A Day in the Highlands

I thought after living here for just over a month now, I would be less excited by Scotland. The Glaswegian architecture has become a daily sight for me, as well as the trees and the cobblestones. I get a taste of it everyday, so it’s become less of “Oh my goodness, what is that building because it is the most beautiful thing I have seen in my life!? Wait, it’s a department store?” and more of “Hey, so I really need to go to Primark because I need more pairs of socks and underwear so I can do laundry less often.” But yesterday, I fell in love with Scotland all over again.

With a group call International Student UK Tours, I have been traveling to different parts of the country. (My trip to Edinburgh was with them, and I will be going to Isle of Skye with them in two weeks.) Yesterday’s trip took us up to the Scottish Highlands to visit Loch Ness and Inverness. The day started off a little rough because our bus was late, and we had to take a girl, who was also late, to meet up with another bus that was going on a different trip. We got caught in construction traffic and had to navigate through ultra-narrow roads in a huge coach. But the scenery was absolutely breath-taking. In Glasgow, it seems that fall is simply not a season here. As I write this, I look out my window and see a tree with crunchy dead leaves clinging onto branches and bright green leaves with the smallest touches of yellow. For someone coming from Colorado, autumn is rather disappointing here. However, our drive up north reminded me that fall does exist!

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As if the trees in all of their fall-colored glory weren’t enough, I saw the most magnificent lakes. Maybe water is beautiful to me because it is so rare where I’m from, but I think the water here is just incredible. It was a cloudy morning, but the water reflected everything even more perfectly than a mirror. It was like getting a glimpse into a parallel upside-down universe. The first time I saw it I was stunned, thinking that was the only time I would see anything like that. Little did I know I was very wrong, as that was the norm for most of our drive.

The picture isn't great since it's through the coach window and we were moving, but just check out how much detail you can see in the water.

The picture isn’t great since it’s through the coach window and we were moving, but just check out how much detail you can see in the water.

After a few hours, we made it to Inverlochy Castle. For those of you who enjoy Scottish history, this castle was built in the 13th century and was the site of two different battles. It has been unaltered since and remains in ruins. There is a small stone wall surrounding the castle, and four towers at each of its corners. We were only there for about a half hour, but we got to walk around the grounds and inside the castle.

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For my World War II buffs, you’ll appreciate our quick stop at the Commando Memorial honoring the British Commando Forces. There is a statue of three uniformed men, as well as a garden, which commemorates those who have died more recently in combat. DSCN0915

We stopped for lunch in Fort Augustus, which is at the south end of the great Loch Ness. It features the Caledonian Canal running through its center, and it is lined with eateries and touristy shops.

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As we drove more north, we were bombarded by Nessie shops, hotels, statues, and galleries. We stopped in a town called Drumnadrochit (try saying that five times fast), which has all of these attractions together. We found Nessie, but she wasn’t looking so good…

DSCN0933I hate to disenchant those who are firm believers in Nessie, but it appears that she’s given up life in the water to live off the land! (Usually Nessie is featured in a man-made lake, but we caught her on a bad day and maintenance apologized for her lack of wet living conditions.) Although we were never give the chance to actually touch Loch Ness, I did learn that it has the largest volume of water in the UK. In fact, if you took all the freshwater in England and Wales and dumped in into Loch Ness, it still wouldn’t be full. And apparently, creatures living in the loch are popular myths all around Scotland and are not unique to Loch Ness.

Our last stop for the day was Inverness, the northern-most city in the UK and the so-called capital of the Highlands. As soon as we got of the bus I fell in love.

Honestly, have you ever seen a more beautiful city?

Honestly, have you ever seen a more beautiful city?

The word “inver” in Scottish Gaelic translates to “the mouth of,” so the city Inverness means “the mouth of the River Ness.” The river, the mountains, the leaves, the architecture, the weather all made this city unforgettable. The worst thing about it was that we only had two hours to discover it. When I come back to Scotland in the future, I intend to spend multiple days in Inverness. Due to our time constraints, I only made it to see the city centre and the castle. I was also able to [speed] walk through the Ness Islands before heading back to the bus for a three hour-long drive back to Glasgow. The trip was so beautiful and so much fun. I can’t wait until my next trip to the Highlands! Two more weeks until the Isle of Skye! This weekend I will be heading south to visit two DU friends in Lancaster, England. Stay tuned!

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Time is Flying!

I can’t believe I haven’t written an update it two weeks! In three days, I will have been living in Scotland for a whole month. When I first got here, I had no idea how I was going to make it through the first week, let alone the first month! It seemed that there was not enough to keep me busy, but since classes began two weeks ago, things have really picked up. I’m really starting to feel like this is home now, well my home away from home. I have an established routine and people to share the day’s occurrences with. The mattress is even starting to feel a little less uncomfortable, as I get used to feeling the springs press into me as I sleep. This experience is also making me more of a grown-up. I have a day for grocery shopping, I’m cooking real meals for myself, and budgeting my money. It’s exciting to think that I’ll be coming back as this more-adult version of myself.

