I was placed in, what I’d describe as, a mix between a rural and urban community in Scotland. I would describe it this way because the immediate neighborhood was a farming community. Many neighbors had cows (or coos- the way Scottish call cows), sheep, and horses. It was always fun driving to school each morning because the time I arrived in Scotland (end of March) was about when the baby lambs and cows started arriving. They were adorable in every way you can imagine! I think this community had some urban aspects as well because of how close it was to Stirling and Alloa, both major train station depots. My homestay and school were about a 15 minute drive from Stirling, Scotland. I lived with a wonderful couple, both teachers, and their two huskies (Kai and Phoenix). I wish I could name one specific aspect of this experience that was the best to highlight, but truthfully, it was all amazing. My host family were kind, generous, and hilarious. Their extended family welcomed me with open arms despite just meeting me. And their dogs!!! Those two huskies were the cutest, most tame dogs I have ever met. Whenever I felt homesick, those dogs were right there to cheer me up. A major reason why I chose Scotland was because I love hiking and nature. I absolutely love mountains, and Scotland did not disappoint. Though the UK in general does not have very big mountains (nowhere near the size we have here in the States), Scotland’s natural landscape was awe inspiring at every turn. The community I lived in was considered the gateway to the highlands of Scotland, where you find the majority of the mountains. Every morning, driving to school, I was gifted stunning sunrises with the backdrop of endless rolling hills and mountains. It was a nice change of scenery to the flat Midwest I’m used to. I’ll never forget some of the views I was able to see. And I’m already trying to figure out how to make a trip back to Scotland on my first-year teacher's salary.
The host culture:
My absolute favorite part about Scotland’s culture is its overall welcoming and open environment. Of course, heading into this experience I felt a plethora of emotions including social anxiety, stress, and excitement. But the second I stepped foot off my plane in Glasgow I was instantly welcomed by my host family. They came running over and both gave me big hugs; they were showing pure, genuine happiness and excitement to meet me. That night they made enough food for dinner to last us literally two weeks. I was just so amazed at their generosity. Due to the way my student teaching ended in Indiana and the timeline, I started school the day after I arrived in Scotland. I was very nervous about this because I felt I didn’t have enough time to get acclimated and accustomed to Scotland before I was thrust into school. But now, looking back on it, I am so happy the way it turned out. My colleagues at the school were so excited to meet me. It was a very, VERY small school, and it seemed like I was all anyone talked about for weeks leading up to my arrival. They were all so excited to meet me, each welcoming me with a hug. During lunch breaks for about the next week, they were so excited to ask me questions and share stories about our different backgrounds. Lots of laughs were had. Many of my colleagues have become friends now who I still talk to. One of the women was getting married and we spent every lunch looking at dresses and venues. I felt very honored that she was so willing to include me in her joy and excitement for her wedding, despite only knowing me for a little. In addition, hiking and travel are two of my favorite things. And being the only Global Gateway student in Scotland, I had to do a lot of stuff on my own. Because of this, I signed up for a lot of guided tours (if anyone goes to Scotland, use Rabies- it’s an amazing tour company!). I went on these tours throughout all of Scotland on a minibus of about 16 people total. Every single trip I went on, I did not know a single person on it. However, by the end of each trip, I was able to meet so many interesting people. I met individuals from Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, Poland, Colombia, France, Japan, Russia, and Scotland (obviously) all on one guided tour!! Every single town, no matter how remote it was, welcomed me with open arms.
I urge anyone reading this, you will feel homesick, but push past it! Get into a routine, meet new people, ask your host family to show you around, sign up for a guided tour, hang with coworkers. This experience really showed me what I can handle on my own and gave me infinitely more confidence in myself.
For me, the most challenging part of living in Scotland for 10 weeks was the loneliness. My host family could not have been better; they were so inclusive and welcoming. They made me feel part of their family. However, I tend to be a homebody. Not everyone is like me; some people can leave home for long periods of time and feel totally fine. But for those of you that get homesick, you’ll definitely feel it while overseas or in the Navajo Nation. The biggest factor causing my loneliness was because I was the only Global Gateway student in Scotland. Though you are pushed to meet new people and expand your horizons through this program, I think I definitely would have benefited from the security of knowing I had someone else in the country with me that knew what I was going through and that I could meet up with if needed. I would say the first 3 weeks of my placement were spent feeling very homesick and wondering if I had made the right decision to come. But I urge anyone reading this, you will feel homesick, but push past it! Get into a routine, meet new people, ask your host family to show you around, sign up for a guided tour, hang with coworkers. This experience really showed me what I can handle on my own and gave me infinitely more confidence in myself. It’s very freeing to know I can do anything on my own.
Scotland is in the midst of implementing a new program designed around play. Students are encouraged to learn through play and action. In addition, every Friday (if earned), students are given the entire afternoon to choose different play activities, such as outdoor sports, gardening, book club, engineering, and arts/crafts. Through this experience, I was able to develop my skills in implementing lots of action and play during lessons. Almost every single lesson I gave had us moving around and exploring through independent learning; whereas, in Indiana, lots of my lessons were more collaborative based learning. I also had to teach gym twice a week, which was super intimidating. But a lot of the lessons I taught in gym in Scotland could easily be adapted as brain breaks here in the States. I’m more conscious of the fact that students need to get up and move multiple times throughout the day. And I’m determined the include a brain break after each lesson in my first year of teaching.
Advice for future students:
Do not be afraid to speak your mind when it comes to expectations between you and your host family. You want to always respect your host family because they are going out of their way to accommodate you; however, this is your experience, so own it. Make sure your host family and you are on the same page for what you both expect and want out of this. They invited me to many, many outings and social events. There were times that I felt I wanted to do something else on the weekend, like travel to the highlands or see Edinburgh, but I felt obligated to do host family outings. I felt pulled in too many directions. I realized about half-way through my experience that I wouldn’t be happy if I continued to always say yes. I needed to do what was best for me in the time that I had. So my host family and I sat down and created a shared calendar where I would put in my travel dates and they would schedule outings around that. It was the best of both worlds, but wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t had the confidence to speak up about what I want and what they expect from me.