Inspired by her study abroad experience, UH Hilo biology student U‘i Barongan publishes nature book filled with her watercolors and poetry

Taylor “Uʻi” Barongan, UH Hilo senior, did a semester in 2021 at a Scottish university. She’s now publishing a book filled with her watercolors and poetry inspired by Scotland’s landscapes, plants, and animals.

Taylor in a field of tall grass, holds book up. In the background is her watercolor, which is on the cover of the book.
Artist, writer, poet, and budding biologist Taylor “Uʻi” Barongan holds a copy of her new book, Love Letters to Scotland, to be published in late June, 2023. (Courtesy photos)

By Susan Enright.

Taylor “Uʻi” Barongan, a biology major at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo who received a highly competitive U.S. Department of State scholarship in 2021 to fund studies at a Scottish university that year, is publishing a book this month of her original poems and watercolors documenting the environment of Scotland. Love Letters to Scotland is independently published and now available on Amazon.

Cover of the book, Love Letters to Scotland, by Taylor Barongan. The cover of the book is a watercolor of a stream, fields and a mountain by Barongan.
Cover of the book, Love Letters to Scotland, by UH Hilo biology student Taylor “Uʻi” Barongan. The artwork and poetry in the book are all by the author. (Courtesy photo)

Barongan, a 2020 graduate of Connections Public Charter School in Hilo and now a senior at UH Hilo, attended the University of Stirling, Scotland, in fall 2021, where she studied ecology, cellular biology, and film analysis.

In a twist of fate, Barongan was unable to attend classes in person in Scotland because of covid restrictions for students. But she traveled to Scotland anyway, as a tourist, experiencing the culture, hiking, exploring, and enjoying the outdoors.

Barongan says she’s more of an artist than a scientist, and she recorded her extracurricular explorations through painting watercolors of the landscapes, animals, and plants she saw in Scotland’s environment. As part of the service project for her U.S. Department of State Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, she spent the last two years creating the book, Love Letters to Scotland, a compilation of those watercolors, along with her original poetry.

“It also features some history and information about places and species,” Barongan says, adding that the book is essentially a little guide but also her “love letter” to those places.

“Whenever I stay somewhere new for a while, I like to get to know the plants because it helps me get familiar with the place,” she says. “I wanted to focus on native species but I also have a few other nonnative species in there because I thought they were quite beautiful. As for the places, I wanted to highlight specific areas that perhaps did not as get much tourist attention.”

She adds, “I think this book is great for people who love art and poetry and also great for people who want to travel to Scotland or have even been to a few of these places.”

Watercolor of a rabbit and poem about a rabbit in the bush.
A page from Love Letters from Scotland, watercolors and poetry by Taylor “Uʻi” Barongan, published in late June, 2023. (Courtesy photo)

Barongan, currently editor-in-chief at the UH Hilo’s art and literary magazine Kanilehua and a peer mentor at the university’s mentoring program Ka Pouhana, is very active in undergraduate scientific research along with a wide variety of arts including photography, music, writing, and painting.

“I love culture,” she explains. “I love playing guitar and ukulele. I love writing. I consider the arts to be very important aspects of both life and science. In the future I hope there are more opportunities to continue integrating art into scientific community outreach and research efforts.”

Barongan has posted a short video about the new book to her Instagram account.

Thumbing through the book, she says, “Let’s talk about my new book! In it, I talk about plants, animals, and places in Scotland. Each page has a piece of poetry, an original watercolor illustration, and a little bit of history either on the plant, animal, or the place.”

“In it, I talk about a lot of the really cool things Scotland has to offer,” she adds. “If that sounds like something up your alley, check it out! It’s out June 30 on Amazon.”

Watercolor of a bird and love poem with flying bird as an analogy.
A page from Love Letters from Scotland, watercolors and poetry by Taylor “Uʻi” Barongan, published in late June, 2023. (Courtesy photo)

Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

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