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“Haste Ye Back” Soon, Hopefully

Time June 10th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Greetings, readers! It’s official: I’m back in the Land of Men Who Wear Pants. Re-assimilation has been a strange, strange process. Due to scheduling conflicts with summer classes and jobs, I was unable to fly back on the IFSA-Butler group flight and made the 8-hour voyage solo. (Way longer than the 6 hours it took to get there!) In a daze I exited the plane, attempting to get a cart for my luggage from one of the dispensers, only to do a double take at the machine that asked for “bills” rather than “notes.” This was followed by judgmental looks from the man at customs as he glared at my bottle of Scotch, sneering, “Are you even 21?” While this wasn’t exactly a warm, patriotic welcome, the weather quickly compensated with eighty-degree sunshine as a contrast from the forty-degree Scottish rain I had left behind.

The intervening days since then have been a mix of cultural highs and lows. Upon re-entering my house for the first time, I found new cushions on the couch that my parents purchased in the Highlands while visiting me. This touch of Scotland in my own American living room was a perfect combination of two places I’d come to love, and as embarrassing as it is to admit, it actually caused me to cry, taking my family and myself by surprise.

I also experienced minor cardiac arrest at finding a bottled mix for Hot Toddy’s (a traditional Scottish drink including whisky, honey, and ginger) in my local supermarket. While this encounter didn’t precipitate tears, it was yet another friendly touch of Scotland in my American environment.

Additionally, I am very fortunate in that two of my close IFSA friends, Richie Monsaert and Lorraine Simonis, are also Philadelphians, and spending time with them has eased the adjustment. I have to be careful not to bore family and friends by talking endlessly about going abroad, but with Richie and Lorraine I can fully unleash my European nostalgia, reminiscing about everything from The Hive (an Edinburgh club that’s a wee bit dodgy) to Tesco (a Scottish supermarket chain.)
In the end, it has truly been an amazing ride, and I am beyond grateful for this opportunity and the subsequent growth I underwent. One blog post is simply insufficient to try and conclude everything I’ve felt and experienced in the past six months, so I’ll simply sum it up with a message to Deirdra, Caiomhe, and Ruth, the IFSA-Butler Scottish program coordinators: keep a corner open in your office for me, I’m coming back to Scotland as soon as I can.

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Kosher Haggis

Time May 22nd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Recently a couple of friends and I headed up to St. Andrews University (a little over an hour’s drive from Edinburgh) for their Jewish Society/Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity’s first annual Matzah Ball. Matzah Ball was a black tie event for Jews in universities from all over the UK to congregate and mingle, celebrating our common faith and culture. Since being in Edinburgh, I have made several Jewish friends through the University’s Jewish Society, or, as we call it, “J Soc.” J Soc is a small, motley crew that meets for a bagel lunch once a week, consisting mainly of international students from America, with a few Australians and Europeans in the mix. My J Soc friends are a great group on their own, however, we were all eager to meet some British/Scottish Jews, and so about five days before the event, decided we would go to the ball.

This relatively last minute decision was followed by a scramble over logistics and details: How would we get to St. Andrews? Where would we stay? What would we wear?! Much chaos ensued, but by Thursday evening all was worked out for Friday night’s party.

Or so we thought. On Thursday night all guests received an email informing us that the Matzah Ball’s location had been changed. Rather than the posh St. Andrews Golf Hotel advertised on the Facebook event, the location was now secret. Taxis would arrive at a pregame held at the home of one of the event hosts to transport all guests to the undisclosed site.

You may think this sounds like the sketchiest scenario ever, or as the Scots say, “a wee bit dodgy.” My friends and I had the same reaction; we emailed the hosts for more information. They responded that this sudden change of plans was in reaction to threats from student Palestinian groups on St. Andrews’ campus. Apparently, the hotel had refused to host the event after the Palestinian group had issued threats against the Jews of St. Andrews. After calling multiple other venues, the Matzah Ball hosts were eventually able to find a space able/willing to accommodate them.

The Ball ended up being a blast, among my top three evenings in Scotland. Complete with unbelievably friendly students, whisky, and traditional Scottish and Jewish dancing (ceilidhs and horahs), it was an exceptional cultural experience that I’m unlikely ever to replicate. However, I was appalled at the reaction of the various Palestinian students and hotels in the St. Andrews area. Until then, I had not encountered any Anti-Semitism in Edinburgh or the UK at all, and have never had any such experiences in the States. I write this not to discourage any potential Jewish students from going to Scotland; I have loved my time here and have felt perfectly safe and welcome throughout the duration of my stay. If anything, I have more Jewish American/Australian friends here than I do in the US. Rather, I blog about it merely to document it among my more profound cultural confrontations and give my readers pause to reflect on whether such a situation would have played out in America.

