Studying Abroad: It’s About the Stories

Jacob Castilow ’10 – Most people I meet ask, at some point or another, if I like Scotland — a pretty generic question, right? I do enjoy the lovely scenery and the history — it’s all very rich and wonderful, but I enjoy the people in a much more impressionable way, and this is where I usually stumble with words.

I can speak of my trip to the Shetlands and maybe that can illuminate what I mean. The most striking example of the people-based, live-and-live attitude would be the Shetlands, these tiny remote islands off the coast of Scotland. The island is quite small and exhibits a remarkable community based attitude. After a rough fourteen hour ferry ride through the North Sea, I step on land feeling a little "Shet-lagged" — that’s suppose to be a joke — but having to be flexible with travel arrangements I needed to make accommodations to stay overnight in the port, Lerwick.
 
I found the youth hostel with the help of a stranger; and when I thought I found it, I went into the community center – it turns out the lady runs the hostel, but most remarkably, she said to me (from memory so the quotes aren’t exact, but they’re not in the least bit exaggerated), "Did you just come in off the Sunday morning ferry? You must be tired, the hostel doesn’t take bookings until 9:00am (it’s 7:30am), but if go….(I’ll explain this in a minute) you can set your rucksuck down, head upstairs, there’s a kitchen and make yourself a cup of tea or coffee, and wait in the sitting room until we take bookings." Wow! It may just be me, but that about knocked me off my feet- I felt so welcomed- but the ellipses- I fixated on the idea of a nice cup of tea in the morning after a very nauseating night (not really sea sickness, but the whole ride just turns your stomach) and this woman’s immense hospitality and when I nodded and went outside I couldn’t find the hostel nor could I remember her directions, so I went back in. The lady actually just walked me over to the hostel and showed me everything she had said — pretty cool!
 
The Shetlands was almost too good of a trip, really. It’s one where you hesitate to get on the ferry. Here’s a picture or two of it –  the road one is particularly memorable because once you get past Brae (you can Google Earth these if interested) there’s no public transport, but even the tourism office suggests hitch hiking, and I must admit it is an adventure in itself.
 
On our third day there, we hitch hiked a total of 56 miles in a day which means meeting some amazing people, did some amazing hiking along these goregeous sea cliffs, and as we grew tired we stopped for a rest in a bay only to be treated by a gathering of seals in the bay — I fell into the North Sea, about mid thigh, trying to get a good photo but that meant camping was out – the North Sea is quite cold.
 
To end this narrative, we figured that we were out this way and had at least go look at Dore Holm turns out we were a little farther away, and we just sat on the coast staring at another big rock in the sea, though we weren’t a certain at the time whether were were looking at Dore Holm or not. As the sun got low in the sky, we decided we had better start trying to get rides back into town – it was a great way to end the day, walking along those empty, yet beautiful roads back towards the only "big" town with the sun at our backs. There are loads of other little stories that really show the character of the place, but for brevity’s sake, I spoke of one of the good days; I wasn’t snubbing the landscape in the slighest at the beginning – it’s all very breathtaking, and I often find myself reciting this marvelous antipoem called "Grandeur" I memorized for a poetry class before I came, but the scenery can’t give you that warm fuzzy feeling when people are just unbelievable friendly nor could it give you the really humbling experience of having to rely on a stranger’s kindness to get you to a warm place to shower and sleep at night as opposed to having to camp in a sleeping bag on the side of the road cold and wet. These short, very human, very rewarding experiences are what gives Scotland so much charm.
 
The photos: First, an apology, these were taking with a disposable camera, would you believe it I forgot my digital camera that was specifically a present for this exchange program. Anyways, the road one looks pretty bare, and it was. There were only three houses visible, but if you strain your eyes you can see the numerous red-rock sea cliffs that were stunning at sunset, the open ocean, and the openness of the whole scene in general, not to mention the spectacular road (no joke). The next was part of the scenery of where we were hiking; it’s me in the photo. Of the places I’ve been, I can say that I’ve never seen a guard rail to date, and that makes me quite happy.
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One Response to Studying Abroad: It’s About the Stories

  1. Jacob,
    You are absolutely right. The Scottish people are the country’s most valuable natural resource. Thank you for catching the in the moment feeling of discovering this rich and enduring country. Well done.
    Cheers
    Edith