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

When You Sing “Rain, Rain, Go Away,” the Rain Goes to Scotland

Time January 25th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

So, week four. Things are moving quickly. It’s weird to think that my home institution just got back to school on the 19th. They’ve only had one week of classes, so far. Of course, they’ve probably already had more class hours than me (I only have three classes a week, if you haven’t read the last entry. At least I think it was the last entry. I can’t be bothered to check, and let’s be honest, can you be bothered, either?)

Meanwhile, my family back home is living under twenty inches of snow. Which might not be so Twilight Zone-ish if I weren’t talking about Richmond, Virginia. Yes, Richmond, Virginia is currently settled nice and cozy beneath over two feet of snow. I realize this has very little to do with Scotland, or with my being in Scotland, or with the various Scotland-oriented things I’m doing, but still. I cannot in good conscience neglect passing on information that can only indicate a coming apocalypse.

And apparently the same storm that brought Richmond its snow is crossing the Atlantic right now. It’s going to put the UK under about six inches…of rain. So it’s nice to know that some things never change.

In case you were not aware, it rains in Scotland. Quite a bit. Nothing torrential, usually. Just clouds spitting at you as you walk to class. There was one period without rain. Still cold, but a bit of sun and blue skies and all. That period lasted about thirty-six hours. Then it rained again. And in case you were wondering, yes, it is currently raining as I write this.

Ever sing the song, “Rain, rain, go away” as a kid? Ever wonder where it “goes away” to?

I caught my first Scottish cold, early last week. It’s like a normal cold, except Scottish, so your skin turns an odd shade of plaid, and whenever you sneeze, it sounds like bagpipes.

Some of that might not be true.

In other, less bleak news (although I actually like the rain, and the cold meant I got to sleep in a bit), I’m starting to get a handle on the “school” part of this whole study abroad thing. From what I gather, the secondary reading list is basically like a pool of suggested resources for essays and exams. They don’t seem to be as critical for routine class sessions. There’s a weekly “core” reading that we’ll almost certainly discuss in class, but it’s not huge. Enough to fill up the time to an extent, but not huge. So I’m feeling more confident on that front. Now I just have to figure out some way to get myself out of bed to do the work. But, eh, I’ll figure that out tomorrow.

Now it’s time for the first and (probably) last installment of How on Earth Do You Pronounce That? Scotland Edition.

Try to pronounce the following word:


You failed. How do I know? Because it’s pronounced “kaylee,” and no thinking person would look at that word and think that’s how it’s pronounced.

In any event, it’s a traditional Scottish dance party of sorts. A bunch of people get together wearing kilts, which I did not have, and perform a bunch of traditional Scottish dances, which I did not know. Fortunately, nobody else seemed to have much of an idea what they were doing, either. It was a blast. At one point, during the chaotic mess of a maneuver known as the “grand chain,” I suddenly found myself partnered with a slightly tipsy guy who, to my knowledge, had not been taking part in the dance to that point. Exchanging shrugs, we performed the next spin together, and I somehow ended up in the women’s line. That was about par for the course. Like I said, it was a blast.

I’m hungry, now, and don’t have a witty way to conclude this entry. So I’m going to dinner. Bye.


To do lists

Time January 11th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

I am in Scotland. No, really. And it’s pretty cool.

Well, it’s also cold, raining a lot, and I’ve spent the past few days listening to various people tell me the million things I need to do to get ready for classes to start. It’s all very helpful, but it’s still a lot. At the moment, my to-do list looks something like this:

  1. Speak with personal tutor to confirm attendance.
  2. Purchase bedding.
  3. Figure out how a duvet works.
  4. Figure out what a duvet is. 
  5. Figure out how to join clubs.
  6. Join clubs.
  7. Try not to get kicked out of clubs.
  8. Actually speak with someone who doesn’t go to my college back home.
  9. Write this blog.
  10. Setup meeting with Student Disabilities Center.
  11. Find Student Disabilities Center.
  12. Trek halfway across rainy city to Student Disabilities Center.
  13. Slay dragon guarding entrance to Student Disabilities Center.
  14. Return dragon’s head to personal tutor as proof of attendance.
  15. Eat.

And so forth. There’s more, but that’s the gist of it.

Eh, writing it all down, it doesn’t sound that bad. It’s just a lot to process, and not a lot of time to process it in. To be fair, IFSA-Butler’s been really helpful in helping us get a lot of this stuff out of the way, early. Deirdre, especially. I have no idea how she does it, but she knows everything about everyone in the program. (Seriously, if you’re reading this, and you’re going to be studying abroad through IFSA-Butler, go to Edinburgh. I’m sure those other places are nice and historic and all, but they don’t have Deirdre. The woman somehow manages to deal personally with over ninety students, very few of whom have even the faintest idea what they’re doing.)

On another, random note, I have now tasted haggis. It’s not bad, actually. I mean, not something I’ll be ordering every day, but still, not bad. About the consistency of ground beef, but a bit chewier. A bit more bitter, as well. For those of you who don’t know what haggis is, it’s basically various sheep viscera minced together on a plate. As in, heart, liver, lungs, with the stomach wrapped around it all. Yeah. That said, apparently it’s sometimes served with onions…I have not had it with onions.

