What Scotland taught me about independence


By Boswell Hutson

It’s very rare and exciting event when a nation votes for independence. Early on Friday morning (or late on Thursday night, if you’re like me), Anglophiles all over the world waited with bated breath to see if Scotland would join the ranks of nations to secede from the Queen’s rule. 

Of course, once the polls were closed and the results were tallied, Scotland had voted against independence from the United Kingdom — a decision that was probably for the best, though I don’t purport to be an expert on politics across the pond.

While Scotland may not have been able to achieve independence as a nation this time around (rejected for the third time since 1979), my visit to the country taught me more than I’d ever known about being personally independent.

Last year, I got to spend six months in London studying  Classics. My university was rigorous, and adjusting to English culture and the different higher education system certainly added to its difficulty.

One week, when I had a surplus of free time and was procrastinating addressing a stressful exam schedule, I decided to buy a ticket to Scotland. I had visions of Harry Potter-esque mountains and fields, and when I set out for the Highlands (what the Scottish call “mountains”) the next day at 5:30 a.m. I was definitely not disappointed.

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I think Scotland is one of the best nations in the world. It’s beautiful and majestic, it offers free education to all of its citizens, and Braveheart was filmed there. 

Sure, it’s really gray and rains all the time, but even that can be endearing after one spends a little time in the Highlands. Sometimes you just need to see nature, and Scotland provided a fantastic break from the frenetic facets of London city life.

Over the next five days, I spent my time walking 96 miles through the Highlands. Initially, it was exhausting and daunting — I was completely alone, and as if the experience of studying abroad wasn’t scary enough, this was extreme solitude in a very remote part of the United Kingdom. I walked through countless hours of rain, encountered more sheep than people and, most importantly, learned more about myself than I ever knew was possible. 

I know that’s a cliche, but until one experiences it, it’s hard to really grasp how legitimate that self-awareness is. 

I didn’t think I would come out alive, but I wanted to take this walk by myself just to say that I could. At first, I was only going to hike ten miles and turn back. Ten became twenty, twenty became forty, and before I knew it, I had made it from the Highlands to Glasgow, all by myself. 

Even better than this, however, I returned to London with a calmer mind-set than I’d previously had, and found the transition to English culture from then on even easier because I was more confident in myself.

Now that I’m back in the United States, I don’t have a Scotland to retreat to. I can’t go to the mountains and hike for days on end without any repercussions and, most importantly, I no longer see sheep on a regular basis. 

With that being said, however, one explicit thing my experience in Scotland taught me is the importance of solitary time to relax, which is valuable for everyone, especially students. 

With midterms looming, I’m sure many students here at the University could use some time to focus, but feel suffocated by academic and extracurricular commitments. I’m not an expert on Scottish politics, and I’m also not a professional advice-giver, but I can almost guarantee that if students took more time to focus and gather their thoughts separate from other people and other commitments, nearly everyone would be better off.

I don’t mean to sound like your mom, who thinks you spend too much time on your phone when you’re home visiting, or your professor, who thinks you should hit the library instead of KAMs before an exam, but detaching from the hectic pace of our contemporary college environment is valuable. 

Whether it be school, clubs or even social interaction, detaching from responsibility truly allows us to learn more about ourselves, and in turn, have more confidence in everything that we do.

Nothing can really compare to halting studying for exams to take a train up to the Highlands; I can’t do that any more. What I, and all of us, can do, however, is go on a walk on the beautiful brick-paved streets of Urbana and conveniently forget our phones at home, perhaps catching at least a hint of what it feels like to relax and focus. I guess that’s kind of the same thing, right?

Boswell is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected].