Sunday, October 23, 2016

Bagging munroes

Yesterday I joined the St Andrews Breakaway Club for a day hike in Glenshee. Glenshee is in Cairngorns National Park, and in full winter it's a ski center, complete with chair lifts and snug overpriced cafes at the bottom of every mountain. Right now, though (in that lovely period where it's cold but not cold enough to snow, so it rains instead) most of the cafes are closed, and it's more sparsely populated by hikers and bikers, tough or stupid enough to go out in this transitional weather.

The bus left from St Andrews at 7:45 am (pretty sure that's the earliest I've managed to get up and be functional since I moved here), and after a 2.5 hour journey we got off and split into three groups - mine, about ten people, did a "medium high" hike with three munroes and lots of cloud. Munros are the Scottish term for mountains over 3000 feet, and some people make an effort to reach the summit of as many munros as they can - each time you climb one, you've "bagged a munro". So I bagged three munros yesterday. *brushes shoulders off*

It was quite cold - I didn't really register how cold until I wasn't able to unzip my backpack because my fingers were too numb. I also didn't think to wear my handy, warm and waterproof ski pants so instead I endured the cold and wet in leggings which really didn't do the job - my legs were red and numb at the end of the day. But other than that, I had a good waterproof jacket and a rain cover for my backpack so the rain didn't impact the hike much - as long as we were walking I was warm, and the way the wind would blow wisps of cloud over and across the mountains was magnificent to behold - one minute everything around you was a pearly mist, then suddenly it was clear and you could see the green glen for miles. It kept me on my toes, never knowing if there was a magnificent view right beside me or just more cloud. I had to risk a few glances up from my footing on the loose rock path to look around, resulting in a few muddy falls (totally worth it).

Between this Breakaway hikers club and the Dance Society classes I've been taking, I'm really glad I looked into the undergraduate clubs at St Andrews - it's always a bit odd having to explain that I'm technically staff (which comes up because of rampant student discounts that don't apply to me), but all in all it's really nice to have trips and classes and socials that get me out of the lab and make me meet more of the students. Also, trips and classes through the uni are wayyyyyy cheaper than trying to get those same things on my own, so that's a plus :D

I'll be on a stint in North America for most of November (Toronto Nov 5-14, Boston 15-16, Pittsburgh 17-23 and Fort Myers 21-28) so no more posts from me until probably mid-December!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

It's all relative

About a week into writing a blog comparing life in the US and the UK, I already feel kind of silly making the comparison. I mean, as countries go, we're not that different - same language (pretty much), same economy (except we're AWESOME), same demographics (eh, not really), same homicide rate (ha, not even close), but my point is that we're basically the same [check out this website]. I think I'm more aware of that than I might be because most of the friends I've made so far are Turkish, and as comparisons go the ones between there and here really swamp out the cute eccentricities I, the American, point out. However, one thing I've noticed when I discuss international differences with my fellow expatriates is that when we're pointing out something that's foreign to us about Scotland, I'm on one side of it and they're on the other. For example:

me: People drive so fast on these roads!
Turkish friend: Haha... oh, you're serious?


me: The bread/beer is so good here!
German friend: Oh.

A group of us went to a ceilidh the other night (a gathering of Scots for drinking and dancing, lots of fun), and it turned out that my square/line/contra-dancing skills were quite translatable to Scottish country dancing, and I was picking it up much more quickly than my friends. I guess that makes sense - most American country dance styles came from a mix of European immigrants' styles, like the Irish, English and Scottish (and Welsh? Did the Welsh immigrate to the US? Why do I know nothing about Wales?).

The easy transition for which I am most thankful though, is that of language. For a lot of my new friends, English is not their first language, and maybe they were taught British English (haven't thought to ask), but they DEFINITELY weren't taught Scottish English. A lot of them dread all phone interactions because without the lip-reading and the facial expressions to guide them along it's near unintelligible. I have a friend who shows the bus driver a note with his destination written on it every day because he can't pronounce it for the life of them. It reminds me of what it was like to show up in Chile thinking, "I speak Spanish! This should be fine!" NOPE. No hablo Chileno. 

Unrelated: I found another instance where you can say cheers: when you break something.

And, in other news, I found out why Wales isn't represented on the Union Jack:

WA- oh, hey wales, I don't know if that's gonna work... nice dragon though!

 (the technical reason is because they were considered a part of England already when Scotland and Ireland were incorporated, but let's be honest, a different flag might have had more of a shot)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

10 Things that have changed about my life since moving to Scotland

I've been living in Scotland for about two months now, and I've decided (with the encouragement of some friends that said they would actually read it) that I should write down some of my thoughts about life here. Particularly, my thoughts on how the UK and the US (or rather, St Andrews and Fort Myers/Boston) differ and how I view myself differently in the light of this new environment. That way I'll actually remember them after next summer when I leave and re-immerse myself in The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Hence this blog. No promises that I will stay on topic though - I'll probably just write about anything that I think might be entertaining or interesting. Also, chances are a lot of the comparisons I make will end up being about city versus small-town life, or academia in the UK versus academia in the US.

