Gilman Scholar Allysa Grant Shares Her Moroccan Routine

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Filed under Allysa in Morocco, middle east

Gilman Alumni Spotlight: Anthony Latta, 2001

We are excited to announce that the Gilman Global Experience Blog will now feature stories from Gilman alumni! Our first alumni post is from Gilman scholar Anthony Latta, who studied abroad in Russia in 2001, the first year of Gilman Scholarship recipients. Read how Gilman has played a critical role in his career over the past 15 years. 

Are you a Gilman alumni with a story to share? E-mail for more information. 

Becoming a Gilman scholar was important for my ability to study abroad from 2001 to 2002 in Moscow and made my career possible. As a first-generation college student, I had resources through student loans and grants to fund my education, but I did not have the resources to fund study abroad, which was considerably more expensive than my in-state tuition at Texas Tech. The Gilman Scholarship made it possible for me to study abroad.

I cannot express how important studying Russian in Moscow for that academic year was. I went from intermediate to high level fluency. In fact, when my parents visited Moscow in March 2002, Russians spoke to my parents in Russian because Muscovites assumed that I had learned Russian at home. The only way I reached this level of fluency was by living with a Russian host family and studying the language for five days a week. The Gilman Scholarship made that possible.



Anthony with Peter the Great in Izmailovo, Moscow in 2001.


Anthony in Sevastopol in 2001.


My fluency in Russian helped me get into graduate school at American University, where I received an MA in International Affairs in 2006. My fluency in Russian then helped me get a job at a large USAID (United States Agency for International Development) implementing partner in 2007, where I initially supported USAID-funded projects in Russian, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. Since 2007, I have received opportunities to travel in the former Soviet Union and have grown professionally. While I no longer use Russian language on a daily basis in my job, my ability to speak and read Russian was instrumental in getting the job that has led to my professional success. In fact, this year my language skills give me credibility when I interviewed for a corporate ops job supporting operations in Latin America, Africa, and Eurasia. My language skills showed that I have a professional and personal interest in running programs abroad.

While my spoken Russian language skills today are no match for 2002, I continue to read books in Russian – and translate Russian jokes into English for my wife, much to her chagrin. I have now spoken Russian longer than I have not, and I cannot imagine my life without the language. In fact, as I write this paragraph, I look at the chalkboard in my office, on which I’ve written snippets of Russian sayings.

For anyone interested in achieving high fluency in a foreign language, I sincerely hope that the Gilman Scholarship can help you reach that. In my job as a hiring manager, foreign-language fluency and cultural awareness that fluency and studying abroad affords are necessary and set individuals apart. That is how I have achieved professional success, and I believe it will continue to do so for others.

And for all of this, I truly thank the Gilman Scholarship.



Anthony on one of his later visits to Russia.

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Filed under Alumni Spotlights, Eastern Europe

Building and Breaking Routines

One aspect of studying abroad that is definitely similar to my time at UMass, and really probably life in general, is how natural and easy it is to fall into a routine. I was very focused at the beginning of my semester at USFQ (Universidad San Francisco de Quito) to engage in any adventure presented to me and throw myself out there in order to make the most of my once in a lifetime experience here in Quito. However, the reality is that no matter how determined you believe you are, it’s nearly impossible to go on a trip every weekend, or do things during the week all the time, not only due to classes, but also considering your budget when abroad. So I find myself going to classes, getting lunch with friends, going to salsa club, and usually returning to my host family’s apartment or getting some work done in a café with friends, similar to what I might do during a semester at UMass. Personally, I don’t think there is any shame in routines, I think they help keep me sane and calm during stressful course loads, and especially now, since I’m surrounded by a completely new environment. While at the surface, things seem to be similar to my semesters in the U.S., there’s also this imbalance of nothing really being mine here, but having to make it mine so that I can enjoy my time here without missing home too much. Although having a planned out week and keeping things in a routine so that I know what to expect is how I normally like to live my life, I knew that this experience abroad would not have been what it has for me so far if I did what I normally would at UMass.

As a challenge for myself during my time abroad, I have been focusing on experiencing every day a little further out of my comfort zone. Not only by going on trips around Ecuador that may or may not be totally planned, but also by exploring Quito during the day on my own, reflecting and focusing on what I am experiencing in the moment instead of worrying about an assignment or whether or not I remembered to close my door so that the dog wouldn’t get in. Although spending time on my own and experiencing the area may not seem like something that exciting or challenging, as someone who is always looking for friends to spend time with and never wanting to do things on my own, I think this is a big step, and I have been enjoying my small doses of solitude and have been able to learn things about myself in a new country, which I think was a very important goal for me when I was thinking about studying abroad.