In other news, the city of Edinburgh is shockingly gorgeous. We stayed the first few nights in a hotel, with a great view of the castle. You know, the two-thousand year old castle that’s just casually sitting up on the hill. Oh, and the Holyrood Palace. And the famous Royal Mile street. And the Scottish Parliament building. And Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano (which sits right outside my window). The pubs are nice, too.

I’ve been walking around with Dan (friend from home college) whenever we’ve had the freedom and the will to do so. So far, we’ve only been to the Holyrood Palace. It’s awesome and you should go right now. I don’t care that you’re in another country. Seriously, though, it’s got a lot of really cool stuff from way, way back when. The bedroom of Mary, Queen of Scots, classical swords, a skull of some famous dead guy whose name I can’t remember, portraits of monarchs going back to around 300 BC, classical swords, a cafe that serves really good hot chocolate, and classical swords. (I like fencing, remember?)

Anyway, I should really mention this one last thing for anyone who’s considering coming to Edinburgh but feels nervous about interacting with a new culture/people: go to The Tartan Stag. It’s a tiny little restaurant near Pollock Halls, and it’s run by the friendliest couple in the world. There are about five tables in this place, and it serves great breakfast. I hadn’t been sitting down for five minutes before they asked me how my Christmas was, and we started talking for the rest of the meal. I went on the second day after IFSA-Butler moved us into our campus accommodations, and I had been feeling a little stressed about how I was going to be social (which surprised me, because I’m usually brash and arrogant enough to feel at ease in almost any company). But I went to The Tartan Stag for breakfast and came out feeling like I could actually do this Scotland thing. I highly, highly recommend it if you feel uncertain about how to start talking with these strange foreigners.

I’ll get a picture of the place, as well as pictures of a bunch of other things. I still haven’t figured out how to put them up, yet. I’ll get on it right after I slay that stupid dragon.



Something about Haggis

Time January 5th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Scotland | 1 Comment by

It’s ten minutes to midnight, the day before I leave. I’m apparently awake enough to write this.

I supposed to be expecting something, aren’t I? I guess I forgot about that. Well, now’s as good a time as any, I suppose.

Haggis. I expect haggis. And kilts. I hereby expect those, too. Beyond that, well, I’m kinda blanking. I know this is supposed to be some giant, life-changing thing, and the last thing I want to do is sound cynical about it. I really am excited. I just don’t really know what I’m excited about, as it were. Not that haggis and kilts aren’t fascinating, but hell if I know what I’m going to see besides that.

I’m definitely excited, though. And so is my family. My little sister and her friends spent a good hour cutting out pictures and decorations for me to put on the bulletin board in my dorm. (They got really into it. I’m going to add a picture of it if I can ever figure out how this post editor thing works. If not, it’ll be in the next post). And the family as a whole went out to a really nice dinner, just because I’m leaving soon. It was great. Steak is tasty. We’ll have to see how haggis compares.

Come to think of it, maybe they’re a bit too excited that I’m going…

Well, in any event, I got everything packed. By which I mean mom got everything packed, while I stood by and watched.

Apparently I have a lot of sweaters.

And now for a random change of pace: I realize I don’t know quite what to expect from the Scottish academic system. I mean, I get the idea that it’s more self-taught than the US system, but how self-taught are we talking? Are they just giving us a reading list and telling us to come back at the end of the semester with a paper? Because that’s basically a semester-long vacation in Scotland with a bit of reading and a paper to write. I can do that.

(To be honest, I do expect it to be more rigorous than that, but I’d much rather blind myself with ignorance and fantasy until I arrive and can no longer leave. Until I’m physically trapped in Scotland, there’s still technically a chance that I could back out of this whole thing by, say, running screaming into the night never to return, or perhaps by committing a minor felony in order to get myself locked in a US jail cell until such time as no one wants to ship me off to Scotland anymore. So it’s fairly important that I intentionally underestimate Edinburgh’s academic rigor; it’s the only thing keeping me out of prison.)

Edinburgh has a fencing team. That might seem fairly random, but it’s quite exciting. I, for one, am of the opinion that there should generally be more fencing in everyday life. In fact, it has taken some self-restraint not to go back up to the paragraphs I’ve already written and insert little instances of fencing just to drive home the point that I think there should be more of it everywhere.

I suppose I should have prefaced that; I like fencing.

In all seriousness, though, it’s one of my few really concrete expectations. Hamilton (my home college) has a fencing club, and it’s good, but it’s entirely student run. That means no paid coaches, and Zach–who runs it–just about has to kill himself trying to fit in the practice sessions around his own schoolwork.

Freshmen, if you’re reading this–and you damn well better be–be nice to Zach. He’s running two of your clubs, now.

And for future reference, yes, my blogs are going to be exactly this rambly. Unless I’m really pleased with an essay I’ve written, in which case I might just post it in full. Is it obvious that the power’s going to my head?