For more information about the event, read this article published by the St. Andrews student newspaper a couple of weeks ago: http://www.thesaint-online.com/2013/04/jewish-charity-ball-goes-ahead-despite-threats-from-palestine-activists/

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Skye fall

Time April 26th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

What a crazy past few weeks it has been! Spring break at the University of Edinburgh commenced two and a half weeks ago, and since then I have been making my way through Europe. Most of spring break consisted of traveling the UK with family and then Florence, Italy with fellow IFSA students. Both were amazing experiences, consisting of excellent site-seeing, hiking, shopping, art, food, and now memories. However, the cherry on top was the last few days spent traveling to the Isle of Skye on the IFSA trip.
While boarding a bus at 7:30 am last Friday was less than enjoyable, it soon proved to be worth it as a red-headed tour guide donning a kilt led us on a ride through the Highlands, sharing history and amusing anecdotes on the way. Our tour guide’s name was Will and he was a fantastic guide; I doubt anyone on our bus will forget the words to “Donald Where’s Your Trousers, ” his favorite Scottish folksong which he played no less than a dozen times throughout the weekend. A real Scottish musical gem that mentions the Isle of Skye, it’s worth a listen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yw0bLHTOb0

The lyrics “let the wind blow high let the wind blow low” never rang truer than when we hiked the Old Man of Storr, a beautiful rock formation on the Isle on Saturday afternoon. The steep hike up the desolate, rocky heath was beautiful and engaging, but made significantly more challenging by gale-force winds that afternoon. Upon reaching the summit, the winds were so strong that Will cautioned us to sit down or grab on to the rock for fear of being blown off the cliff. It was a fantastic hike, and enabled me to snap my best Scottish picture yet. IFSA photo contest, watch out!

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Going PUBlic

Time March 22nd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

One of my favorite aspects of life in Scotland is without question the pub culture. A “pub” in America tends to denote a rowdy bar, consisting mainly of raucous drunken people out for a good time. Such pubs definitely exist in Scotland as well, and on Friday and Saturday nights are pretty easy to come by. However, many go beyond hazy, drunken locations. Scottish pubs also serve as communal living rooms where one can meet friends and enjoy a casual drink or two. They’re similar to a Starbucks in the States, only with a liquor license and good, home-cooked meals to boot. Many Scotsmen will stop by their favorite pub on a weeknight for a casual pint or two with friends, a relaxing way to wind down after a long day. An atmosphere often complete with a guitarist playing in a corner or a rugby match on the TV further completes the comfy ambiance. Moreover, people are incredibly friendly, happy to meet others who have stopped in for some quality rest and relaxation like themselves.
Pub highlights thus far include an hour-long conversation with two lawyers from Glasgow on American pop-culture, a pub band’s Gaelic rendition of “Sweet Home Alabama,” and a discussion with a bartender from Aberdeen on his favorite Shakespearean works. I’ve found pubs to be one of the best ways to truly absorb Scottish culture, and I wish more existed for the American PUBlic.

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Don’t Stay Home from your Homestay

Time March 8th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I spent last weekend in the Cumbria region of Northern England on my IFSA-Butler homestay, and I must say, it couldn’t have been a better experience. I stayed with Alex and Douglas Chalmers on their farm and enjoyed a weekend packed with activities, including picnics by waterfalls, exploring Pendragon Castle (where King Arthur’s father lived!), visiting a chocolate factory, attending a local ceilidh, and tasting my way through a national marmalade festival. Home-cooked meals, comfy beds, and the Chalmers’ great personalities were the cherries on top of this excellent weekend. I definitely hope to stay in touch with them, pictures soon to come!

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Edinbrrrgh

Time February 6th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I’ve certainly had to do a lot of acclimating to the weather in Scotland thus far (or acCLIMATEing, rather). Sunshine is rare, and when the sun does decide to make an appearance it’s generally a cameo followed within 10 minutes by a storm. This storm will then wear itself out after 15 blustery minutes of snow/sleet/rain blowing horizontally in high-powered gusts of wind (these 15 minutes obviously always overlap with my walk to classes). This fun meteorological game then continues for sometime until the elements eventually decide on a solid gray colored sky for the remainder of the daylight hours. (Note: Sunset in Scotland is currently at 4:55pm. Still not regretting leaving my shades at home.) However, while constant gray skies may sounds dreary, they actually are quite beautiful in conjunction with the random bursts of sunshine, and act as a great backdrop to the Scottish landscapes. I’ve also never appreciated my hooded jacket more!