Unlike most weekends, where I spend time with groups of friends going out or going on weekend trips or going camping, a few weekends ago, I spent the Saturday in Quito on my own – and discovered the most amazing market, el Mercado Iñaquito, where I walked around and spoke with Ecuadorians who had stands there, bought and tried produce I had never heard of before, practiced my bartering skills, and had a delicious lunch. It was an amazing Saturday, and it was all on my own. Afterwards, I went to see a movie by an Ecuadorian director called Sin muertos no hay carnaval, which was an incredible story about life in Guayaquil, the most populated city in Ecuador, and was an amazing opportunity to learn more about Ecuadorian culture and life in Ecuador, as well as practice my Spanish (I’m pretty confident that I understood the majority of the film).


El Mercado Iñaquito is an open-air market with stands that sell fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, toys, backpacks, clothes, flowers, kitchen supplies, and more! Here is a beautiful picture of the fresh produce area.


For $3.50 I had this huge and delicious serving of hornado¸ a traditional Ecuadorian meal that consists of part of a whole roasted pig with mote (corn grains), fresh salad, avocado, and llapingacho (fried potato cakes), accompanied with a huge glass of fresh passion fruit juice. You can never go without fresh juice during a meal in Ecuador!


Although there is a lot of pressure to continuously go on adventures with other classmates or friends during your time abroad, I just want to stress the importance of taking time for yourself, while also exploring what is around you, especially if you find yourself spending a lot of time with others and not taking the time to think about the city you are living in and how it has been impacting you and you, it. On the other hand, finding balance is always essential, and I’ve also found that it helps to talk to others studying abroad about their experiences and also search for advice from those who are from the country you are studying in. Some of my Ecuadorian friends have given me advice on incredible places to visit and know in Quito and beyond, and this country never ceases to amaze me, whether I am by myself, reflecting on the space and what I hope to gain from my experience here, or with a group of friends, taking pictures and enjoying the natural beauty that is Ecuador. I will be doing just that this weekend in Quilotoa, a breathtaking crater lake in Ecuador that has trails to hike and unbelievable views.

Stay tuned for updates on the astounding beauty that is Ecuador, from this weekend’s trip to Quilotoa, next weekend’s trip to the coast, and a mid-semester break in the Galapagos! I feel an upcoming blog post about Ecuador’s flora y fauna coming your way.

As always, thanks for reading!




Filed under Alicia in Ecuador, south america

Roses and Thorns

Traveling to different places and different countries has taught me that there are always highs and lows. I could be in Vienna eating Viennese cakes for a week but that doesn’t mean it’s all rainbows and flowers. India is the same. Let’s start with the Thorns. It’s always better to end on a high note, right?


-First and foremost, it was finals week. I had a Tamil exam and 3 papers to submit. I can’t say it was the most fun or exciting week; it was stressful and tedious. I sat on my butt for so long writing my final papers that by the end of the day it felt like my butt was flat as a pancake.

-The weather in Madurai has not cooled down. The high is always 102 degrees Fahrenheit. If we’re lucky, the temperature will dip right below 100 degrees. According to my host mother, it is unusually hot for this time of the year. To make it worse, the rainy season has not started. I asked my host mother about the rainy season that I had heard so much about from previous students who had studied abroad through SITA (South India Term Abroad). My host mother looked at me with an amused expression.

“There is no such thing as monsoon season in Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu is a very dry state. Our rainy season means that it will rain two times a week, if we’re lucky maybe three times a week.”

I was shocked! Prior to coming to India people described the rainy season as the “skies opening up to let the rain pour down on you.” It was all a lie. After being corrected by my host mother, I was in denial. I wanted to be caught in a rainstorm. I wanted to wear my raincoat. I wanted to bathe my Chacos in some fresh rainwater by jumping into huge puddles. Most of all, I wanted the temperature to drop. It’s the beginning of October and rainy season should have started here in Madurai. I assure you it has yet to begin. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the rain will pick up!


-Classes are over! Enough said!

-From the 9th to 15th I will go on a week-long excursion with my study abroad program. We’re traveling to Kerala, a bordering state, where we will be exploring tea plantations, spice farms, and so much more! I am VERY excited! After 8 straight weeks of class, all I want to do is find a quiet outdoor space and read my eBooks for hours on hours. An additional perk to going to Kerala is the fresh seafood! Stay tuned for some awesome food pictures in my next blog post.

