Sofia Kaplan

Sofi Kaplan arrives in Scotland

My experience at Gordonstoun so far has been amazing.

The most stressful part of my trip has been the airport. Heathrow airport is huge. I ended up taking two buses within the airport just to get to my connecting flight. Traveling alone was stressful, and anyone going on exchange soon should look at maps of the airports they will be flying into.

After finally landing in Scotland, my host family drove me to Gordonstoun. I am in Windmill Lodge, and is it has been weird having to adjust to a dorm lifestyle. There are three girl’s houses and five boy’s houses spread around the campus, which is much bigger than Athenian. Windmill is one of the farthest houses from the center of campus. My first day we were late to breakfast since none of the exchanges were expecting to have to walk for ten minutes to get to the cafeteria.

The biggest adjustment I have had to make is wearing a uniform. As all the other exchanges discussed their own uniforms, I realized how lucky we are at Athenian to have the independence to wear what we want. The class schedule is fairly similar to Athenian’s, but the academics are completely different. Everyone takes three science classes; Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. I was not thrilled to hear that I would have to take Physics again, but the students in the class make it much more bearable. The biggest academic shock came when I walked into the advanced math class and they were learning scientific notation for the first time, something I have been doing since seventh grade. Students here are also limited to three homework assignments a night, each not exceeding thirty minutes. I personally think Athenian should adapt this policy as well. Academic life here is much more relaxed than at Athenian. This has been a nice change of pace, but also surprising since I was expecting a very different environment.

Student must do activities after classes. Most activities are some sport, and twice a week all the girls must play Netball. Netball is like Basketball but with way more rules, and the nets don’t have backboards. I wasn’t expecting there to be this much emphasis on sports, but almost every day I have PE or some sort of sport-based activity. Also, football (soccer) isn’t as big here as I thought, but field hockey is huge. Honestly, I didn’t really know that field hockey was a sport, but after playing it if wish it could be more popular in the US because it is so fun.

Every Saturday there is a social and the most recent one I went to was Burns night. Burns night is in honor of Robert Burns, a famous Scottish poet. We spent the night eating haggis and dancing traditional Scottish dance. It was my most memorable night so far and I am looking forward to more experiences like it.

Tomorrow I start seamanship, which consists of two-and-a-half days on a boat learning sailing skills and teamwork. Instead of having one expedition such as AWE, each year students have a smaller adventure.  In Year 10 they have a six-day sailing trip, and I am participating in their training tomorrow. It is different to be at a school where groups of people get pulled out of classes to sit on a boat for a couple of days, whereas at Athenian that only happens once in our high school career.

Overall having to adjust to a school that seems almost completely opposite to Athenian has been both fun but also challenging.


Sofi Kaplan says farewell to Scotland

I can’t believe I am already writing my last post. My time at Gordonstoun has flown by, and I am sad to say I still haven’t started my Cold War paper. Since my last blog post, I have learned to sail in the Moray Firth, been to London and Salisbury, watched my friends run into subzero water in speedos, and so much more.

Seamanship was a wonderful and unique experience. I had to wear a giant yellow oil suit which I later appreciated because it was freezing out on the boat. I was in charge of hoisting the main sail along with steering for parts of our journey.

I was here for Gordonstoun’s half-term break and my host family took me to historic Salisbury. I saw the Salisbury Cathedral, where one of the four original copies of the Magna Carta is. I also explored London for a day where I saw Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and other attractions.

Since coming back from the break, there have been two exchange trips. For our first trip, we drove to Loch Ness and took a boat across the lake to a historic castle. Sadly, I did not see Nessie, but what I did see was unbelievably beautiful. While exploring the ruins of the castle, many exchanges had trouble standing and later slipped in the mud, which was not only hilarious but memorable.

Our second trip was yesterday. We walked from the campus to the coast and explored seaside caves, went into an old lighthouse, and watched some brave exchanges go into freezing water wearing just speedos. While my time here is coming to an end, I still have many events to look forward to. Princess Anne will be on campus next Monday and I will be attending the Round Square house cabaret this weekend.

My time here has been unforgettable. I have met so many people from around the world and I have created friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime.

To those who hope to come to Gordonstoun on exchange I do have some advice:

  • Don’t set expectation, set goals. – Exchange is unique for everyone. Your experience at Gordonstoun will mostly rely on what you hope to achieve on exchange.
  • Understand that you are going to a completely different environment. – If you look at the fundamental elements of each school, Gordonstoun and Athenian seem like opposites. At Gordonstoun there is chapel every day, school on Saturdays, uniforms, and you will get detention for calling a teacher by their first name.
  • Have fun. – I know its cheesy, but sometimes you forget that you are on exchange since you are still at school. There have been nights that I wanted to watch Netflix, until I realized that watching TV is not the point of exchange.

When I received the email from Mark saying I had to write my final blog post, my heart dropped. Time flies when on exchange. While the rest of my grade at Athenian would probably disagree with me, this school term has been amazing. Even though I haven’t learned much academically, I have learned a lot about myself and the world around me. Through meeting so many people from all over the world, I have a new found passion to travel and learn about the world.

Exchange has also given me an appreciation for the Bay Area bubble I live in. I love how understanding, accepting, and overall how liberal it is. But going on exchange has not only given me a break from American politics, but has helped me further understand other cultures and beliefs. While I hate that I have to say goodbye soon, I am already planning an exchange student reunion in Australia, and I am excited to see my Bay Area bubble again.