Kenna van Steyn checks in from Scotland
My 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 capital 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.
One 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.
Gordonstoun 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.
Another 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.
Kenna van Steyn arrives in Scotland
Greetings from Gordonstoun! I have been in the land of the Scots now for two weeks. It has already proven to be so unbelievably unique and different from anything I have ever experienced before. The flying alone was a sixteen-hour adventure filled with sick babies throwing up on my neighbor’s lap, extremely short layovers where the security man thought that I was dangerous and searched my bag for quite some time, and finally arriving at school jetlagged and not knowing a soul.
I am staying in Plewlands House, as Gordonstoun is primarily a boarding school. I share a room with two lovely girls, Gina and Dana, who both have wonderful Scottish accents and love to chat all hours of the night and day. Plewlands houses 70 girls total, from all high school ages and from all areas of the world, but mainly the UK and Germany. Students address their teachers and housemistresses by their surnames rather than the ‘casual’ first name that many people like about Athenian. I do think that people with accents just have a way of sounding more polite and formal.
There are two other girls’ houses and nearly every weekend there are inter-house competitions. I played squash, a popular sport here at Gordonstoun. It is played in a four-roomed court with a small racquet and an even smaller rubber ball that is hit against the walls and back again. It is a complicated game. The scorekeeper actually had to change the rules for me and my opponent because we were obviously unexperienced and probably would have been playing for ages because neither of us could really hit the ball where it was supposed to go. My house won, which was very exciting, and resulted in a victory brew, or feast of junk food where British people call American chips crisps and French fries chips. (Although British and Americans all speak English, the English that people speak in the UK is different.) I also learned how to play netball, or tried to play. When the ball was passed to me I took off running down the court with the ball, which is completely wrong, but allowed for a lot of laughs.
Every day I wear the school uniform and I am thankful that our school does not have one. Wow, is it uncomfortable. The uniform consists of a scratchy and oversized blue sweater (which here they call a jumper), a white polo shirt, black flats, and a wraparound skirt (that I was wearing backwards with the pleats in the front and for which I received a huge laugh). I also wore a kilt for the first time, as they dress traditionally for their Sunday chapel. A large difference from Athenian is that Gordonstoun has chapel/church every morning. It is a powerful time as people, both faculty and staff, get up and talk about world events and everyone sings hymns to the accompaniment of an organ.
A major difference here instead of Athenian is the weather. It is constantly cold, either snowing or raining, and of course muddy, so rain boots are a must. Since Gordonstoun in located in the northern area of Scotland, the daylight hours are short and it seems like the day is always in a continuous dawn or dusk. I miss California’s warm temperatures and not having to wear two pairs of socks and puffy jackets all the time.
Although I did feel a bit homesick at the beginning, for the most part what I can make out so far are all positives. I cannot wait for another nine weeks with my new family.
Xx (kiss kiss, is a popular way to end conversations over here on media),