Saturday, November 10, 2012

Finding Serenity in Scotland

 Aviemore in the Highlands. 

Warning (kind of): All of my posts are very honest, as I am a very honest and fairly open gal. This post in particular is an uninhibited insight into my experience and transition to life in Scotland. Those of you who know me well, know that I am not as timid and meek as what I wrote may make me seem, but I feel that it's important for others who are or will be going through the same thing to know how I felt during my adjustment to life here.

I am not embarrassed to admit that the first couple of weeks here were a bit of a struggle for me. I was tired of doing everything alone. I was tired of being by myself, although I was doing everything I could to be around people. I felt like the international students were sticking with their own kind and weren't very willing to initiate or participate in conversations with me. I was lonely. But I was determined to do things that I was interested in, and I wouldn't let any fears of doing things by myself get in the way. 

I had my first day of class on Tuesday, September 25th. My Human Resource Development class was on the smaller side with about 50-60 people, and I recognized a few international students from the meetings we had the week before. My International Business Analysis course, on the other hand, was huge, with about 200 students. I got to class early, and had to wait for the class occupying the room I had to get into to end. While I was waiting, the rest of my classmates were piling into the hallway, and everyone seemed to know someone, and were happily chatting away. I saw another student come up to where I was standing, close to the room. I thought, "She is probably an international student. She looks my age, maybe a little younger. Should I go say hi? Should I ask her if she's an international student?" I was feeling rather defeated because of my state of loneliness and I didn't really feel up to being chatty, so I didn't bother. When the class let out, I found a seat towards the front of the room, looked up, and realized that that student was actually our lecturer. Whoops! I was glad I had saved myself the embarrassment of an awkward conversation. She actually turned out to be quite personable and I ended up having conversations with her on a few occasions before class while we waited to get into the classroom. 

That night, I persisted in doing what I knew I had to do, albeit sans friends, and I went to yoga class, held through The Art of Living Society at Strathclyde. It was more new faces, more feelings of "I am never going to get to know anyone," and "how do so many people already have friends," but also an appreciation of familiarity and comfort through yoga. I will do this. I will come every week. I will be ok.

I want to interrupt myself here for just a brief moment. My first week here was full of anticipation, excitement, curiosity, exploration, frustration, aggravation, and impatience. As I stated in my previous post, I spent a lot of time going down into the city centre to purchase necessities to set up my room and kitchen area. I tucked a map into my pocket before I left my flat each time I went out. I pulled out the map just about every time I walked out of a store to figure out where I had to go next. I had a hard time finding grocery stores and struggled to find Aldi's (Strathclyde students - go ahead and laugh, it's ok). Aldi's is about a 4 minute walk from campus. Some days I tried very hard not to pull out my map and just rely on my memory. That didn't work right away for me; I had a total reliance on my map and that made me mad. One day I said to myself, "Be nice to yourself. Be kind to yourself. You are in a different country and you are by yourself. Everything is going to be okay." I thank Elizabeth Gilbert for writing, "Eat, Pray, Love," and I thank myself for listening to it twice in the past year so that some of those words were already in my mind and were pulled out from the depths of my memory at just the right time.

My second day of class consisted of another session of International Business Analysis, I sat in on the Organisational Strategy and Analysis class to see if I liked it (we had two weeks to confirm our classes; it was wonderful to have the flexibility to try classes out), and then Business Finance. I had already met quite a few students in the Business Finance class, but there were 320 students in that class, and I wasn't feeling confident about the material we would be covering.

Thursday was my third and last day of class for the week. I attended the second session of my HRD class, where I made friends with two international students, one from Ireland and one from China. This was a source of comfort for me. I will be able to meet people, I will be just fine. After class, I headed over to Boteco Do Brasil, a pub/Brazilian restaurant, to make my payment for a trip I had booked with Student Tours Scotland. Here I met my tour guide extraordinaire, Gary Brown, who I have been nothing but thoroughly pleased with. He warned me not to expect too much from the tour I would be going on because we would be spending about 8 hours on the bus, as it would take 4 hours to get up to Inverness in the Highlands. I didn't care; I was happy to be seeing Scotland.

This one was a little perplexed with us, the cow paparazzi, and his/her sudden fame.

Saturday morning arrives and I am up early for the 7:50 meet-up time for the bus. I plan my route and bring my map so I don't get lost. (Anyone who has been on an STS tour has permission to laugh at this as well). And thank goodness for Google Maps street view because I was able to scope out my destination ahead of time, which minimized my angst. Off I go, alone, not knowing what to expect. Be kind to yourself. You love going on tours. Everything will be ok.

I found my destination, but didn't know which side of the road I was supposed to be on. I spotted another solo student across the street, amid a cluster of other students. Hmmm, I'll give it a minute then cross over, even though I bet I'm on the right side of the road and they are not. I went ahead and crossed over, and asked the solo student if he was waiting for the tour bus. Why, yes, he was! So we chatted and chatted until the tour bus and Gary arrived. Yay, I don't have to worry about who will sit next to me on the bus because I just made a friend with this very nice Italian guy. Score. (For the record, I was initially on the wrong side of the street. Intuition fail.)

