Kenna van Steyn checks in from Scotland

Kenna 10My exchange has flown by so fast. It feels like just yesterday that I arrived into a whole new environment. With two weeks remaining, my time at Gordonstoun is starting to come to a close, which is unfortunate because I just want to stay here forever.

The exchange community consists of about 20 students from all different reaches of the world. We are all extremely close, as we can all concur on the different customs and norms of British people.

As an exchange, the coordinators like to take us on trips to visit different aspects of the Scottish land. We took a long train trip into Edinburgh, the Kenna 17capital of Scotland, where we visited the Scottish parliament. We watched the council in session debating on topics big and some seemingly small. We also visited the dungeons where we learned about the torture and suffrage that the prisoners had to endure when captured. Ooh the pain, I would not have wanted to cross the wrong path with those people! We also went to Loch Ness, which is a huge lake where the mystical Lochness monster supposedly lives. I called it Lake Loch Ness, for which I was quickly corrected. Loch refers to a lake in Scotland so the additional lake was unnecessary, but they all found it funny. There are stone castles all over Scotland, most built in the 15th century, which have been destroyed by raids and then rebuilt–or just left to decay.

kenna 13One weekend I went on a three day winter skills expedition to the Cairngorm mountain range about two hours away from the school. The mountains were rocky and barren slopes, different from the Sierras that I am accustomed to back in California. In a group of about 15 boys and girls we scaled peaks, learned how to maneuver ice axes and crampons to save ourselves from sliding down the ice, and worked transceivers in case of avalanche. We also all enjoyed toast with butter, jam, and tea. After hiking for 6 kilometers, resulting in many painful blisters, with 70 mph wind gusts, it was a great way to connect and have a laugh with new people in different years and acquire new mountain skills. This trip was also the first time I have ever been professionally filmed. Gordonstoun is in the process of creating a BBC original series highlighting special aspects of the school. During the skills trip, our every move was documented. It is bizarre to have a camera constantly in your face and I cannot say that I liked it all that much. At first I was completely nervous about being broadcast all over British television, but after a while we all learned just to act natural. I am now excited to watch the final product.

Kenna 12Gordonstoun supports an international week in which different activities such as cultural dance lessons, candle lighting ceremonies, and food all took place and enhanced our world perspectives. Scottish dancing is unique, and I am fortunate to have had a taste of it during the Burns night. Robert Burns was a Scottish poet, most famous for his hymn of Auld Lang Syne. We celebrated him by singing and dancing, called reels. Imagine bagpipes and violins playing a hippity hoppity quick tune, and students and teachers all dancing, spinning, and clapping together. It was a particularly enjoyable experience.

Kenna 11Another one of my highlights is my cookery class. We meet once a week to prepare various foods, from chicken pot pies to Scottish rock cakes, and learn about the health benefits that go along with food. I think that Athenian would benefit with investing in a similar class, as it is popular here and is pretty vital to know basic food preparation skills.

As part of the Gordonstoun experience, I participated in a seamanship course. Seamanship is learning how to sail eight-person boats, all complete with tacking under two minutes, tying sail knots, and considering all the weather elements for safety. It was a cold business as we wore bright yellow hard plastic coverings with school-bus-looking rain boots (or what they call wellingtons here) and gloves. But nothing was going to keep the northern Scottish winters from shivering us to the bone.

I have been at Gordonstoun for a while now. I really look forward to the remainder of my time here with my new Gordonstoun friends and family. It is truly a unique and special place.