Taking part in a ‘kitchen concert’ at Ellisland Farm, in Dumfries, the former childhood home of famed Scottish bard, Robert Burns (1759–1796), the place where he also spent the last seven years of his life, was a highlight of Year 12 students Omri Kepes and Emily Tyrrell’s month-long adventure to Scotland as the 2019 Robert Burns Scottish Scholars. “We were part of a group of around 25 people, recreating the little concerts Burns would host in his kitchen, with the fire going and people singing, playing instruments, and telling stories. It was a really cool atmosphere, and a few people from the crowd even got up and performed,” says Emily.
Honouring the bard is now a key aspect of the annual scholarship, which is supported by Old Collegian, Rob Bruce-Barron (OC 1953). “It was fantastic to visit the Robert Burns Centre at Dumfries, where we learnt a lot about Burns’ life, and saw the famous glass panels on which he had etched poems with his diamond point pen,” says Omri.
During their visit to Dumfries, the students stayed with Jane Brown, who is the ex-president of the Robert Burns World Federation. They also met numerous past and current presidents of various Robert Burns Associations, which provided them with lots of opportunities to talk about Burns’ legacy and his renowned poems. “We saw statues of Burns everywhere during the trip, which gave us a new appreciation of how much of a figurehead he was,” says Emily.
The students independently visited five schools during their month-long visit to Scotland, coming together for the final week at the sixth, George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh, during which time they also made the trip to Dumfries. As day students at St Andrew’s College, both Omri and Emily enjoyed the opportunity to board at some of the schools they visited, while having a homestay at others. “I made friends much quicker in the boarding environment, but it was also great to travel to and from school with my homestay hosts and see more of the towns and cities I was staying in. Both experiences had their pros,” says Omri, who took part in hockey, debating, orchestra practice, and went to a school disco during his adventure.
Emily also embraced life in the schools she visited, participating in netball and debating, and attending a flute concert masterclass, and Ceilidh band practice. “As well as the history and incredibly old, beautiful buildings, a highlight for me was definitely the people. They were so welcoming, lovely, and willing to help. I made many new friends.”
Emily says she and Omri are very grateful to Mr Bruce-Barron for sponsoring the scholarship, as well as Mr Burrows, Mrs Moore and Mrs Simmons for organising the trip, and Mrs Leighton and Mr van Florenstein for their support. “It was awesome!”