Robert Burns Night

As an aspiring poet and avid reader of poetry, I was familiar with Robert Burns and his work before coming to Scotland; however, I was not familiar with the celebrations hosted on and around January 25th (Burns’ date of birth) to commemorate the famed Scot. “Robert Burns Night” or “Robbie Burns Night” is a very big deal in Scotland, apparent in the number of people that gather to partake in a myriad of traditional festivities memorializing Burns and his work.
On January 25th, I joined in the festivities by attending a ceilidh with several friends that was hosted by a society on campus. The traditional ceremony began with a number of Gaelic folk dances which allowed me to parade around my two left feet. Luckily, I was not alone in this; and, everyone had a good time whether they remained standing when the music stopped or lay twisted and tangled on the ground. As tradition dictates, the dancing was followed by a ceremonial haggis being “piped in,” or ushered in by a man playing the bagpipe. Once the bagpipe player and haggis reach center stage, a Burns poem, entitled “Address to a Haggis” is recited as the haggis is ripped open. The ceremonial haggis was followed out by a tray of “haggis, neeps, and tatties.” Neeps, I believe, is simply another term used for rutabaga, and tatties are mashed potatoes. Haggis, on the other hand, is a unique treat.
My only other run-in with haggis up to this point was at a restaurant I went to during my first week here. I had heard a lot of talk around the food but wasn’t sure exactly what it was. All that I knew was that it was some kind of meat, but I didn’t want to know what kind until after I’d eaten it. Having detected my American accent in ordering, the waiter asked if I had ever tried haggis before and I explained the situation. He responded, “you either love it or you hate it” (a statement I have heard used by many people here in reference to haggis). On the contrary, I was somewhere in the middle. While I did not enjoy my first experience with haggis too much, I did manage to finish my plate before the waiter returned.

“Okay, now you can tell me. What’s in it?” I asked.

“I’m just going to let you look it up on your own,” he replied (always the response you hope to hear when questioning what kind of meat you have just eaten).

After looking it up later I came to the conclusion that it tastes much better than it sounds, though that is not saying much. If you would like to know what is in it you can do the same as I had to and look it up on your own.

Nevertheless, I tried haggis again at the ceilidh, and I was pleasantly surprised! At the ceilidh, the haggis was served in smaller portions with the neeps and tatties, and it all tasted really great together! My friends and I even returned for second servings (and some of us thirds). I left shortly after the food was gone with a full stomach, the memory of an evening I will never forget, and a new life-goal: to one day have some type of meat musically ushered into a room and cut into while a poem of mine is recited. Although, I am thinking that maybe we could do a nice cut of steak or a juicy hamburger for mine.

FOMO

Fear of Missing Out. It’s an expression you will hear pretty frequently if you are considering studying abroad. It is also the reason most of my peers at home have given for why they are choosing not to study abroad. Now, the intention of this blog IS NOT to criticize choosing not to study abroad or to discredit FOMO as a legitimate reason for staying on campus for all of your college career. The truth is that if you choose to go abroad, you will surely miss out on things at home. And, if you choose to stay home, you will surely miss out on experiences you could have had abroad. The intention of this blog IS to make you think about the REAL FOMO and the way you go about your daily life, regardless of where you are.

Since the second I arrived here, I have been actively seeking out things to do in and around the city of Aberdeen. I have gone to museums, tried new food and new restaurants, joined clubs for sports I have never played, and travelled around the area. I have already created a pretty close group of friends with some other students studying here from the U.S., Canada, and Switzerland. All of these students are doing the same thing as me: going out and trying to see as much as they can while they are here. It is nice to have a group like this, because we can travel together, making it cheaper and more fun.

The first excursion we took was to a city just south of Aberdeen named Stonehaven, home of Dunnottar Castle and The Bay—a delicious fish and chips shop. It’s about a three mile walk from the train station to Dunnottar castle, but it feels a lot shorter because of the beautiful view of the Stonehaven bay and lush green cliffs scattered with nesting sea birds. The next weekend, we headed even further south to a town named St. Cyrus with the University of Aberdeen’s Conservation Society. We hiked a couple of miles from the bus station to a trail that wound back and forth down the face of a cliff leading to the beach. We made our way down the coast to an estuary filled with all different kinds of ducks and birds before walking back to the cliff-side trail. On the way back we spotted a couple of seals poking their heads out of the water not too far from shore and stopped to climb some coastal rock formations where we found a few star fish and crabs.

Me on a cliff with Dunnottar in the background
My girlfriend Gabbi (also from Hope and studying at Aberdeen) and me at Dunnottar Castle
Stonehaven Bay
Cliff with nesting seabirds at Stonehaven
The walk to the coast at St. Cyrus

Last week, my flatmate showed us around “Fittie” or Footdee as it is now known, a historic fisherman district in Aberdeen. Then, we were all able to catch a free tour of the Aberdeen Maritime Museum. Both of these experiences were helpful in understanding the history of the area we live in, which I will be sure to include more about in a future blog.