-As I mentioned above, I took my last Tamil language exam. During the speaking portion I was speaking one-on-one with my Tamil professor, Dr. Arun. I am proud to say that I can actually speak Tamil. I can say complete sentences and understand questions directed towards me. I’ve only been learning Tamil for 8 weeks but I can have conversations with auto-rickshaw drivers and locals. This is the difference between learning a language in an American classroom and being fully immersed in the country it is spoken in. I’ve never been exceptionally good at learning languages but being forced to speak it and hear it all the time paid off!

-I locked myself into my own room…on the day of my Tamil exam. It was 8:30 on that sunny Wednesday morning and I had my backpack packed up and my gym bag ready to go. I knew I had to leave soon if I wanted to catch a shared auto and make it to class on time. I put on all of my stuff and went to my room door. I unlatched the lock at the top and turned the handle to open it. The door wouldn’t budge. I thought to myself, “maybe you’re doing it wrong Michelle.” The door was a little finicky beforehand and I just thought turning the handle a little bit more would unlatch it from its lock. It didn’t work. Third time was not a charm, neither was the fourth time nor the fifth time. My mind blanked. I didn’t know what to do. I banged on the door, hoping to attract my host mother’s attention. She slept on the first floor so I pounded on the door. I paused and tried to listen for footsteps. The house was dead quiet. For twenty minutes I beat on the door. Still nothing. Finally, I came to my senses and went to call my host mother on my cell phone. The problem? I had 2 rupees left for phone credit and she wasn’t picking up her cell phone. I should have added phone credit the day before. Why was I so dumb?! At this point, it was 8:50 and I knew I wouldn’t make it in time for my Tamil exam. I called my friend and told her that I was stuck in my room and there was no way of getting out. She was confused. I mean it’s not everyday where your friend is stuck in her room, right? I hung up and tried to think of ways I could leave the room. I could try to climb out through the window. I was desperate. I went to the window and soon came to the realization that there was NO way of getting out through the window. The window had metal bars, which my arm barely fit through. I tried to think of anyone else I could call. With the slightest bit of hope I called my host family’s home phone. After 5 or 6 rings my host mother picked up! Turns out she had gone out in the morning to run some errands. When I told her I was locked in my room I could hear the panic in her voice. She ran up to my room and fiddled with the door. No luck. She told me to remain calm and called a serviceman who could hopefully open the door. I sat at the foot of my bed and started laughing. The frustration had passed. Now, the whole situation was funny. Of course this would happen to me on the day of my exam. It was too good to be true. Being stuck in my own room would make one heck of a journal entry, I thought to myself. Eventually, the serviceman had to break the doorknob to get me out. I didn’t make it to my Tamil exam on time but I got to ride on the back of my host mother’s two-wheeler, which was SO much fun. So who really won here, the door or me? I’m leaning towards me.

-I saw an elephant! My friend and I were taking an auto-rickshaw to the fitness center when my friend shouted at the driver to stop. I look outside my window and sure enough there was an elephant 5 feet away from me. Sitting on the elephant was a man, who I assumed was its owner. The elephant was beautiful and SO big. I knew they were large but seeing one in-person and so close showed me the vast size of these animals. It’s too bad I couldn’t take a picture of it. Later that day I told my host mother that I had seen my first elephant and she informed me that it was the neighborhood elephant! Of course India has neighborhood elephants, so casual. She said the elephant’s owner takes it on short excursions to say hello to neighbors. How awesome is that?

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Filed under Michelle in India, South & Central Asia

Highs and Lows

It’s really hard to believe that I’ve already lived in another country for almost 5 weeks now. I’d say time is flying but then again I really don’t want time to go any faster. It is truly amazing here. I feel as though every day I am learning something new. Not just in the classrooms but through the culture as well because there are just so many things to learn about and discover. Sometimes I take walks throughout the city and just relish in the moment, thinking about my first days here and where I am now. My experience here has definitely had a great number of highs, but there definitely are some lows too… Though they may not be considered lows for people not in Italy for a semester.

I’ll start with the lows .Water isn’t free. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve walked into a diner or a restaurant and sat down waiting for a glass of water. And with that, each restaurant has their own price of water, it’s not a standard amount. I’ve paid 2 euros for a pitcher of water at some places, and other places I’ve paid 6 euros. Also, the water in the apartments isn’t the cleanest and takes a long time to filter.

