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Serendipity in Scotland

June 2022

Photo of Abby Thatcher in front of a Scottish loch while on her life-changing study abroad.

Abby Thatcher knows the power of education. Growing up, she watched her father transition from long-haul trucker to nontraditional student and eventually to medical doctor, and his example instilled in her a deep desire to get everything she could from her own education.

When she came to BYU, Thatcher hoped her undergraduate degree would lead to law school and eventually to a career in public defense or prosecution—or perhaps in international relations or politics. But she started having second thoughts after an internship on the human trafficking task force at the Utah Attorney General’s Office.

“It was a good way to check the reality of working every day with really heavy subject matter,” she says.

Thatcher then had a rare opportunity to travel to Scotland for a four-month internship with the Scottish parliament—with some help from funding through the BYU David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies and the BYU College of Humanities.

“Brian Adams had been a member of the Scottish Parliament and a member of the Church, and he had arranged for BYU students to have spots working in the Parliament,” Thatcher says. “Each student works to leave a legacy of goodwill so that another student can follow.”

In Scotland, Thatcher conducted research, wrote speeches, and even helped with campaigns during a snap general election. She helped members of Parliament communicate with their constituents during the Brexit delays. But perhaps more importantly, she became an integrated member of the local community.

“It was the first time I had really seen myself as an American in contrast to someone else who is not an American,” says Thatcher, who served as a nursery leader in a local Church ward and participated with the local young single adults. “I roomed with people from Germany, Japan, and Africa who were enrolled at the University of Edinburgh or Edinburgh Napier University. I lived about a 40-minute walk away from the Parliament building, and I chose not to get a bus pass so I could enjoy my walk every day. There’s such a cool and unique energy to the city, and I walked by castles every day. Being immersed in the culture helped me come to value other perspectives.”

She also traveled to nearby cities with members of Parliament, and it was in Glasgow that she had a moment of serendipity.

“I had gone to the Glasgow Cathedral, and in the rectory they had a small display of 17th- and 18th-century woodcuts,” she says. “I was intrigued by one of the prints, which displayed an image of a man with a disability . . . who sold literature about people with disabilities.”

By that point, Thatcher had realized she was headed in the wrong direction academically, but suddenly she knew which way to go instead. When she arrived back in Provo, she got a humanities research grant and started a new project aimed at understanding the experiences of authors with disabilities in the early modern period of English literature. She has now published in academic journals, and she is headed for a six-year PhD program after her graduation from BYU in 2022.

“I’m so grateful for that moment of serendipity in Glasgow,” says Thatcher. “The funding I received through the Kennedy Center allowed me to pay significantly less out of pocket and to afford simple things like groceries and the occasional museum ticket. Flying to Scotland and living in Edinburgh aren’t cheap, and I will forever be grateful that people are so generous.”