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Studying abroad in Scotland: first impressions

I woke up just in time to look out the window and see the narrow country roads lined by stone walls, surging toward the plane as it came in for landing. Suddenly it became very real: Aberdeen, Scotland was about to be my home for the next four months. Aberdeen is Scotland’s third most populated city, located on the Northeastern coast of the country, with fishing and oil as two of its largest industries. At the University of Aberdeen, I will be studying political science with a minor in snooker. Okay, that last part is a joke. Regardless, let the games begin.

The true Scottish culture is found in the pubs. Unlike in the U.S., exchange student orientation explained that the Scottish encourage us to engage in social drinking, as the faculty lecturers reinforced several times that it is an essential part of Scottish culture. I quickly found that as fun as it is getting to know my peers, a gravitational pull yanked me toward the locals. The old Scottish pub dwellers are like lovable dogs. You know when you’re watching football (theirs or ours) and your dog jumps up on your lap and breathes stinky breath in your face, but you don’t push them away because you love them so much? That’s my relationship with old Scottish men in pubs. Some of ‘em definitely got that countryside stank and a few wooden teeth, but somehow I fall more and more in love with them each visit. And I might have a better chance at interpreting a dog’s bark than the thick brogue the locals fire in my direction – “Did ye’ go oer’ the fan n’ wutchin the match fer g’oer tinner moor fan the de’r ahahahaha.” Huh? I thought they spoke English here!

Though the majority of Scots I’ve encountered seem to think negatively of President Donald Trump (whose mother is a Scottish immigrant, much to their chagrin), they do have one thing in common with conservative voters in the southern United States — a love of deep-fried everything. Candy bars, blood, butter, you name it. Aberdeen is most famous for its bakery confection called “rowies,” which are essentially croissants on steroids. They’re circular buttery rolls warmed to the perfect temperature, topped with butter and jam, and they absolutely melt in your mouth. I went and got some at Aitken’s Bakery, which I was told were the best in the city, and they did not disappoint. But that was an easy one — next on the list is black pudding, AKA fried sheep’s blood. Mmm.

While sampling the local cuisine is fulfilling, a trip to the local McDonald’s can be equally enlightening, especially after a pool society meeting (the pub game, not the swimming venue. Scottish pub fare does not lend itself to a chiseled physique). My roommate and I crossed the zebra crossing (their name for a crosswalk, “zebra” pronounced like the name “Debra.” Bizarre, I know) and made our way through the golden arches. I ordered my McChicken and asked for ranch on the side, to which the McDonald’s employee gave me a blank stare. Apparently ranch is not a thing here, which is shocking considering that it’s such a staple of American college life. Half of the University of Maine senior class likely would have dropped out by now if OHOP Ranch Zones did not exist. In Orono, ranch is not so much a dressing as it is a drug. But sure enough, none to be found in the Aberdeen Mickey D’s. I’m all for the cultural experience but that one had me missing home.

Living in a flat with two Scotsmen, an Italian and a Bulgarian keeps things interesting, with the lads constantly pestering one another about their respective cultures. How many machine guns do I own? What’s haggis? Is there sunshine in Bulgaria? Do Italians eat pizza for every meal? I’m sure our parents would be proud.

Alas, the blood pudding calls, and so do a few pints of Tennent’s. Until next time, Black Bears.

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