Once Upon a Time in Scotland

After studying at UC Irvine for two years, I was ready for another adventure. Having always felt a pull toward Scotland, which is often considered the shadow of its dominating cousin England, I decided to uproot myself from the safe haven of UC Irvine and thrust myself into the throes of life.

The place I chose was Edinburgh. Where else in the world could I walk through the streets and witness a wedding ceremony be held in a cathedral built in the 14th century where men wearing kilts and bagpipes serenade the newlywed; or head off to class in the same building where Charles Darwin studied; and then finish off the day with the compulsory visit to pubs where the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson or Robert Burns hung out in between writing classics?

Courtesy of Natasha Sekon

Courtesy of Natasha Sekon

As a visiting student at the University of Edinburgh, I made it a point to take classes that would usually not be offered back at UCI but at the same time would fulfilled my earth system sciences major requirements.

So I ended up with a paleoecology class, dynamic stratigraphy, geological field trip and introduction to Gaelic and Scottish culture. Yes, I can speak one semester’s worth of the Celtic language that is spoken by 1.2 percent of Scottish people, according to a 2001 census!

Staying in the university-given accommodations gave me a chance to meet and make lasting friendships with lots of other international students. A fun fact: while living at Chancellors Court, we had the Princess of Japan staying on the ground floor, along with a few people related to the current British Monarchy. I may or may not have had an embarrassing encounter with one of the above!

In terms of the education system, it is vastly different from the UC’s. A lot of emphasis is given on self-studies, and there is no one set book but rather multiple readings and books. The classes I took were also very precise and detailed in the subject matter compared to the broader earth system sciences classes I have taken at UCI.

So for me, it basically boiled down to no homework or mid-terms, but just essays and finals. This came with its own pros and cons but it gave us, the visiting students, a lot of free time to try out various activities. A few of the university clubs I dabbled in a bit range from Chocolate Society, Wine Tasting Society, Scottish Country Dancing (think Jane Austen dance scenes with a lot of Mr. Darcys), swing dancing, the Student (official newspaper) and the Cocktail Society (they proudly stylize themselves as the CockSoc — no joke). These were the perfect places to meet locals and try out the local cuisine, which included fried Mars bars, fried pizzas and the ever famous Haggis.

This left the weekends free to travel around with the International Student Centre organizing discounted access to St. Andrews — the birthplace of Golf and more importantly the city that flourished the love story of the century: Prince William and Kate Middleton — 6 Nation Rugby Matches, which is like a religion in Scotland, Durham City (the Cathedral was Hogwarts for Harry Potter movies 1 and 2) and Liverpool (birthplace of Beatles) to name a few.

More impactful than the cities, I left my heart in the Scottish Highlands, partly because geologically speaking they are so different from California (California being an active tectonic zone and the Highlands a passive one) and partly because words cannot describe the venerable beauty of that landscape. They are hauntingly beautiful with places like Glencoe (seen in the movie Skyfall and Hagrid’s Hut from Harry Potter) and Isle of Skye (Prometheus and Stardust) that leave chills on your back. A friend and I have decided that if our life plans do not work out, we will head back to the Highlands and become shepherds!

One of the highlights of the UCEAP has to be the 14 day Geological Field Trip to North Western Scotland where I got to touch the extinct Moine Thrust, have lunches in the ruins of the Ardvreck Castle, make casual trips to collect Trilobite fossils and be left in isolated groups of two for seven hours a day in the Highlands with nothing but compass clinometers and a geological map. That is a memory I will cherish for life.

Courtesy of Natasha Sekon

Courtesy of Natasha Sekon

I managed to see Edinburgh in the summer by being proactive and getting research done under Prof. Alexander Tudhope, who is working on corals from the Galapagos Islands with the help of the ever wonderful Hillary Noyce (UC Program Manager). I saw the city transform with the advent of summer, holding amazing festivals like the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the Jazz Festival, the City Carnival, the Military Tattoo and the widely anticipated Fringe Festival (sadly I could not see the last two).

Another fun fact: over the summer I stayed in a flat next to the Bombay Bicycle Club, yes the very food chain that inspired the indie rock band name!

All in all, take advantage of UCEAP; travel and move out of your comfort zones. I guarantee that you will stumble and embarrass yourself but the experience of it all will be so much sweeter and memorable. I part with a Gaelic Proverb: Is e ‘n t-ionnsachadh òg an t-ionnsachadh bòidheach.

That roughly translates to: You are young, so pick up your asses and experience the world.