Robert Burns Scholars

30 November 2023

St Andrew's College students Jack Flanagan and Megan Simpson at Robert Burns’ grave at Dumfries, Scotland.


“Life-changing”, is how Year 12 student, Jack Flanagan describes the three-week adventure to Scotland he and Megan Simpson (also Year 12) experienced as the 2023 Robert Burns Scholars. “I’ve grown a lot of confidence, knowing I can go to the other side of the world pretty much alone and visit a completely new school and meet new people every four or five days. There were so many highlights, but the connections and friendships I made for life were the most special.”

Megan says the ‘conversations, connections and memories’ she made with new friends was also a highlight of her experience. She particularly enjoyed visiting Edinburgh, where she visited her grandparents who live in the city, while a trip to Stirling Castle with her billets was another highlight. “Stirling Castle was incredible. It was crazy to think of the history and who would have stood in the exact same place hundreds of years ago.”

St Andrew’s sent its first scholars to Scotland in 2006, and since 2018, the programme has been named the Robert Burns Scholars in recognition of the beloved 17th century Scottish poet. Rector, Christine Leighton, says Jack and Megan returned with warm tales of Scottish hospitality, a greater appreciation of St Andrew’s Scottish heritage, and they were ‘great ambassadors’ for the College.

After arriving in Scotland, Jack and Megan separated to visit the first five schools on their individual itineraries. This saw them visit various parts of Scotland, including Edinburgh, St Andrew’s, Elgin, Crieff, Dunblane, Aberdeen, Perth, and Dundee. They met back in Edinburgh at the end of the trip to attend George Heriot’s School together.

During the adventure, they enjoyed a mixture of homestays and boarding, which was a new experience for them both, says Megan, who is one of the College’s most talented footballers, having represented New Zealand. “I boarded at Strathallan and Gordonstoun which are both international schools. There were 29 different languages spoken in the boarding house at Gordonstoun, and I got to know people from many different backgrounds. I also participated in a load of different activities that I wouldn’t normally, like coast guarding, water polo, rock climbing, and netball, because they were all run onsite.”

Jack, who is a gifted actor, singer and musician also enjoyed the opportunity to try new things, including water sports, haggis, and theatre. “I went to all the Drama classes, saw the Dracula show in Edinburgh, which was incredible, and had a private tour of a theatre.”

Another highlight was their visit to the Robert Burns Centre at Dumfries, as well as seeing Burns’ grave, former home, and farm. Jack and Megan enjoyed dinner at The Globe with the presidents of various Robert Burns clubs and societies, shared stories, and exchanged poems, including Jack singing a rendition of Burns’ classic poem, A Red Red Rose. “We both did the school haka, and the evening ended with traditional Scottish singing and dancing of Auld Lang Syne,” says Megan.

Both students are grateful to all who contributed to the scholarship, particularly Director of International Students and Exchanges, Palē Tauti; Rector, Christine Leighton and Rob Bruce-Barron (OC 1953) whose generosity in sponsoring the scholarships makes the trip possible.

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