Studying abroad in: Scotland Host University: University of Edinburgh U.S. University: Connecticut College Major: Computer Science Year: Junior
What’s It Really Like?
Each semester IFSA-Butler students chronicle their adventures and experiences as they live and study in different countries. Read a firsthand perspective of how cultural and educational differences shape their journey.
A few weeks ago, the University of Edinburgh had its half term break, so I didn’t have any classes. Technically, it was Innovative Learning Week, and we’re meant to stay around and participate in the events going on, but in practice a lot of students use this time to go home or travel. My friend Katie and I decided to spend a few days traveling to London. During orientation, we learned that the train is probably the best way to get from Edinburgh to London. You can even get a young person’s railcard, which will save you a third on all train fares!
I finished packing just in time and took the bus to Edinburgh Waverley, which is the station in the middle of the city, between New Town and Old Town. From there, we boarded our train to Kings Cross in London. The train ride is about four and a half hours long, which is obviously longer than a plane flight would take, but it takes you from the center of Edinburgh to the center of London so it’s a little easier than flying. Plus, you don’t have to deal with security and getting to flight early and everything. We left Edinburgh at 4:30 and arrived in London at 9:00. From there, we caught the tube to our hostel and then checked in.
One of the reasons I’m glad to be studying away with IFSA-Butler is the trips they sponsor. Last month, me and many of the other students studying with them in Scotland took a trip to Argyll Forest Park, a few hours west of Edinburgh. We stayed at the Benmore Centre for Outdoor Learning, which is at a beautiful old manor amidst botanic gardens.
The first morning, we split into our activity groups. I should start by mentioning that most of the groups at the Benmore Centre are schoolchildren, so everything we did was pretty tame but tons of fun. I spent the morning caving with a group of seven others. We started by getting suited up with waterproofs, helmets, headlamps, and harnesses. Then, we drove to the trail in a minibus and hiked up to the caves. We entered the first cave by sliding through a small opening, then rappelling down a ways. From there, it was a pretty straight shot over a lot of rocks to the end, where there was a ladder so that we could easily get out.
Hello! Welcome back to my video blog! A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to do the lighting design for the Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company’s production of King Lear. As the lighting designer, I started by familiarizing myself with the show and meeting with the director. After finding out what the director wanted, I created a light plot, which shows where the lights go. This was basically my first time creating one from scratch, but I think it went reasonably well.
If you haven’t been bored to death with lighting jargon yet, let me tell you about the rest of the process next! I attended a number of rehearsals for the show. I took notes about where the actors were on stage and how I wanted them to look.
The weekend before the show, we loaded everything into the theatre. That Sunday, we did our cue-to-cue, where I created and recorded all of the cues for the show on the lighting desk. The main direction that I was given was that it should be sort of dark and cool throughout the show, but that still gave me a lot of options. I was reasonably happy with how it ended up, but I don’t think most people would notice the same things that I did!
Recently, IFSA-Butler organized a short Scottish food tour. It’s impossible for me to turn down free food, so of course I went! Our first stop was a Scottish food store called Cranachan & Crowdie. It’s named after a Scottish dessert, chranachan, and a Scottish cheese, crowdie. Every item that they sell is made in Scotland, or designed in Scotland and made in England, so it’s very authentic. While we were there, we tried a selection of mustards, chutneys, and salami on oatcakes. As we left, we also got to try some ginger shortbread, which was excellent.
Next, we headed up the Royal Mile to a pub called The Royal McGregor. Our meal there was haggis fritters topped in a sweet chili sauce. Haggis is a traditional Scottish food made of sheep organs, oatmeal, and spices. This was not my first time trying haggis, so I knew what to expect. The fritters, although not very traditional, were very tasty and I’d definitely go back and have them again.
Last week, I worked on a production of The Pillowman put on by the Edinburgh University Theatre Company. The Pillowman, written by Martin McDonagh, first premiered in 2003 and won the Olivier Award for Best Play in 2004. The EUTC last produced it in 2009. It is an extremely dark comedy set in a totalitarian police state. The main character, Katurian, is a short story writer who mostly writes stories about children dying in horrible ways. In the play, he is brought into to be interrogated by detectives who are investigating murders that are based on his stories.
