Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

The Easter Blog that has Nothing to do with Easter

Still here. Not dead. Just really busy.

It having been a full three weeks since the last entry, here’s the rundown for today’s catch-up blog:

  1. Homestay weekend
  2. Family visit
  3. Girlfriend visit
  4. Midterms
  5. Argyll Forest
  6. Tartan Stag (and Talisker the Kitten)

Please note that these events are not necessarily in chronological order, but rather in order of when they popped into my head. Anyway:

1. Homestay Weekend

For those of you who don’t know, IFSA-Butler mandates a two-day visit with a family in Scotland (or Northern England). Why they mandate this, I’m not entirely sure. Personally, I would have signed up anyway. It sounds nice, getting to stay in a real house for a few days, eating real food, instead of living in a dorm and eating cafeteria stuff. (Not that the accommodations or food in Pollock Halls are particularly bad or anything, but it’s still a dorm and a cafeteria. They’re “good” in the way dropping a rock on one’s foot is good when compared to dropping a bucket of hot nails on one’s foot).

I had much fun at the Nicolson’s house. It was a farm in Balfron (near Stirling), and it had cows and sheep and also children. I spent a good deal more time with the latter, of whom there were three. There was another student there with me, whom I will name Methuselah for the purposes of this blog. (I change his name less to protect his identity or anything, and more because it amuses me to do so). Methuselah and I hit it off with the youngest of the children, Iona, a precocious and energetic ten-year-old who proved that the only real difference between children here and the United States is the accent. We spent a lot of time playing pool, something none of us were good at, and singing songs, something some of us were good at. Iona has a particularly good singing voice, Methuselah knows his way around a guitar, and I had a smart phone for looking up song lyrics. We made a perfect band. Our first hit single will be a cover of “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone,” complete with Red Solo Cup drumming. Gonna be great.

Oh, and this is weird. They had another daughter, whose name was Kate. I know, right? But what’s even weirder is that Kate Nicolson might just be the Scottish version of my sister. They’re both named Kate, they’re both 12, they both play football/soccer, they both have brown hair, and they both have the same, small, red Ripstick.

“But Fain,” you’re saying, in that whiny voice of yours, “surely there are plenty of 12-year-old, brown haired, soccer-playing girls named Kate? The only weird thing is the Ripstick.”

Well, Frank, if you’d listen, you’d understand. The thing that’s weirdest of all is that, at the same time as I was on my way to stay with the Nicolson’s, my own family was flying to the UK to visit me. Now, supposedly, they landed in Manchester and spent a few days in England before joining me up in Edinburgh. However, can I really be sure of that? Suffice to say, my sister Kate was in the UK at the same time as Kate Nicoslon, and–this is the kicker–I have never seen them in the same place at the same time.


Shut up.


2. Family visit

Normally, I would stop the blog here. I already have 500 words, and I don’t like to exert effort where it’s not necessary. But my family did come to see me, and I guess it was kind of a big deal, and I’ll have to spend a whole summer with them after this. So it’s probably good to pay them some lip service.

In all seriousness, though, it was lots of fun. Most importantly, they hit it off frighteningly well with the couple at the Tartan Stag. We also went to see the Castle, and climbed up Arthur’s Seat, and lots of other good touristy stuff. I had to do a good amount of essay work while they were here, and that was even after having spent the weeks leading up to their visit being really proactive so I wouldn’t have to do a great amount of essay work while they’re here.

They stayed in the Scotsman Hotel for the first few nights, and then went out to stay the next two in Dalhousie Castle. Now, for those of you who might now know, Dalhousie Castle is a castle. Shocking, I know. I went out to spend a day with them after having turned in one essay, and we did a lot of castly stuff. Like falconry. Because they have falcons out there. Falconry wasn’t quite as majestic as the word implies, though. To be fair, I’m sure falconry is exactly as majestic as the word implies when dealing with actual falconers. But the tourist version of falconry goes something like this:

  1. Hold out gloved hand.
  2. Wait while guide–actual falconer–puts bit of dead bird on gloved hand.
  3. Wait for bird on perch thirty yards away to see dead bird meat.
  4. Emit appropriate noise depending on whether bird is a small owl (I.e., “Awwww…”) or terrifying death falcon with tiny spears for talons (I.e., “Ah!”).
  5. Take picture with bird.

So that was what we did. The big bird flew so close to Kate’s head that she had to duck. Twice. It was funny. Also, the big bird’s name was Iona. And now that I think of it, I never saw it and Iona Nicolson together, either. Hmm…


3. Girlfriend Visit

At this moment, Emily is here.

Fain: Would you like to say anything to the blog?

Emily: Think of something exceptionally clever for me to say.

Fain: Okay, but do you want to say anything to anyone?

Fain: I have no idea who reads your blog? Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Riopelle? Hi, Kate? Kate, you’re adorable in this photo on Fain’s wall [corrected from “Kate’s wall”]. Actually, maybe not that last one. That might sound weird. [last sentence added in later correction].

Fain: [Shows Emily computer]

Emily: On Fain’s wall.

Fain: Ah, thank you. [Makes correction]

Emily: I’m so helpful.

Emily again: Add “that might sound weird” after the last one. So that it sounds less weird, and it’s fine.

Fain: [Shows computer again]

Emily: [Reaches for computer]

Fain: Nonono. [Takes computer away again]

Emily: No, you need to write “that might sound weird” up here [points to “Actually, maybe not that last one”] I said it there, but you didn’t write it down.

Fain: Oh, gotcha. [Makes correction]

Emily: [says something I can’t remember]

Fain: [says something else I can’t remember, but which was definitely about this getting too meta]

Fain again: This is way too meta.

