“I got to learn so much in over a week, I can only imagine how much more I could learn in a semester abroad.”

Emily Edwards.

While many students can’t wait for summer to take a break from school, focus on work or get that perfect tan, some of your classmates have different plans. They might be taking summer classes to earn extra credits or even adventuring on an exchange program.

Study abroad programs have many benefits for students. You can pick up a new language, immerse yourself in a new culture and even deepen your knowledge in your field of study. No matter where you go or the program you’re in, an exchange program can give your resume a serious boost.

This is for you – yes, you – who are unsure whether to spend a semester or just take a course abroad. After an 11-day trip to some unique spots in Scotland and England, we caught up with Emily Edwards, a media and communication studies student at the University of Guelph-Humber, to learn more about her experience.

First things first, let me tell you about this study abroad course. Called “Scotland and England: Haunting Visitors,” it’s offered by UofGH and takes students to several historic cities in the United Kingdom, known for their connections to ghost stories, legends and gruesome events.

You now may be asking yourself how this even relates to media studies. Well, during this exchange program, students explore the connections between local history, storytelling and commercial tourism. They delve into key concepts from various media disciplines, such as consumer studies, folklore and performance and theatre. The program takes place in regions of Scotland and England, famous for their rich supernatural heritage.

So, let’s hop on a flight from YYZ to Edinburgh Airport, Scotland, where Edwards’ journey began.

First stop: Edinburgh, Scotland

Picture of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Photo credits: Emily Edwards

First stop: the Land of Cakes, Scotland. This was a very special – and favourite – part of the trip for Edwards. She was very excited to finally set foot in Scotland for the first time, given her Scottish background.

As a kid from Barrie who grew up doing Highland dancing and listening to her father play the bagpipe, Edwards couldn’t stop thinking about her heritage for a single second. Activities that may seem common in Scotland, like people playing bagpipes on the street, deeply touched Edwards’ heart.

“I’d stop to take a video to send it to my dad. Even haggis, a traditional dish in Scotland, made me think of my grandma. She used to make it for my dad all the time,” Edwards said.

Despite spending just three days in Edinburgh, the trip itinerary was packed with activities. Edwards could spend a whole day talking about the city’s history after visiting the Edinburgh Dungeon and the Mercat Tours. She says the guides were excellent storytellers, making the students feel they were part of the history of the place. She recalls hearing mysterious knocks and learning stories of people who once lived in the underground tunnels, now said to haunt the area.

However, her favourite part was visiting the Edinburgh Castle. Although being out of breath after climbing “a whole bunch of stairs,” the view from the top of the castle was unmatched. She loved having a perfect view of the entire city. This gave her a great sense of its layout without having to explore every single corner.

“Just seeing the castle in person was my favourite part, even just seeing everything surrounding it,” Edwards said.

After three days of spooky stories and experiencing her family history, Edwards jumped on a train to the next destination: York, England.

Pictures from left to right of Dean Village, Calton Hill and Edinburgh Castle.
Photos credits: Emily Edwards

Next stop: York, England

Picture of York, England.
Photo credits: Emily Edwards

This city was set to be the highlight of the spooky exchange program. York is known as the most haunted city in Europe. The cherry on top of the cake was the Principal York hotel, where the students stayed for two days. The hotel dates its origins back to 1878.

Unlike Edinburgh, York is a much smaller city, and Edwards noted how it felt like a more close-knit community. During her time at the most haunted city in Europe, she says the York Ghost Bus Tour was the highlight. With couch-style seats and red lamps inside, the bus would stop and start as the guide shared fascinating stories about the places they travelled past. It was not only a great activity, but Edwards got to see most of the city while on the bus.

Besides the spooky stories on the bus, Edwards embraced classic English fare. She tried fish and chips and a British-style apple crumble with custard. A real English experience, innit mate?

“I feel like that one [York] had the most history that we got to dive into. The one that tied in with the theme of the course the most,” Edwards said.

As the two days in York came to an end, it was time to head to the final city on the itinerary. “The next station is London King’s Cross, London King’s Cross station.”

Picture of Cliffords Tower in York, England.
Photo credits: Emily Edwards

Last stop: London, England

Picture of Abbey Road Studios in London, England during Edwards' time at the exchange program.
Photo credits: Emily Edwards

Edwards describes London as a bigger version of Toronto. However, she points out that they don’t have subways there – they have the “tubes.” And, if you’re wondering, it did rain while Edwards was there, and she also saw the Big Ben – just another typical day in The Big Smoke.

To match the spooky theme of the exchange program, their London adventure kicked off with a Jack the Ripper tour, where they explored some of the locations where the infamous serial killer committed his crimes in the nineteenth century. They also visited the Shakespeare’s Globe, the theatre where William Shakespeare wrote his plays. Edwards recalls watching a few plays back in her high school days, but none compared to seeing Shakespeare’s Richard III performed at the Globe.

One standout experience for Edwards was visiting “Word on the Water,” an independent bookstore situated on a barge.

“It was a bookstore on a boat. It’s not something you commonly see, it was just so unique,” Edwards said.

After nine days of learning more about ghosts and haunted heritage firsthand in England and Scotland, it was time to return to Toronto.

Pictures from left to right of Word on the Water bookstore, Big Ben and West Minister Abbey during Edwards' time at the exchange program.
Photos credits: Emily Edwards

Takeaways from the exchange program

Picture of Swoop the Great Horned Owl, the mascot of the University of Guelph-Humber, in Edinburgh, Scotland during an exchange program.
Photo credits: Emily Edwards

Exchange programs are the perfect opportunity to unwind and have some fun, but also a memorable learning experience.

Edwards mentions that she now understands how folklore and history influence media and advertising, something she hadn’t delved into before the trip. She found it fascinating to see history turned into something profitable.

During the exchange, students were tasked with creating daily Facebook posts to summarize their activities, tying their experiences into media and communication studies.

As you read through this article, you might wonder if Edwards believes in ghosts after this spooky adventure. Well, she didn’t really believe in them before, but after an 11-day trip to the most haunted places in Europe, she said “Ghosts are real.”

Beyond gaining valuable insights into storytelling, marketing and advertising that align with her program, Edwards made unforgettable memories.

“One of my favourite things was the friendships I made. The community of the group on the trip was by far one of my favourite things,” Edwards said.

Emily Edwards and her classmates on an exchange program.

Edwards suggests that every student should take a study abroad program, highlighting the great opportunities offered by UofGH and Humber to learn in a completely different environment.

“I got to learn so much in over a week, I can only imagine how much more I could learn in a semester abroad,” Edwards said.

She points out that even if you’re simply interested in exploring the world and stepping out of your comfort zone, travelling is still an amazing learning opportunity.

If you’re planning to take a semester abroad or have taken a course abroad before, let us know on our socials @shareignite. We always love sharing stories from our community!

Feature image courtesy of Emily Edwards.

Are you staying in town during the summer? Check out how to make the most out of your summer on campus!

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