Scotland is an enigmatic place to begin with, even before the visit. It’s one of those countries that you’ve most probably heard of, but don’t really know what it’s truly like. It’s definitely not one of those widely written about places like Beijing, Paris or London which culture you can roughly map out just by reading your Time magazines, but neither is it an obscure, exotic locale like Zurkestan (I made that up.) Partly because of Scotland’s relatively low level of international exposure, and mainly because of my cultural ignorance, the only symbols of Scottish culture known to me before the trip were men in tartan kilts and the bagpipes. My friends do know a thing or two about Scottish football clubs, but that’s where it stops. Armed with this wealth of cultural knowledge, we plunged headlong into Scotland.

We touched down at Glasgow International Airport and boarded a chartered bus to our hotel at a sleepy town called Kilmarnock (try saying that 10 times).  And that’s when we learnt our first lesson about Scotland –it’s very sparsely populated. From the airport all the way to our hotel, we have barely seen more than 50 people on the streets (just an estimate – I didn’t actually count). The shopping trip that night was downright eerie –aside from the shopkeeper, we literally didn’t see a single soul on the streets, even though it was only 8pm by the time we headed back. And because it was winter, the sky turned dark at 4pm, so their evening really felt and looked like midnight in Singapore.

The next day was spent on a day tour to Glasgow. We first paid a visit to Kelvingrove Museum, where we had a crash course in Scottish history, art and culture. Strangely, there was a section on Egyptian mummies, sandwiched between Scottish scientists and geography, but mummies are interesting anytime (I only meant those in Egypt). We saw considerably more people along the streets of Glasgow as we went round on the open-air bus –not bustling, but anybody is more than nobody back in the streets of Kilmarnock –for after all, Glasgow is Scotland’s most populous city.

School began the next day. We were paired up with a buddy each, and after a warm-up with icebreakers, we went straight for lessons. Surprisingly, their lessons are still very much teacher-directed, with minimal projects, which are very much the bread and butter of every Singaporean student. Perhaps due to this culture of strong teacher direction, the students kept a respectful distance from their teachers, obeying them, but never really get up close and casual with them.

Every day, a pair of us will present to a few classes about Singapore. Much to our horror, they actually prefer Singapore’s weather to theirs. We would have gladly exchanged our sun for their pleasantly cool weather any day. But as the adage goes, the grass is always greener on the other side.

After school, our buddy brought us back to their homes to visit their parents and have a taste of life in a Scottish town. The pace of life is slow, but relaxing. Most of the parents work in local farms or pubs, and maintain a comfortable standard of living. They are also exceptionally warm and friendly to guests, and are terribly interested in finding out about a foreign culture. It was this interest that they paid us that made the home visits especially memorable.

Aside from school immersion, we also had the privilege of spending 3 days up in the Highlands. A quick read up on Wikipedia told me that due to historical events such as the Jacobite uprising and industrial revolution, it is one of the most sparsely populated area in Europe, which corroborated our first intuition about Scotland’s population density. Perhaps owing to this, the Highlands also boast of one of the most pristine and breathtaking scenery in the whole of Europe. Snow-capped mountains, mirror-like lakes and snow-capped mountains reflected in mirror-like lakes were the standard fare. In fact, the scenery was so beautiful that any of our photographs could just as easily be a windows XP wallpaper. Or a National Geographic cover if we had a modicum of photography skills. We toured the Highlands on a little tour bus, and navigated bendy mountain roads to mesmerizing places such as the Isle of Skye, Loch Ness and Ben Neveu. The first night was spent at the Isle of Skye, a little island which literally meant the island where the clouds and land meet, a reference to the mist that usually hangs in the air. Though the nightlife wasn’t particularly exciting with nothing more than our lodge, a lake before us and a pool table, the scenery more than compensates for this dearth of night-time thrill. The boat trip on Loch Ness was particularly memorable, not least because our boat captain was a very involved and passionate investigator of the Loch Ness monster. As we cruised along the lake amidst thickening fog and a looming night sky watching his self-made video about the search for the monster, we couldn’t help but feel a rush of excitement mixed with a tinge of fear. Sadly, the video was as eventful as the boat trip got –we thought we saw the shadow of the monster, but that was more likely due to our overzealousness to make history.

The whole trip ended with a heartwarming concert put up by our buddies. We sang a few Hwa Chong songs, which brought some of our buddies to tears. Amidst tears and gifts and last-minute hugs, we left the land of bagpipes, tartan kilts, friendly people and windows XP wallpapers.

Post contributed by Seah Ying Cong(10a15)

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