Fain again again: [Stops]

Well, that was nightmarish. Anyway, we did all the good touristy stuff, and unfortunately, she has to leave tomorrow morning. As in, 5:30 AM morning. Should be fun. It’s been great, though. Went to the Tartan Stag a lot. Tossed rocks at a bush on Arthur’s Seat. Good times.


4. Midterms


That is all.


5. Argyll Forest

No, wait.


4. Midterms (redux)

Alright, I like the Scottish system of having a few major assignments spaced out over the course of the semester, instead of the American one, which just peppers you with lots of busy work and somehow expects you to get ten different major assignments done in the midst of all the rest of it. However, given that the Scottish system only has two or three big assignments per course, whose bright idea was it to put two of those major assignments right on top of each other? Presumably, midterms shouldn’t even need to be a thing. They could just as easily have put the Oral Presentations earlier in the semester, so we weren’t stumbling over them at the same time as these essays. As it was, given the people visiting and everything, I ended up putting together two presentations in one day, and then giving them both the next day. And all this when I’ve just got done with two essays, and am starting to work on a third. I’m not saying it’s excessive (compared to Hamilton it’s a breeze), but it just doesn’t seem necessary. Anyway, that really is all.


5. Argyll Forest (redux) [correction: “redux” added]

Emily: Don’t you need to do “Argyll Forest (redux)”?

Fain: [Grudgingly makes the correction]

Emily: Why does it have to be grudgingly?

Fain: [Breaks down and

No. Just no. We’re not doing that again.

IFSA-Butler’s trip. Awesome. They divided us up into groups and sent us off into the wilderness. My group went caving in the morning, and climbing on the high ropes course in the afternoon. The caving was underground. No, really. But more than that, it was tight. We all had this vision of a nice, open–if dank–cave mouth where we could stand up and stretch our legs.

Apparently, though, that kind of cave is a limestone cave. Know what they don’t have in Scotland? Fitted sheets. Seriously, I can’t–

Sorry. Limestone. They don’t have limestone in caves. That fitted sheets thing is a problem, though. Can’t find them anywhere.

But yeah, the cave we explored wasn’t the nice, wide-open thing you think about, but more a series of really tight crevices formed by rocks sliding around over the eons and wedging together to create awkward, barely person-sized shapes. It was awesome. The best part was that we had one of the IFSA-Butler Scotland supervisors with us. His name is Andrew and, more importantly for the context of the story, he’s something like 6′ 5″. So it was pretty impressive when he managed to get through the caves with us. Probably the most amusing crevice–for all of us, not just Andrew–was the very last one. This takes a bit of explaining, so bear with me:

It slants down at maybe a 30 or 45 degree angle, sort of a chute. The walls are so close together that you’ve got to go on your side. You won’t fit if you lie on your back or front. Further down, the tops the walls get closer together, so that if you raise your head too high, the width of the helmet you’re wearing means you can’t turn your head around. You’ve got to slide down this thing, feet first and basically blind–you can’t see past your own body to where you’re going–and listen to the guide tell you what to do. Eventually, the right side of the wall opens up near the floor, and you can swing your legs around the corner and shimmy a few more feet to freedom. It was slow going. One or two people got momentarily stuck.

So imagine our (or at least, my) amusement when Andrew, all six and some feet of him, comes down this tunnel chute thing after us. If you can’t imagine it, just know that it was substantial.

To Andrew’s credit, though, he did fine. Better than most of us, actually. Certainly didn’t get stuck.

The high ropes course was fun, too. Which isn’t really surprising, I guess. Were you expecting me to say something else? Maybe the ropes course was actually terrible, and it fell down on us. But of course it didn’t. It was just fun.

Wow, that sounded jaded. I mean, it was fun. I just didn’t know how else to make that statement any more entertaining. Anyway…

It was, well, a high ropes course. There were ropes, and they were high in the air. We climbed them, and tried very hard not to fall off.

By far the most interesting, and most well-documented obstacle was the trapeze jump. Not sure what it’s called, but it’s the one where you climb a pole to a high platform and jump for the trapeze. Which sounds tricky enough, but we had to do it in pairs. Two people, standing on a platform that could really only hold about one-and-a-half people, timing a jump to a trapeze in such a way that we didn’t punch each other in the face.

Naturally, my partner and I did just fine.

To be fair, though, grabbing the trapeze wasn’t actually the hard part. Hanging on was. It had just rained, and the whole ropes course was a mite more slippery than it might have been. My partner, Adam, and I, had the benefit of going second. When we got to the top and looked at the trapeze, there were two pairs of distinctly hand-shaped dry spots where the last pair had fallen off. We devised a cunning plan to grab those convenient dry spots, and thus–this is the genius part–not grab the wet part of the bar. Our plan worked, and we had a truly excellent mid-air high five in celebration. There’s a video of this showcasing our awesomeness. I don’t know if or when she’s going to put it up, but check out Elissa’s vlog on this same site. Should be a link on the left or something. She was in our group, taking videos for her vlog. And I think she got my good side, too.


6. The Tartan Stag and Talisker the Kitten

This is incredibly important. The Tartan Stag–voted (by me) the best cafe in Edinburgh–now has a tiny kitten mascot pet thing. It’s name is Talisker, after the whisky, and it’s the most spoiled little ball of fur in the world. Seriously, his default state of existence is being petted by cooing customers. That’s normalcy for him. To be fair, he’s also adorable. I’m pretty sure he was the only thing that place was missing. And I’m a dog person.

Okay, I think that’s it. Again, I know this is quite late, and for that I apologize. Insincerely, that is. I’ve had a lot of stuff to do, so this has needed to wait. Besides, if I don’t do stuff between blogs, then we end up with another rant about me being sick or stubbing my toe or something. And nobody wants that.


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