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Reflections of The Isle of Iona

In the summer of 2013 Christina Carlson, Ph.D., associate professor of English traveled to the Isle of Iona with three students enrolled in the unique study abroad program at Iona College. This three-credit interdisciplinary course covers history, literature, religion and fine arts, and can be used to meet distribution requirements in these areas. The experience included a week-long stay on the Isle of Iona, off the coast of Scotland, in the medieval monastery originally founded by St. Columba. The participants live in community, share meals, worship together and study natural, historical, spiritual and social topics. The students also create manuscript illuminations to reflect their time on the Island. For more information on how to register for the next Isle of Iona experience please contact Dr. Carlson at
Reflections of the Isle of Iona a Study Abroad Experience
By Christina Carlson, Ph.D., associate professor of English
“Iona of my heart, Iona of my love, where monks’ voices were shall be lowing of cattle; but e’er the world shall come to an end Iona will be as it was.”  This short poem, really a prophecy attributed to St. Columba, could be considered the theme of our recent study abroad experience on the Island of Iona. We, a small group of students and faculty from Iona College, traveled across the sea and back in time (by two planes, two ferries, a bus and a train) to St. Columba’s tiny island off the northwest coast of Scotland in search of his spiritual legacy and what it might mean for us. We saw the ancient stone crosses erected by the monks of his community; we prayed and ate and gathered in the buildings where once monks’ voices were heard, and we traipsed across fields where there were indeed cattle (and sheep, and chickens!) to see the beach where he landed and the highest point of the island where he prayed in solitude.

But we also met other pilgrims, from Sweden, and Australia, and other places in the US, who were seeking Columba’s legacy themselves, and we came together, like a modern monastic community, to share meals and chores, worship and study. In the course of our week there, we talked about the medieval life of St. Columba, but we also discussed current issues of peace and justice that affect the world as well as our own local communities. And what we discovered is that, while the Isle of Iona is indeed a “thin place” where heaven seems a little bit closer to earth, Columba never intended to keep that deep spirituality hidden away from the world. Rather, despite its seeming remoteness, Columba used Iona as a base from which to evangelize Scotland, England, and eventually continental Europe. In short, from his home on Iona, Columba intended to “move the world” and that is exactly what he did. Now that we are back, hopefully we will take what we learned and draw on the deep peace we experienced so that we, too, can “move the world” and in doing so, perhaps “Iona will be as it was” once again.

Reflections of the Isle of Iona
By Michelle Muzzio, ‘14
Words can still not describe the experience of visiting the Isle of Iona accurately. The best way I can describe it would have to be calling it absolutely transcendent. They call the Isle of Iona the "closest place between heaven and Earth" and that is so unbelievably true. The Isle itself is mysterious in that it can make you feel the presence of God as well as St. Columba in such a real and powerful way. Waves of inspiration came over me and I hope they stay with me as I come back to Iona College in a few days. Momentum from the memory of St. Columba is contagious. Everyone on the isle felt it and I hope I can spread the passion that he had for living the mission that Iona College fosters today to everyone I come across from now on since my own experience on the Isle. 
Thoughts from the Isle of Iona
By Charlotte Ference, ‘14
There are few places in the world where one can be completely surrounded by breathtaking stillness, silence, and serenity, while still being aware of the vast array of nature's noises and demands.  Climbing mountains in rainstorms and wind is not what I expected signing up for a study abroad course, but the lessons I learned from the island, and from Dr. Carlson will never be forgotten.  The Isle of Iona has a magic, and a fierceness that lends itself to inner reflection and discovery.  Until this visit, I had never experienced such a place filled with both ancient history, and an incredible respect and hope for future developments. 
The Isle of Iona Experience
By Kaylynn Murchison ‘14
When thinking about my experience with the Isle of Iona it is truly hard to put into words. Iona is not simply a place, it’s an experience. There's something deeply mystical and almost magnetic about the island which, not only drew me to it with the Study Abroad program, but also draws many people from around the world to it. As an international experience, there's none to be had like traveling to the island. Meeting people from as close as the Isle of Mann to as far away as Australia truly shows the reach of the island. Living in community and following routines as monks provides an experience that I never would have had or will probably ever have in the future. There are very few words that can describe what it is like to travel to and live on Iona for a short period of time. The only way to truly understand it and its significance is to be there.