The first picture shows one of the rare sunny Edinburgh days at Edinburgh Castle.

Next are the characteristic gray skies at St. Andrews cathedral/cemetery.

The third is once again, typical weather at University of Edinburgh’s Kings Buildings (the science/engineering campus).

The fourth photo shows the primary rule of Scottish weather: it’s never bad weather to wear your kilt!

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Getting Back on Kilter

Time January 28th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Greetings from across the pond!

Sorry for the long space between posts, since I last wrote I have officially arrived in Scotland, moved into my flat, and made it through my first two weeks of classes. In an attempt to make some sense of the fantastic chaos of the past few weeks I’m going to list my salient pros and cons of Scotland to this point:

Pro: Edinburgh is the perfect size city for a semester
I spent a good deal of time debating whether to study abroad in Edinburgh or London, and I couldn’t be happier with my choice (no offense, London.) Edinburgh is small enough for comfortable navigation of the city, yet large enough that I feel I can explore it for months. Also, the population of the city and especially the University is impressively international: I’m currently sharing a flat with an English and Norwegian student.

Con: Holy smokes
The Scots smoke like chimneys! On my first day of class the professor interrupted a two-hour lecture 45 minutes in to ask if anyone wanted to take a cigarette break. While this has not happened in any of my classes since, once was enough to make an impression.

Pro: KILTS. EVERYWHERE.
And no, wearing a skirt does not emasculate a man. Rather, the hottest Scots wear kilts!

Con: Haggis
Yep, the medieval culinary delicacy is still going strong. What’s more, the Scottish have gotten creative in their usage of haggis in recent years. Since arriving I’ve seen haggis-topped pizza, haggis flavored potato chips (or “crisps” as they say in the UK), haggis-stuff ravioli, and a plethora of other innovative cuisine that I do my best to avoid.

Pro: Cèilidhs!
A Gaelic word pronounced “kay-lees,” (no, I have 0 idea how “cèilidh” could possibly = kay-lee) a cèilidh is a traditional Scottish dance that’s something akin to American square dancing, but SO MUCH MORE FUN. Cèilidhs are held regularly and tons of young people actually go! (When was the last time you went square dancing on a Friday night in the States…?) I attended one last Friday held in honor of Burns Night, a Scottish holiday honoring Robert Burns. Words can hardly do justice to this fantastic practice, so I posted videos as well!

Pun credit to Lauren Clement, fellow IFSA traveler :)


Find more videos like this on Institute for Study Abroad – Butler University

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The Cat’s Out of the Bagpipe

Time January 7th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It’s only a few short days until I depart for Scotland, so needless to say I am equally psyched and terrified. As I begin to pack all of my belongings (that sounds more civilized than the frantic shoving of clothes into suitcases that will ensue shortly), amidst the deliberations of whether I really need all those pairs of jeans, I wonder how I will change this semester. I have never travelled to another country without my family, and know almost no one going through IFSA-Butler/currently in Scotland. Will I have the Scottish adventure of a lifetime? Will I spend the next 5 months sitting alone on a heath eating haggis? Only time will tell. Regardless, I don’t want to be pant-less doing either, so I’ll probably pack all those pairs of jeans.

One of the biggest questions currently casting shadows across my packing is the sun, literally. Scotland is so far north that there’s much less sunlight than I’m accustomed to during the winter: only about 7 hours a day presently. This is a big difference from the 9.5 at home in Philadelphia. Additionally, various guidebooks/internet sources inform me that with all of the clouds and rain so ubiquitous in Scottish forecasts, the meager 7 hours often feels like even less. Nothing makes me want to stay in bed more in the morning than waking up in the cold and dark; will getting up for classes everyday be a drag? How about walking home at 5pm through the chilly night air? At least I don’t have to pack sunscreen.

Additionally, as a vegetarian, the traditional Scottish delicacies of varying sausages, mincemeat, and haggis are not quite my style. How hard is it to come by fresh fruit and veggies? I don’t want to start out my travels by already having beef with the Scots. Hopefully I can come across some produce without too much difficulty.

I’ll keep you posted as I depart to this kilted northern region of the globe!

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