Fittie

This past week I went to visit Loch Kinord in the Cairngorms. The Cairngorms is a mountain range and nature reserve east of Aberdeen. A couple of my friends and I made a fairly last second decision to catch a bus and head out to hike the area. Unsure of exactly where the trail that we were supposed to be hiking was, we walked 2 miles north along the side of the road and cut through a cold, wet bog to stumble upon a path toward the visitor center. As we later found out, the bus stop is no more than 100 feet from the start of the Loch Kinord trail, but none of us minded emptying out our boots and wringing out our socks too much. After picking up a couple of maps from the visitor center, we hiked west on a trail to see the Burn O’Vat, which is essentially a really large hole in a rock formation formed by running water. We climbed up the side of the waterfall that poured into the stone canyon and hiked a ways down the stream that ran underneath fallen trees and dodged between moss-covered rocks before spilling out into the Burn O’Vat. Then, we doubled back and sat on the rocks at the base of the waterfall to enjoy the lunches we’d packed before continuing our hike out and around Loch Kinord. Remnants of a church and of village hut circles marked the path around the loch which wove in and out between a woodland landscape, a bog, grassland, and some surrounding farmland.

Loch Kinord
Celtic cross (relic from old church at Loch Kinord)
Stream running to Burn O’Vat
Burn O’Vat cascading water

I am amazed at how much northeast Scotland has had to offer so far, and I am excited to continue exploring until the end of the semester. However, all of these little excursions and adventures have also made me think about the way that I go about daily life at home. What all would West Michigan have to offer if I were to bring home the same adventurous mindset I have here? How many gems of natural beauty and preserved history have I been surrounded by for the past three years and not taken advantage of? That’s my real FOMO—the fear of unknowingly missing out on opportunities every day. As a result, when I come back home I will be challenging myself (and would encourage anyone who reads this) to be more aware of and to take better advantage of the opportunities around me.

 

And Bob’s Your Uncle, I’ve Made Some Mistakes

Aberdeen FC vs. Kilmarnock FC football-soccer game I went to.
Another picture from the football-soccer game.

I am the kind of person who doesn’t like to make mistakes. In fact, this is one of the reasons I chose to study in Scotland: because it is an English-speaking country and, not being multilingual, I figured that I would make a fool of myself in any country where English is not the main language. Little did I know that there would be plenty of opportunities for me to make a fool of myself here.

Ever since I arrived in Aberdeen, I have noticed that there are a number of little, often-times quirky differences between the English spoken in the UK and that spoken in the US. Here are a few selected words/phrases and stories from a list of differences I have compiled:

  • Pants

I live in a flat with four other guys: 1 from Indiana, 1 from England, and 2 from Scotland. As my American flatmate and I have come to learn, the word “pants,” as we would use it in the United States, has a much different connotation in the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom, the word “pants” actually refers to what we Americans would call “underwear.”

We discovered this seemingly minor difference while introducing our English flatmate to a few friends we’d met at orientation.

“Is it okay if I’m just in my pants?” he asked, in response to us calling him into the kitchen.

“Of course it’s okay if you are just in your pants,” I replied, what an odd question to ask, I then thought to myself, not realizing the error in what I had said until after he’d walked in to meet our new friends.

 

  • Fries and Chips and Chips and Crisps

Thankfully, this bullet comes without an embarrassing story but with an important distinction; here, American “fries” are referred to as “chips” and American “chips” are referred to as “crisps.”

 

  • Football-soccer

Having watched a lot of English Premier League soccer, I knew that soccer would be referred to as “football” when I got here. Therefore, in referring to soccer, I started off using the term “football.” Unfortunately, if you have an American accent and say “football” in Scotland, they assume you mean “American Football” but if you say “soccer” they will correct you with “football.” As a result, I have begun making a distinction by referring to soccer as “Football-soccer.”

 

  • The Metric System

Being a student-athlete abroad means that I still need to be completing my off-season workouts. For this, I headed to the Aberdeen Sports Village gym early on in my first week here, where I quickly learned that the weights are all marked in kilograms and not pounds (the conversion of which is about 1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds).  I discovered this nice little detail after loading close to double the weight that I typically start with onto the bench press and nearly dropping the bar on my own chest.

 

  • And Bob’s your uncle

“And Bob’s your uncle” is a common phrase in the UK which I believe means something along the lines of “and just like that.” For example, my professor was solving an equation on the board the other day and said, “you do this, that, and Bob’s your uncle—you have the answer.” I am still pretty confused on if I use it correctly, but I think I am beginning to somewhat understand the meaning.

 

What I have found in looking back over the full version of this list (which was too long to include) is that I have made a LOT of mistakes and learned a lot since being here. My silly mistakes have only made the lessons I’ve learned more memorable, and the Scottish people could not have been any more helpful and understanding. Whether it be helping catch a falling barbell or having some grace for being introduced to people half nude, the people here have made me feel welcome despite my slip-ups. They have helped me realize that making a fool of myself is nothing to be afraid of. Mistakes are bound to happen when you put yourself out of your comfort zone, but they are certainly not worth holding you back from trying anything new.