Fàilte gu Alba! (Welcome to Scotland!)

Kathryn Funderburg University of Aberdeen, Scotland


September 21, 2015

The last two and a half weeks have been a whirlwind of information, sights, and new experiences. Seventeen days ago I did not know what the sky looks like when flying into the light of the rising sun, the stars still visible behind you, and with a watch that reads 1:00 am. Seventeen days ago I had never been outside of the United States, had never tried haggis (the national dish of Scotland made from sheep offal and oatmeal) or Scottish tablet (a delightful confection that was described to me as “fudge on steroids”). Seventeen days ago I landed in Scotland and I have been learning and exploring every waking minute since.

I arrived at my hotel in Edinburgh around 9:30 in the morning. My room, however, was not available until 2:00 p.m., and so armed with a basic map I set off to explore the city. That first day I walked almost ten miles wandering the city. From the Royal Mile to Princes Street; from Edinburgh Castle to the Elephant House (a café where J. K. Rowling wrote part of the first Harry Potter novel) I roamed. Beyond all of the sights, which were fantastic, the simple act of walking about a major city by myself was an oddly impactful activity. First of all, I actually felt safe doing so! It was daytime and I was careful to gage my surroundings, but I didn’t feel as nervous as I usually do in American metropolitan areas. (I promise I’m being safe, Mother.) Yet even as I reveled in the architecture of St. Giles Cathedral and rejoiced in the ability to cross the road without being hit (I’m looking at YOU Texan drivers), I felt the first, insidious tendrils of culture shock beginning to curl around me. I was alone, roughly 4,600 miles away from everyone who loves me, or even knows me. It’s been two and a half weeks, and although I am settling in well at Aberdeen it’s the little things that surprise me, that sneak up behind me and shout, “this isn’t America!”

A Short List of Things that Send the Culture Shock Tendrils Twitching:

  • Not recognizing the majority of brand names. It seems minor, but it is quite disconcerting.
  • Traveling on the opposite side of the road. After 20 years of riding on the right side of the road I sometimes have to assure myself that I’m not about to be in a head-on collision.
  • The absence of certain foods. I went on a quest to find sour cream (I was victorious), I already miss biscuits, and have resigned myself to a distinct lack of Tex-Mex.
  • The difference in popular culture. To my surprise and dismay Parks and Recreation is not a well-known show here (Knope and Wyatt 2016!). 

However, each day the shock diminishes and I appreciate more fully the privilege of encountering the new and unique. I love the University of Aberdeen’s campus. I thrill in the magnificence of the library (check back in later for a more detailed description of the wonder that is the Sir Duncan Rice Library) and the ivy covered granite of King’s College. I value the flower garden in Seaton Park while walking to campus and the public transit infrastructure that allows me to ride around the park when I’m being lazy. I genuinely enjoy my classes; in only four days I’ve learned so much! I look forward to the opportunity to conduct research on Aberdeen’s medieval manuscripts (check back for more information).

So, seventeen days ago there were a lot of things I had not yet experienced. Since then I HAVE met people from a wide variety of countries (including my lovely flat mates!), tried new food, navigated two cities, begun to learn Latin, joined a swim club, and grown tremendously as a person. During my orientation in Edinburgh I heard the phrase, “fàilte gu Alba” and because of the kindness of those I’ve encountered I do feel welcome here, and through my blog I extend that greeting to you, fàilte gu Alba, welcome to Scotland!


Scotland Semester