I'll start with a quick list of some obvious things about my life that have changed since moving here.

1. I now time my laundry to coincide with good weather, since people don't really do the dryer thing in this neighborhood (region? country? not sure, although the US definitely uses bigger dryers and more of them than any other country) - honestly, it's been a lovely change so far, there are few things more calming than hanging up your laundry on a sunny day. I'm a bit worried about how it'll be in the winter, when there's more clothes and (much) less sun, but I assume that with the heat on, things will dry indoors just fine. My flatmate has a neat pulley contraption in her kitchen so you can wheel down a rack, hang your clothes on it and crank it back up to the ceiling.
Sunny Day Exhibit A
2. Between the lab and my house, I'm getting a lot better at using keys. A delicate combination of force, habit, jiggling the key and turning the handle simultaneously seems to be the secret. Nothing like older buildings to teach you patience.

3. I've become uncomfortably aware of my rampant usage of the word "awesome", since people here don't seem quite as inclined towards hyperbole. Not uncomfortable enough to stop using it yet, but we'll see.

4. I have challenged myself to determine the number of social situations in which "cheers" is an acceptable response. So far I have:
  • completing a consumer transaction ("Here's your change." "Cheers!")
  • running into a stranger ("Sorry!" "Cheers!")
  • ending a phone call ("Talk to you later then." "Cheers!")
  • Tinking drinks together ("Cheers!")
  • Telling someone you are flaking ("Sorry I won't be able to join you tonight, I [have no good reason, just lazy]." "Cheers!")
 ... I'll report back as I discover new ones ...

5. Everyday activities are infused with history. On any given day, I walk past kiltmakers' shops, the ruins of a medieval cathedral, plaques commemorating centuries-old mathematicians, and small alleys with signs noting that a Scot who fought bravely in a given war used to live there. I love it.

6. Eating hot dogs has become a strangely nostalgic activity.

100% Scottish Hot Dogs
7. I spend quite a bit of time thinking about linguistics. I never took a class in linguistics, even though there were a lot of overlapping courses between the linguistics and cognitive sciences classes at MIT, because I was afraid I would get drawn into a world so fascinating and complicated that all my other cognitive sciences interests would subsumed by it - weird, I know, but that's actually why. Now, with the opportunity to listen to a variety of British accents, hear the difference between international students' English when they learned the American or British standard, or spent a bit of time in both places and picked up different habits in each, and the varying slang and exclamations that get mixed together in such an international community -- I've started wishing maybe I hadn't kept the study of languages and dialects and how they're acquired at an arm's length, since it seems really interesting and definitely applicable to my current existence.

8. My flatmate and I share sauces and spices and things like that, so I've started keeping track of which things I use up dramatically more rapidly than she does, so  I know which things I should be replacing when I get groceries. The list ended up being illuminating:
  • salt
  • olive oil
  • oatmeal
  • paper towels
  • hot chocolate
  • splenda
  • red pepper flakes
  • soy sauce
  • ground ginger
  • potatoes
  • pasta
  • garlic powder
This has confirmed my theory that I have a dull sense of taste and thus only enjoy things that are very salty, very spicy, or very sweet.
...we'll see if this keeping-track-of-what-you-consume thing in any way incentivizes me to flavor my food less dramatically,  or eat fewer carbs (but I doubt it).

9. I see more landscapes on a daily basis - mostly because my form of transportation is now biking or busing through Scottish farmland instead of power walking down a crowded tunnel (yeah MIT I'm talking about your campus) but also because I just have more time for myself, and have been assured many times that this sunny, breezy weather will not last. There's something very soothing about watching a mostly uniform terrain that stretches out into the distance, and is different from the farmland you're more likely to see in Florida (i.e., infinite straight rows of orange trees).
biking home in weather that can't make up its mind if it's raining or not.
And it was all yellow. (Taken on a train up to Inverness)

10. Tea is good. I've started drinking it at work, since (as me and the other intern in lab right now have discovered) you can only drink so many cups of coffee per day, but taking a break to drink something warm is essential since the basement where we work is a bit chilly. At first I was just drinking it black, but at the prompting of the lab manager (Geraldine, from Northern Ireland) I have started adding sugar and milk as well, which makes it much nicer. I may be a convert.

This is just meant to be a sort of introductory post - I'm intending to have more of a unified topic in the next ones :)