Bedlam Theatre is the home of the EUTC and the location of most of their productions. The first thing that you notice about the theater is the beautiful architecture — it’s a converted neo-gothic church built in 1849. The second thing you notice is how cold it is inside. The building isn’t heated and it’s usually colder inside of it than outside. I usually arrive and then put on more clothing, instead of taking off all of my winter outerwear.
I was the sound and video operator for the show, so the first rehearsal I attended was tech rehearsal. We skipped through the script to the various sound, light, and set transition cues. We also rehearsed certain difficult or intricate moments involving the actors, like lighting a fire and shooting a gun. As we moved to these points, we built the cues for those sections. I constructed sound and video cues in a playback program called QLab. The video below is from this rehearsal and it’s interesting to watch the changes in scenery and lighting throughout this rehearsal.
While working on the show, I met many students who attend university here, and I’ve turned out to have unexpected mutual friends with many of them. For example, the sound designer is from the US, and he knows a few people who go to Connecticut College, which is my home school. Another student from Conn studied away here last year and participated in theater. Some of her former cast mates were involved in this production.
In the upcoming weeks, I’ll also be working with the Shakespeare Company on a production of King Lear and then again with the EUTC on a new play later in the semester. I definitely recommend getting involved to other students; I think that many of the connections I make in societies this semester could last for a long time!
I spent the last weekend in January on a homestay in Penrith, a town in the northern English county of Cumbria, along with a number of other people on the IFSA-Butler program. Every IFSA-Butler student here at the University of Edinburgh goes on a homestay, where they stay with a British family in their home over the weekend. While some families will host many students, my hosts had just me and my friend Katie. On Friday afternoon, we boarded a bus that took us on the two and a half hour drive to Penrith. Our host family picked us up from the town center. They lived in a flat about ten minutes outside of the town center. Once we got there, we ate a quick meal and then headed to bed.
After breakfast the next morning, we walked into the town center. Penrith is home to St. Andrew’s Church, parts of which were constructed in the 12th century, while it was completed in the 1700s. The churchyard also contains two monuments from the 10th century, the Giant’s Grave and the Giant’s Thumb. After seeing the church, we walked to the ruins of Penrith Castle. It was built in the 15th century and was granted to the future Richard the Third in 1471. After his death, the castle passed through a number of owners and eventually fell into ruin. We also visited a small museum in the local visitor’s center that had everything from ancient artifacts from the area up through displays about Penrith during the World Wars.
After that, we had a relaxing night. Katie and I completed a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle of Tower Bridge. Later, we went to a nearby pub called Cross Keys for a pint. The next morning, Katie made breakfast and I did the dishes, then we packed up and walked into town to catch the bus back to Edinburgh. All in all, it was nice to get out of the city for a weekend. I definitely recommend the homestay to future IFSA-Butler students. That’s all from me, and I’ll see you next time!
Before I begin video blogging about my experience abroad this semester, I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself. My name is Elissa and I’m a junior at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut, although I’m originally from California. I study computer science and I’m getting an interdisciplinary certificate in Arts & Technology. I’m spending this spring semester at The University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where I’m taking some courses in computer science but also taking courses in humanities, which I haven’t done in a while.
I decided to study away in Edinburgh after visiting Scotland a couple of years ago and spending some time in the city. We were here during the festivals, and I had the chance to see some shows during the Fringe. The vibrancy and accessibility of the arts in the city were definitely a big part of my desire to study here. As I learned more about the University, I found out that it has the best School of Informatics, which encompasses computer science, in the United Kingdom, so it seemed like a perfect fit.
While I’m here, I’m planning to get involved in the student theater groups. I’m already working on one show, The Pillowman, at Bedlam Theatre, which is the home of the Edinburgh University Theatre Company, and I’ll be lighting King Lear, which is being produced by the Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company, later in the semester.
I’m also excited to explore the city, Scotland, and the rest of the UK while I’m here. I’ve climbed Calton Hill a few times and visited the castle, but I haven’t gotten to Arthur’s Seat, the tallest hill in Edinburgh, yet. This weekend, a friend and I are going to our homestay in northern England in a town called Penrith, so I’m getting a start on my goal of seeing the rest of the UK!