As I enter the last week of my study abroad experience, I’ve been thinking a lot about Scotland. Things I love about it, things I may not miss, things that are simply unique to my time here.
I’m currently sitting in my hall’s study lounge: it’s completely empty, and quiet, given that 90% of the hall has already evacuated for summer break. While it’s sad to see everyone go, I can’t help but relish this last sweet taste of serenity before leaving on Sunday. I have the desk by the window, and I can see for miles—the rain from the day has cleared, and seagulls scoop over the sun-cut beach.
I love it here.
Last weekend, I had the amazing opportunity to go touring through the Scottish Highlands—my first real introduction to Scotland as a whole, as late as it was. On the tour were three Chinese students, two Australians, and three people from New Zealand. Not only was this an experiment in cultural differences, but it was an exciting way to experience the Highlands. We were all so new to the sights, we got to share in the wonder of it together.
Our guide, a roguish Scottish guy with more than a few bad jokes up his sleeve, cautioned us early on that on our trip we would inevitably fall prey to the errant beast called DSL: Deep Scottish Love. He warned us that anyone traveling through the Highlands was bound to be struck at some point, and that the best course of action was to either take a shot of whisky or snog the nearest member of the tour group.
We didn’t do any of that (or, at least, I’m not going to disclose it to you), but we all eventually slipped into that love he was describing.
I realize I’ve been slipping for a long time.
It might have been the first time I landed in Edinburgh, when I first encountered the Scottish accent I so adore. Or on the drive to my home in St. Andrews, when I looked out the window and saw an old stone ruin randomly standing in the middle of some fields.
Certain things like that make this place absolutely magical.
I may be over-glorifying this simply because it’s in a different country, or because I’m the only one here to witness it, or because I just needed change from my life in Iowa. But it’s not only the landscapes and seascapes that have given me the tinglings of DSL. Some tiny differences have tickled me right from the start.
For example, words and phrases. One of my favorite parts about living here has been adjusting and adapting to a new vocabulary, where “football” actually means football and “chips” are served with salt and vinegar and sometimes mayonnaise.
I was also surprised, early on, by the more noticeable differences between British and American schools. Alcohol, notably, is banned from any accommodation at the University of Iowa, even in private apartments rented through the University. My first weekend here at St. Andrews, I attended my first social: in the common room of my hall, music blasting, with as much free alcohol as you wanted and with the wardens present and chatting with residents. Now that I think about it, it was hard finding any university function where there wasn’t some form of free alcohol. There are three—count them, three—bars in the student union.
As for classes, I only took two this semester, yet that was equivalent to the six I usually take back home. I was only in class for four hours a week, but my reading load kept me busy all hours of the day. Despite this, I felt like I was working without the high pressure environment of an Iowa semester. It was refreshing, to say the least, and I found I actually had time to enjoy myself in and out of class.
But, of course, I fell most suddenly in love in the Highlands, which contrasted so much with my scenery back home that I couldn’t help but feel transported. I suppose visiting the Highlands near the end of my trip magnified the feeling, or maybe it was just because I had the word for my love. The moment of DSL that made me cry was in Glen Coe, which is iconic for its beauty. Further adding to the event, we were treated to the sounds of bagpiping as we stood in the car park overlooking the glen. It was quintessentially Scottish, and it latched onto my heart.
The big DSL moment for me, however, was just before that, when we were heading out from Skye. We headed out from the main road, bouncing along a country road, and stopped at a small, windy car park. Our guide instructed us to take a walk, which we did, reluctantly. It was the windiest place I’ve ever been, and we fought even to take steps in the direction in which we were pointed.
We made it, though: the Quiraing.
I guess I will never be able to adequately describe what DSL feels like, because there’s only so much words can do and only so much I can write without sounding like a pretentious loser. DSL happened when I realized how perfectly beautiful this country is. How lucky I am to be here. How blessed I am to have the opportunity to see something like the Quiraing, and stand on the edge, and feel the awesomeness of creation. How heartbroken I am that I have to leave so soon.
Because I don’t know when I’ll be able to see the Quiraing again, or walk the West Sands of St. Andrews, or say “cheers” to a friendly bus driver. I just don’t know, and that’s terrifying.
Scotland has moved me in ways I never expected it to—and I’ve only been here a semester. Please forgive my lovesick soul, and do me a favor: if you ever have the chance, please go to Scotland, stand in the wind and the grasslands, and find your own Deep Scottish Love in the heart of the fells.