included seeing George Square where the City Council building is, the University building where we’d be spending the week, the oldest church in Glasgow, and its Necropolis. Glasgow is a beautiful city with incredible architectural features, so even if you don’t do the field school, I recommend visiting at least once. At this time, it was getting later so the group decided to return to the residences via bus. Except myself and our one prof who walked the 53 minutes back to the residence. Want to guess who beat who home? It was the walking group.

Our first real day of school consisted of a mini-conference. I was able to hear the first three speakers before it was clear that I was not feeling well enough to be there. I returned to the dorms and slept. I would turn out to be a bit of a patient zero for spreading the cold around but it was inevitable. Luckily for me, the sink in the individual bathrooms we had got hot enough to produce boiling water and I was able to create a steam bath!

Tuesday, I woke up feeling a million times better. I did still try to make the effort to distance myself in an attempt to not get anyone else sick but that would prove fruitless. Each day of our in-class components was made up of lectures from people within the cybercrime/security workforce and academic circles.

I’d love to tell you all about every talk but I think it would be better if you were to sign up for the school yourself and experience it!

Wednesday night, we found a karaoke bar and had a darn good time rocking out to some good and some bad tunes! Yours truly sang with a classmate! Someone in our group may or may not have gotten bamboozled into singing Barbie Girl… but I cannot confirm nor deny it.

The next awesome experience after classes we had came on Saturday. We got the early train to Edinburgh to experience the Fringe Festival. Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the largest fringe in the world, it’s a theatre dream. The entire city is set up with theatres everywhere to enjoy many different shows. We took in two shows - a courtroom experience where the audience played a role and a magician comedian show. During the interlude between our shows, a couple of us got to experience the Surgeon's Museum! It was a very cool gallery of medical history and specimens!

Sunday, we had a free day that allowed you to do whatever you wanted! My little group had pre-planned an eleven-hour bus tour up to Loch Ness! We left our residence early and got to the bus station. I was expecting a big bus tour-esque bus, however, we were lucky and got a 16-passenger minibus. Our tour was through Rabbie’s tours and it was incredible. We stopped at Loch Lomond, Glencoe, Loch Ness, and many other places. It was an incredible trip, our tour guide had so much knowledge about the country and its history. Some Gaelic terms the Scots still use: “Glen” - valley, “Ben” - mountain top, “loch” - lake! Although he didn’t have a single story that didn’t end with someone dying a brutal death. My younger self wanted to be a cryptozoologist so this trip was one of my favorite things up to this point. Loch Ness was incredible and the boat guide had so much knowledge. I felt especially special because that night they conducted the largest search of Loch Ness in 50 years! On the same day, I’d been there! Crazy!

And that brings us to yesterday. We went to Doune and Stirling to see their castles. The Doune castle is used a lot for a castle in the show Outlander! The best part of yesterday was after finishing Stirling Castle, three of us walked 55 minutes to the Wallace Monument. We went down a mountain, to trek across town just to go back up a mountain. The William Wallace monument was built for one of Scotland's first heroes, William Wallace. He banded Scottish rebels together to fight against the English king who wanted to rule both countries. That’s the very brief Kylie version of the story. I suggest looking into it further as it’s a very interesting piece of Scottish history. (You could also watch Braveheart but it’s not entirely historically accurate). The monument is quite high, we had to climb at least 14 floors on a tiny spiral staircase. Once we got to the top though, it was incredibly worth it. (Yesterday's step count was over 32,000! We did 131 flights of stairs)

For our final day of field school tomorrow, we are headed back to Edinburgh. We’re getting a tour of their parliament. And we’re going to explore Hollyrood House and Edinburgh Castle.

Why you should sign up!

Of course, if you’ve read this far and you’re still wondering why you should sign up, you might need to go read it again. We had the best time. This trip has been a great opportunity to meet students within our department who come from different backgrounds and who are headed in different directions. It’s also a great opportunity to look at international perspectives when it comes to criminology. This experience also looks great on a resume! You can read more about it here:

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