I’ve been making plans to travel a lot while I’m here. So far, I’ve only visited Edinburgh (due to budgeting conflicts), but my October and November travel plans are sure to keep me busy (and poor!). Next weekend, I’ll be visiting Loch Ness and Inverness. Wish me luck in spotting Nessie! The following weekend, I will be heading down to England to visit a friend staying at the University of Lancaster and meeting my roommate, who is studying abroad in Wales. As if that weren’t enough fun, I get the chance to go on a weekend trip to the Isle of Skye. I am told it is ranked by National Geographic as the fourth most beautiful island in the world.

Hopefully, while I’m there, I can get a picture like this!

October is sure to be exciting, but nothing in comparison to November! My DU friend, who is studying abroad in Ghana, is meeting me in Rome for a long weekend in November. I have always wanted to go to Italy, and I know it’s going to be a fantastic time! We even have a countdown going (T-minus 39 days!). I also recently received news that part of my family is coming to visit shortly after I return from Rome. My mom, step-dad, and sister are coming to visit for a week over Thanksgiving! I’m so excited for them to be able to witness my life here first-hand. Plus, I miss them all like crazy, so I can’t wait to just hug them when they get here. Once they leave, I will have about three weeks left in Glasgow. Between schoolwork, travel, and other fun activities, the next few months are going to be crazy busy and fun!

Two Weeks In

Hello everyone! For those who have been checking in for an update, I apologize for the wait. During my first week here, I experienced the initial euphoria of visiting a new country in a different part of the world. The problem is, it still felt like a vacation. Each building was a beautiful piece of architecture that deserved to be photographed from three different, even if was only a row of insignificant apartments, I mean, “flats.” The murky river water was crystal clear to me, as I was seeing Glasgow through intensively rose-colored glasses. Well when I finally stopped to catch my breath and stopped spending everyday exploring, the concept of me living here set in. I panicked as I realized that I would have to start all over in a way. I had packed a suitcase of belongings to start a three and a half month long life in a completely foreign place. Suddenly I was missing absolutely everything. My mom’s homemade lasagna, doing my little sister’s hair for her homecoming, my dog hogging the bed at night. I even told my boyfriend that I missed his nose-hairs. I missed EVERYTHING.

I felt like I wasn’t finding my niche here. Back at DU, making friends was so easy because 1) I had an instant bond with my roommate and 2) all the people on my floor were substance-free, meaning we all knew we had something in common before we even met. Scotland is the opposite of the substance-free floor. Drinking is a daily activity, and all college kids are of legal drinking age. That took some getting used to. This last weekend, on a whim, my flatmate and I decided to pay a visit to our neighbors. As it turns out, they are great people and have introduced me to many of their friends, who are also very fun. I went over the next two nights, as well. Who knew that such a spontaneous decision would lead to three nights of fun and many new friends!

I knew classes starting would give me new hope because, for me, purpose is everything. I craved something that would occupy my time and didn’t cost the 3 pound bus fare or attraction fee. Finally today, they did. I only had one class, Sociology of the Media, but I think it will be one of my favorite courses this semester! This week I am developing a routine, which is the ultimate comfort for me. I still miss the lasagna and not being home for big events, but I’ve gotten over the nose-hairs (thank goodness!).

P.S. I really appreciate the love and support that my family and friends have been giving me lately. It has been so helpful! I love you all and thank you so much!

Understanding the People of Scotland

Before this trip to Scotland, I lived as I assume many other Americans do. In general, I wake up in the morning with a list of things to do on my mind. I tell myself I only need to make it until 3 or 4 or 7, depending on what’s going on that day. “Two more classes and one club meeting until I can finally go home.” On a larger scale, I am constantly looking forward to the weekend. Whether I’m doing something fun and exciting or just intend to stay in all weekend relaxing, Friday evening can never come soon enough. It’s always about when I can get home and stop being a part of the real world.

I’ve noticed this pattern is common in my culture. The whole issue of five o’clock traffic is centered around the idea of people racing to get home after a long day at work. A trip to the grocery store at 5:30 on a Tuesday evening is almost torture because it seems so exhausting. We do not like to be social after the clock strikes four in the afternoon, and we seek refuge in the privacy of our own homes.

Scotland is quite different in their after-school and after-work habits. The other day I was walking through Kelvingrove park, a beautiful area right behind the university.

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It was around 5:30 on a lovely Monday evening, a time at which Americans are typically walking through the front door and taking off their shoes with a sigh of relief. In Scotland, however, a large number of people are scattered throughout the park. I witnessed a woman sitting in the grass, painting her well-manicured poodle. A man sat on a nearby bench journaling his thoughts, and a man on another bench read a book. A couple (as you can see in the above photo) was enjoying a conversation around the magnificent fountain. Schoolgirls still dressed in their uniforms had stopped for fruit on the way over and ate in grass while sharing gossip and advice.

