Study Abroad: Scotland

Checks&Balances is writing a series of blogs from IRIO students studying abroad. Sander des Tombe is currently studying in Aberdeen, Scotland.

In a stroll through the city, I noticed the absence of sale signs and I came to understand that Aberdeen’s house prices have actually doubled over the last ten years. Along with London, Aberdeen is unique in the U.K. in this respect and it seems to be related with the job-generating offshore oil sector. One of the less serious responses to my enquiry on this topic was that Aberdeen should be considered the energy capital of the U.K., the world and maybe even the universe.

Following a course in Scottish sociological history, I soon realised that my unawareness of Scottish real-estate price shifts would not pose as my biggest hurdle. It is shameful to admit, but my knowledge of Scotland has been mostly derived from the movie Braveheart. Although this is not rare for foreigners, it still touches a sensitive nerve of the proud Scots. The extent to which was experienced by the viewing of the three hour movie, while being accompanied by a Scottish student who reminded me every minute on every single historical inaccuracy.

My knowledge on Scotland was mostly restricted to Braveheart, which touches a sensitive nerve of the proud Scots.

This devotion is seen in most Scots, creating an eternal debate on whether my conception of Scotland is filled only with its kitsch elements, called tartanry. These over-imposed or overemphasised notions of Scotland are far from today’s reality, where seeing someone in a kilt is considered something special. Furthermore, you are most likely to only hear the world-famous bagpipes with large festivities and near tourist attractions. The latter of which truly generates a mythical atmosphere on your walk towards one of the many castles surrounding Aberdeen.

One of the things that I was surprised to find out was that Scottish life expectancy is amongst EU’s lowest. This nevertheless comes as no surprise when you have become familiar with Scottish cuisine. For instance, Aberdeen’s version of the Harmoniebuilding hosts both a Taco Bell and a Subway. The two most popular Scottish dishes are haggis (hart, liver and lung of a sheep) and chippies (soft chips with vinegar and cheese), of which the grease is likely to choke your arteries before the end of the semester. These dishes should always be accompanied by Scotland’s most popular drink; Irn Bru, which can best be described as liquid bubblegum.

Fortunately, this unhealthy diet actually drives students to actively participate in one of the many sports. The choice is wide, ranging from river or sea kayaking to skiing and from mountaineering to practicing athletics in a state-of-the-art sporting centre. Even the less sporty students will enjoy wandering through Old Aberdeen or hiking in the countryside while spotting ancient castles.

Although Aberdeen is only an hour by plane, its cultural differences with the Netherlands are still strongly apparent and are there to be explored and enjoyed. Each day, I hope to identify yet another peculiarity and the likelihood of which continues to surprise me.

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