Home Away from Home

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Being a first-generation student in my family, and certainly the first to study abroad, my arrival in Scotland came with many mixed feelings of excitement, anxiety and pure displacement. After orientation in Edinburgh I was taken to my apartment, generously under the direction of the IFSA staff, who also gave me a wonderful initial tour of St. Andrews.

Upon settling I began my first week of independence. The week was busy, with a lot of orienting myself and figuring things out on my own. I was introduced to so many people and shown all the places in town that I would be spending my time. By the end of the week I was feeling more exhilarated, yet I was also realizing I would be in this place for months, far away from my family. That thought brought a bit of sadness. The first weekend was my homestay weekend, with a couple in Edinburgh.

It was a requirement by IFSA that students spend one weekend with a host family, which turned out to be one of the greatest inclusions of the program for me. Barbara and Norman invited me into their home with warm welcomes and a hot plate of homemade food, which I realized I had already missed.

Introductions

The weekend spent with Barbara and Norman is one I won’t forget. The weather in Edinburgh was wet, cold and drab. That surely did not stop them from showing me a good time. Norman took me to several historic buildings throughout the city, which was of particular interest to me because I study history.

We also walked along the beach and I learned a bit about the marine culture, we had great laughs over dinner and shared so many stories of our upbringing and contrasting experiences. For instance, when we spoke about sports and games I told them about my partner being particularly good at bowling, to which Norman commented upon his own interest in the game. It was not until several minutes into the discussion that I realized he was speaking of lawn bowling, which is much more common for them to play in Scotland.

That Saturday Barbara and Norman took me to a pub to watch the first Scotland rugby match of the season, which was a very big deal in the city. Norman taught me how to follow rugby, which came in handy the rest of the semester as I watched Scotland play! We ended the weekend with a trip to a beautiful garden and the oldest pub in Scotland, “The Sheeps Heid.” We sat in the beer garden that afternoon and spoke of the rich history of the city. This led us to walk up the street a little bit and investigate a chapel, which we went into, which was fascinating because we learned that some of the stained glass was created in Boston! It was such a wonderful weekend that I found myself missing them already on the bus ride back to St. Andrews.

Getting a Routine

The next several weeks I stayed in contact, via email, with Barbara, until we finally arranged to meet back up. I went to spend another weekend with them, which was just as fun as the first. Throughout the semester I kept visiting with Barbara and Norman, bringing friends to their house, having dinner with them, and sharing all my stories of Scotland with them. We became very close and when I was with them it felt as though I had a family in Scotland. This was particularly special to me because, as a first-generation student, I realized I was experiencing something that would be of total surprise and intrigue to my family at home. I was so excited to share with them the benefit of meeting new people and building such relationships. Eventually my family began visiting me, a few at a time. Each time I had family in town we visited, or even stayed, with Barbara and Norman. They became involved in my personal life and my family loved them just as much as me! I even met all three of their sons, which was fun because we could joke about them as parents, yet adored them in similar ways. Their oldest son even joked that I was his American sister, which genuinely warmed my heart.

Until Next Time

As the end of my semester arrived in Scotland, bringing sadness and heartache after months of growing affection for the country, I knew I had to say goodbye to Barbara and Norman. I had some friends come from America when the semester ended and we spent about a week just traveling around the country. We had our last three days in Edinburgh, staying with my lovely Scottish family. Our last full day in Scotland was incredible. We had breakfast in the garden because it was sunny and warm. Then Barbara and Norman took us to Dollar Glen, one they always took their sons to as children. We hiked through the glen and had another picnic, but this one was in the garden of Campbell Castle, situated atop the glen. We explored the castle together and had many laughs. In the evening we had one last picnic in their garden, accompanied by lots of music, wine, and dancing. Our hearts were so full.

Norman took me and my friends to the airport the next morning. I said goodbye with tears in my eyes, but I knew I would see them again. I had invited them to my wedding, which will be in December 2019. They were eager for the invite and are, most likely, coming to America for the most exciting day of my life. I’m so looking forward to that day so that I can embrace them once again! However, since I’ve arrived back in America I have stayed in contact with them, always keeping each other updated on our lives at the moment. My heart sings when I see a message from Barbara. Cultivating relationships like this while abroad is something that cannot be neglected. Learning about another culture first-hand is an incredible experience. Barbara and Norman are a chapter of my life that I will never forget, tying me to Scotland even more than all the other memories.

Saige Gabbard is a History and Art History major at The University of Tulsa and studied abroad with IFSA at the University of St. Andrews in St. Andrews, Scotland in 2018.

Article by Saige Gabbard