Welcome to the Scottish Borders, Make Yourself at Home

Josie Collier Edinburgh, Scotland


November 8, 2022

“Open Sesame” rang through my ears at Rosslyn Chapel’s whispering door. So, when the Scottish Borders opened their door to me, I entered. 

Frankly, when I began this little journey, I dreaded Arcadia’s 7:30 Saturday morning wake-up call. I get car sick. Thus, the existential dread of thirty strangers watching me vomit my breakfast on the side of the road was debilitating. Picture this: a CGI backdrop of coalesced reds, yellows and oranges swaying in the trees and pillowy-soft rolling hills of the Scottish Borders contrasted against my potential grotesqueness. I was sent into an anxious spiral at 7:55 a.m. Trudging to the bus, I didn’t want to ruin the trip.

My pessimism was proven wrong by a fractured glimpse of Rosslyn Chapel from the bus’s water droplet-stained windows. A blurry sight of this landmark was something special: secret doors, hidden messages and riddles in the walls, stories of death and failed relationships, a dash of spotty construction to keep it all intact — it's just like home. 

This contested place of worship dates back to 1446. Ironically adding to the homely feel, two children were hell-bent on pestering their parents while their mother was trying for an “educational experience.” These boys weren’t curious about the legend of the master murdering their apprentice, or the meridian line inducing visitors into spiritual awakenings. I call B.S. on the latter, but to each their own.

Traquair House was next. For anyone reading this, I am happy to inform you that my breakfast was still inside my stomach by this point. However, it was a touch-and-go during the winding roads of Peebleshire. 

Our next tour guide was an older Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, who began with a quick reference to Mrs. Transphobic J.K. Rowling. And like that, only a spell and million-dollar literary net-worth away from a controversial debate, we were welcomed into Sir Walter Scott’s home, Abbotsford House. What a relief. 

Just kidding. This home’s grand entrance has over 100 Scottish war artifacts. The manly Walter Scott thus makes his presence known. Visitors see their family names and coat-of-arms on the walls, they too have an obscure connection to home. 

Finishing the excursion, a rooftop view of home: Scotts View. Farther away from home than ever, I have been here a million times before. Instead of a view of the Pacific Ocean, it was the Scottish Borders: chimneys with streams of smoke, farms with cattle grazing and low-seated fog clustering evergreens. 

“This isn’t real.” Laughter follows my comment. “No seriously, it’s CGI.” 

I receive a response: “You’re right, it's beautiful.” Silence followed. And the lights were switched off.

I am reminded I am a visitor in someone’s home. We were all impermanent visitors in this experience. Thousands before us and thousands will follow, our day here was a blip in time. The Scottish Borders welcomed us into their home, and I came and left.

It has been difficult grappling with the idea that I will leave this country in just over a month. So quickly for me it has felt like home and I have felt so comfortable during my time here. Scotland for some reason can cast a spell on you and make you think you really are at home even if home is actually thousands of miles away. 

Of course, take what I say with a grain of salt if you think I am romanticizing this study abroad experience. But when you see a place like Scotland with your own eyes, you might just agree. 


Semester Scotland