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Younger children played in the park a few hundred feet away while their parents actively watched their children flying down the slide and climbing the spiderweb jungle gym. As I climbed the ladder to go down the slide above, I found I was not in the company of only children. A woman was up there as well, sliding or not sliding I wasn’t sure, but participating in her child’s experience on this Monday evening nonetheless.

Wednesday afternoon I ventured to the shopping district of Glasgow, known as Buchanan Street and Sauchiehall Street. I walked by an unfamiliar store, and like every other, decided to go inside. At first, I had no idea what I was witnessing. There were about ten or fifteen areas marked on large counters and tables by large laminated books. Upon closer inspection, I realized that the books were catalogs and the people hovering over them were shopping from a catalog inside a store. I examined a laminated catalog at an open station to discover that many items had more options that could be found online, and I had a difficult time understanding why anyone would want to leave the comfort of their home to do something that they could be doing in their pajamas more efficiently than they could do in a store. This company (Argo’s) pays money to have building for people to not only pick up their items, but to also order them. The store was filled with people when I went inside at about 6 pm, and I would assume that is rather normal.

I admire that the Scottish are interested in allowing a day to last its full 24 hours. Their days do not end when they clock out of work. Instead, they indulge in catalog-shopping in a store, painting a poodle in the park, and playing with their kids on the playground after school. I hope that when I return home, I have adopted this lifestyle and embrace everything that occurs after I leave work or classes. Rather than racing home to take off my shoes, I hope to do so in a park, feeling the grass cool my feet and writing my thoughts in a journal to relax after another workday.

The Campus

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Welcome to the University of Glasgow! It must be ranked as the most beautiful university in the world because it looks like a castle. This is the main building, home a the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, as well as a gift shop and a concert hall. I am in utter disbelief that I actually have the opportunity to study here. I mean, just look at that picture. Or this one: 

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I first went to the main campus yesterday to pick up my registration packet and ID card. I have been following the University of Glasgow on Facebook for awhile now, but I had no idea that this place would be even more beautiful in person. I guess you all will have to take my word for it when I say it literally took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. Need more convincing?

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These are the cloisters. I know, they are completely stunning. And as if everything wasn’t already perfect enough when I saw all of this yesterday, the sun was also shining. If you know Glasgow, you will know how uncommon a beautiful sunny day is. (Although, I have yet to experience this infamous rainy Scottish weather!) So I was able to see the cloisters in all their glory, with the sun’s rays gleaming and my own excitement making my first views of the campus unforgettable. In a matter of minutes, I was so amazed and moved by the sight of this absolutely magnificent building that I momentarily considered forgetting about my dream to be a teacher and switching to a career in architecture. Even though the walk there is a lengthy 30 minutes, one look at that “castle” makes me never want to leave Glasgow!

Day One in Scotland

I made it! After two long flights, I reached the city of Glasgow that welcomed me with its rare beautiful sunny skies. I think that’s a good omen for my study abroad experience here in Scotland. The last twenty-four hours have been a roller-coaster of emotions for me, as I have felt everything from anxiety to second-guessing myself and my choice to come here, from inadequacy to confidence, from exhilaration to complete exhaustion. When I arrived in Newark for a two-hour layover, I expected to be meeting up with a friend from school. I was already feeling relief when I entered the airport knowing I would have another person to share the more difficult leg of my journey (bag collection, airport pick-up, shuttle services, room check-in, finding a grocery store, etc.). Unfortunately, the two of us soon realized that my friend was actually due to take that same flight, but the following day. We both had to make the journey alone, and I was utterly terrified. I had looked forward to that point in my day for days, knowing that some stress would be dissolved once we united, but instead it intensified. I looked to my family and friends for the strength I needed to get me on that flight to Glasgow. Eventually I realized that things were meant to be this way, so instead of fighting the unexpected, I attempted to embrace it. I began chatting to the lady seated next to me, a lady I probably would not have had the opportunity to talk to if my friend had been present. She and her new husband live in Glasgow, and she proceeded to tell me insider Scottish secrets of the area. She also gave me her email address in case I ever needed absolutely anything! The plane hadn’t even left Newark before I already had a friend in Glasgow. 

A New Adventure

So here I am, sitting here at DIA, about to embark on this journey to a foreign country. I’ve never left my family for so long before (105 days, to be exact), and it feels strange to be venturing out of the country without them. Every other time I have been to this airport, my mom helps me get my shoes out of the bin at security, and my sister and I joke as we share a set of earbuds at the gate. We all enjoy our Subway sandwiches seated on the floor and laughing together. This time is so different, I say as I type away on my laptop, an item which would have been fiercely prohibited from a family vacation.

Despite my melancholy tone, I am actually really excited for this adventure–the chance to live in another part of the world for three and a half months. People wish for opportunities like this, and I am lucky enough to live it right now. This is an experience of a lifetime. I’m hoping to discover myself in ways I never could surrounded by the comfort of my family and familiarity. I want to come back with a new sense of self-confidence because I will have lived on my own for all this time, battling through a variety of challenges. Who knows what the future holds for me, but I am so excited to figure it out when I arrive in Glasgow tomorrow morning!