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‘Literary Scotland’ called an ‘incredible trip'

Barry McNamara
The Monmouth group poses at Balvenie Castle in Dufftown.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – During their junior year, May graduates Amanda Grissom and Hunter Wollwert hatched a plan. The students – who would go on to be summa cum laude graduates in theatre and English, respectively – began bending their English professor’s ear about leading a study-abroad trip to Scotland.

In May, that trip became a reality, with Grissom and Wollwert among 10 current or former Monmouth students to take part in the travel portion of the “Literary Scotland” course, led by their professor – and now dean of the faculty – Mark Willhardt.

“Amanda and Hunter were the ones who told me I ‘had’ to travel to Scotland with students and then helped me plan the trip initially,” said Willhardt, who was named dean in March, less than a year after taking the position in an interim role.

“When I first started prepping for the trip, I didn’t know very much about Scotland or Scottish literature, but last summer I read poetry and books, looked at maps, and researched museums,” said Grissom, who got a bagpipe tattoo during the trip in honor of her time in Scotland and her four years as a Fighting Scot. “When I got home from Scotland, I found my old notebook with my original questions and research findings. It was rewarding to see all I didn’t know back then and realize how much I learned.”

Scottish authors and places

The purpose of the trip, said Willhardt, was “to explore the lives of the authors and places depicted in the readings for our ‘Literary Scotland’ class.”

Joe Doner ’21 of Arlington Heights, Ill., who will return to Scotland later this summer for a three-week Fulbright experience, said those authors included more than the famed Robert Burns and Walter Scott.

“I got to learn and experience Scottish literature beyond Burns and Scott, which offered me a deeper and more unique understanding of the Scottish people and culture that I didn’t have beforehand,” he said.

Although Willhardt is now tasked with knowing a fair amount about all the academic disciplines that Monmouth offers, his specialty is Scottish literature, stemming from his own time abroad as an undergraduate.

“I was doing a study-abroad experience in Aberdeen, taking a class in modern Scottish literature,” he recalled. “The discussions echoed many I had had about Irish poetry and politics at the start of the 20th century. When I realized that those overlapped with the Scottish situation but that Scots had an even better sound system than English for poetry, I was hooked.”

Scots in the Highlands

Willhardt used personal connections from his numerous visits to Scotland to enhance the trip.

“After my year abroad, I was lucky enough to work at a castle at an estate in the Highlands,” he said. “I’ve stayed friends with the family, and so my students and I hiked 5.5 miles from Dufftown over the Highland hills to meet them, to talk about what it means to live on and run a Highland estate, and to wander about the grounds. It was awesome.”

So, too, he said, was getting to introduce Edinburgh to his students, who had read works such as Ian Rankin's The Falls and “had seen it written about, but now they could see it all with their own eyes.”

Near Edinburgh was something else the students appreciated seeing with their own eyes – the view from a peak named Arthur’s Seat.

“The best memory I have from the trip is climbing Arthur’s Seat,” said Doner. “Not only was the climb rewarding in its difficulty but also because of the beautiful views it offered of the city. A close second was our visit to the Culloden museum and battlefield, a key place in Scotland’s history that offered a poignant look into the past.”

Grissom also was impacted by her time at Culloden, as well as the step back in time that the trip provided.

“One of my favorite things that I learned on the trip that I hadn’t fully understood before was what life was like in Edinburgh hundreds of years ago,” she said. “We took a trip through the Real Mary King’s Close, and walking through those small rooms and tight streets gave me a better understanding than any book or website ever could. I had a similar experience at Culloden Battlefield. I read about Culloden and the battle there in many history books, but going to the battlefield itself and standing where so many died had a much greater effect than reading about it.”

Ronda Willhardt, executive assistant to Monmouth’s president, was also on the trip. She said she enjoyed the view from another peak.

“Having the opportunity to climb Càrn Aosda, a 3,008-foot mountain, and take in the amazing views of the Highlands was a personal highlight of the trip for me,” she said. “Five of us from our group made it to the top.”

She said there were other highlights, as well.

“I enjoyed getting to know the students better during the week. Their appreciation of every activity, their consideration and respect for all with whom they interacted, and their ready smiles and laughter along the way made the trip a joy. They represented Monmouth College well.”

“It was an incredible trip,” said Doner, “and I highly recommend it if it is ever offered again.”