By: Athletic Communications Assistant Erin Madden
Even their checklists were similar. They both wanted to spend a summer in an English-speaking country so they wouldn't miss a cross country or track and field season or have to deal with a language barrier.
Little did they know that the teammates would choose to attend the exact same program at the exact same time.
Neither knew that the other was going until a conversation cropped up one day that revolved around study abroad. Through either luck or sheer coincidence, Wilson and Irwin realized they both selected the 2018 summer program at the University of Stirling in Scotland.
"I was really lucky that I was able to have someone, especially on the team, there with me," Irwin said. "It did make the transition to living in a foreign country a bit smoother just because someone that I already knew was there that was sharing the same experience with me."
Wilson added, "It was interesting, especially since I didn't think it was going to happen. It definitely made it more comfortable having somebody that I knew there to make it a little bit more relaxed. I wasn't doing everything completely on my own and now, coming back, we are able to share those stories. It's really cool that we have that together."
Those stories began just a few days after arriving in Scotland when Wilson went to the town running store for some hints on where to find the best trails. Instead of just being pointed in the right direction, the store employee said, "It might be easier if I show you." So all three met up one night after classes were over for Wilson and Irwin and they went for a run together on one of the hills near campus.
"We got to talk with him for a while about running in Scotland and his career and all of that," Wilson said. "It was really cool meeting some of the local people."
All of the running trails proved to be an added perk to the overall study abroad experience. Not only were the cross country student-athletes able to train for the upcoming season but the trails also allowed Irwin and Wilson to really explore Scotland from the ground up.
"As soon as I got on campus, there were basically just running trails everywhere," Irwin remembered. "I think one of the coolest parts was that I would just go off on a trail and I wouldn't know where I was going or where I went. It was just really cool to be exploring a country that I had never been in before by just going off on a run. Every single run was something different."
Running through the Scottish hills, however, made the typical summer cross country training a little more difficult. Wilson and Irwin ran the same distances at the same paces in Scotland as they would have back home but the intense hill work presented a challenge, even for Wilson who comes from Pennsylvania.
"The trails behind campus were all uphill and they were a lot steeper than anything I have at home," Wilson explained. "I always thought that, being from Pennsylvania, we had a lot of hills but it was like nothing I had run before."
Irwin added, "They're more like mountains than they are like hills, honestly. Being able to run over there and get in some very intense hill work definitely impacted my training. I definitely came back more prepared for hills than had I trained here."
Besides taking classes at the university and exploring the running trails, the duo also wanted to immerse themselves in European culture by taking trips to Greece, the Netherlands, Ireland and other countries. Irwin wanted to escape the tourist vibes by traveling to the Greek island of Crete where little to no English was spoken.
"If you go to a tourist area, you don't get to experience how the country actually is," Irwin said. "You get to experience what they want you to experience as a tourist. Being able to go there and say, 'Wow, this is completely different' was something really cool."
Meanwhile, Wilson found himself frequenting the Scottish capital of Edinburgh between a couple of class-related trips as well as solo excursions. He was intrigued by the blend of modern buildings, old sandstone streets and rolling hills.
"I loved the city," Wilson said. "It was beautiful. It's just a really cool area because you can get a little bit of everything."
With the summer program now behind them, both Wilson and Irwin can fondly recall their experiences as they encourage other students to consider a study abroad option.
"To anyone that's even considering studying abroad, it is 100 percent worth it," Irwin said. "There's really nothing else like it. You can say, 'You're going to have the time of your life.' You can hear that as much as you want but you're never actually going to experience it until you do it yourself."