As we were riding along in the bus, I was admiring the landscape around us. As if in a movie, a big, beautiful, colorful bird emerged, in flight, from the trees on the right side of the road. I thought it looked like some sort of a pheasant and was just captivated by the moment. THUNK! ***Gasp!*** The darn thing flew right into the windshield of the bus.


Our first stop was a brief stop in Aviemore in the Highlands, where we went on a little country walk and saw the cows in the previous photos. I also met and made friends with the nice Italian guy's classmate, a fantastically fun Belgian girl from France. 

 Inverness Castle, River Ness in the foreground.

Our next stop was the main attraction for the day, the city of Inverness, the "capital" of the Highlands.We unloaded ourselves from the bus and followed our guide up to Inverness Castle.

 Inverness Castle, built in 1836, is not open to the public because it currently serves as a court house.

We were, however, able to tour the grounds which gave us some great views of the city.

I have posed for many a picture since I have been here. I would like to say that my poses become less awkward as time goes on, but alas, they do not. I know you will all enjoy them anyway.  At least I learned early on what happens when I don't pay attention to how I buttoned my jacket. ;-)  (For those of you who haven't read my earlier posts, see "Discovering Ireland: Part 2" 7th photo from the top. I have no shame.)

Even though it was a cloudy, drizzly day, the views from the castle grounds were stunning.

A cathedral in Inverness.

A view from one of the bridges that crossed the River Ness.

After we toured the castle grounds, Gary took us on a river walk where he told us a little bit about the area, and, with the assistance of a couple of students, "reenacted" a myth/legend.

I apologize for the blurry picture, but I couldn't help myself with this one. I really wish I had snapped a photo of the first Elderly people sign I had passed because it had an illustration of a man and a woman, hunched over, using canes. I appreciate that they look out for the safety of the older folks.

Vanessa, this one is for you. :)

I loved the snowflakes on the bridge.

After we completed our river walk, we were free to tour the city for about an hour or so. We walked around, wandered into the Victorian Market, and then to the Inverness Museum.

A gorgeous cathedral in Inverness.

Here they are, the dreaded "pictures from the bus window." I had to get pictures of the Highlands while I was there, and this was how I could do it. I narrowed them down from a great many to just three that were "not so bad." 

It might rain frequently in Scotland, but the sun does come out. It's actually way more sunny here than I thought it would be.

The landscape here fascinates me.

I heeded the number one rule of Student Tours Scotland and had fun. I can get used to the idea of touring every Saturday instead of catering every Saturday.

 I began Week 2 by attending Strathclyde's Erasmus Society's pub night at Boteco Do Brasil with my Irish friend. We had a fun time and met two fellow students from Turkey and one from Japan. Monday night was my second yoga session, which quickly became one of my favorite times of the week. I finalized my classes, dropping the enormous Business Finance class, and committing to the Organisational Strategy and Analysis course. (In hindsight, because of my utter lack of interest in this subject, I would have been better off sacrificing my 4 day weekend and taking up a core class like Supply Chain Management. Oh well.) 

On Wednesday, I went to archery practice to try it out, thanks to the conversation I had with my new Turkish friends on Sunday night. We get to try out any sport we want for free for the first two weeks. I now have a new hobby.

I had to quickly learn how to correct my form so that this nastiness from the string striking my arm would not happen again. This was the biggest bruise I have ever had in my life. It looked even worse the next day. I will spare you and not post that picture. In training, we were assured by the president of the club that we would not hurt ourselves when practicing archery. I managed to find a way.

On Wednesday night, I went to the weekly international pub night with two friends that I had made at the Sunday night pub night, and met a few more of my fellow international classmates. On Thursday, I attended a welcome meeting for C.A.C.T.U.S., a volunteer group at Strathclyde that I joined during Fresher's week. Friday was another archery practice where I managed not to injure myself any further. The student union held a Ceilidh (pronounced Kay-lee) for the halls residents on Friday night. I had an absolute blast. Because I just don't know how to properly explain it, here is a link to a dance we did at the Ceilidh. It was a night full of really fun dancing and great traditional music.

Brown rice with roasted asparagus, zucchini, mushrooms and onion, mixed greens with hard-boiled egg, bell pepper, cheddar cheese, and carrots, and caramel bar for dessert.

My zen. Nothing soothes me and calms me down faster than being in the kitchen, chopping vegetables and cooking. This was one of the first meals I made for myself here, and it brought me so much peace and serenity. It was also a welcome relief from all of the heavy food I had been eating in Ireland.

Up next: Edinburgh!


  1. Beautiful pictures Jessica! You were born to blog! The pose in the Victorian Market photo is the best! It's very supermodel like :)Have lots of fun for me!!

  2. Good posts. I like the Ness bridge picture....and the Ness River is nice. Did you happen to spot the Loch Ness monster?? Good ol' Nessie....hahahaha. Is that where it comes from? I think it is. Enjoyed the pictures again. Like the cows a lot.

  3. Thanks, V. I did not spot the Loch Ness monster, but felt her presence everywhere. ;)