I wouldn’t really consider this a low, but one thing I haven’t gotten used to yet is the street signs. I tend to get lost more often than I would like, and the buildings honestly look a lot alike, so it’s hard to remember which direction I came from. I have an 8 am class on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays that is about 20-25 minutes away from my house, so getting lost sometimes on the way there is definitely a hassle. I am also trying to work on my Italian the best that I can, but when I can’t remember certain words, I resort to English for directions, and let’s say not everyone knows what I am talking about.

If I really had a true low, it would be the fact that I am not able to experience this with any of my close friends from back home. Yes, I am making new friends here who are really cool and interesting people. Yes, I am making new memories with people from around the whole world. But when I go to sleep at night, I can’t help but feel like sharing these experiences and memories with people who have been in my life for numerous years would make my time here 100x better. My time here has definitely made me value the friendships I have back home a whole lot more. I have been here for only a month, but I think I am starting to get a little homesick. But I am sure that will wear off sooner than later.

Now my highs certainly outweigh my lows.

I think I’ll start my highs off with this one: I spent and celebrated my 21st birthday in Munich, Germany, at the grand German festival known as Oktoberfest. The reason why I put this at the top of my list of highs is because how many people can say they spent their 21st birthday at Oktoberfest, surrounded by millions of different types of people, and when in my life would I be able to do this again? Chances are not so many, which is why it’s been one of my best and most exciting times here. Oh. Let’s not forget to mention that me and a friend who is studying in Spain this semester met up and wore dashikis to the festival. Yes. Out of the thousands and thousands of people there, we were probably the only two black students at the entire event, and we wore dashikis… and we got a lot of compliments on them too! The people there were so kind and giving, and the atmosphere was just full of life and joy. A table of lively Germans even invited us to sit with them at their table and just share laughs and music.



Celebrating my birthday at Oktoberfest.


Another one of my highs here would all the different foods I have eaten and made. I have never cooked this much in my life. It doesn’t hurt that my roommate is a really good cook so I have learned a lot of different things from him as well. I’ve had a bunch of variations of pasta, different types and forms of chicken and other types of meat. One thing that is different is that here the food is not processed, which means I’m putting good things into my body. However at home I could leave chicken in the fridge or freezer for a few days to a week, and here the food, chicken especially, goes bad really fast. So if I spent my money on it, I’m going to cook it. And whenever I’m feeling a little homesick in terms of food, I have found a great place to get amazing pancakes or a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. The food at restaurants and diners is also really good and different. They are really big on sandwiches here! There are lines as long as the whole block to try sandwiches at a lot of different spots. I’ve gotten really cool with the sandwich-maker at a spot really close to my apartment so he lets me skip the line all the time, another high for me.



Pizza made with love.


The BEST gelato ever.


One of the best parts about being here is just the ability to travel, and it is very inexpensive which makes it a high for me. When I think about how I was in the ancient city of Pompeii not so long ago, I almost don’t believe myself.  I’ve already booked trips this month to London, Amsterdam, and Barcelona. Next month I’m going to be going to Austria to visit a friend on a basketball team there and catch one of his games. I am also planning on visiting Greece, Paris, and Switzerland.  I booked my flight to London 3 weeks ago, and in the blink of an eye, I will be going there next weekend. It really is crazy how quickly time goes when you are exploring the world. I am just really excited to see new places and find new highs to add to my list.



The ancient city of Pompeii.

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Filed under Christopher in Italy, Western Europe

The Highest Highs and the Lowest Lows

Hello again! Since my last post, classes have started and I have been getting more acquainted with the city of Leuven. I’ve had my fill of Belgian frites and warm waffles and have explored different cities. The past 3 weeks have been an amazing roller-coaster and now I feel like I’m coasting on a high. But it didn’t start out like this.

When I was preparing to go abroad I knew that I would feel homesick but I thought that the idea of being in a new country would overshadow most feelings of homesickness. But the first few days here were a whirlwind of emotions. I was feeling really excited to be in Belgium but I was feeling so alone, even though I was on a hall with 13 other international students. After spending a month and a half at home with my parents prior to leaving, I was missing them a lot and missed being able to talk to them whenever. I also felt some FOMO (fear of missing out) with my friends at my home college and in turn started to miss all of my friends. Along with loneliness, it was hard to talk with people back at home because of the 6 hour time difference. There is only a small window of time when I can FaceTime with anyone in the States.

All of this made me sad and intensified my homesickness. This was definitely my lowest point during my time here in Leuven. But after a few days those feelings went away and it became easier for me to enjoy my time here in Leuven. When classes started, that definitely helped put me on a schedule and once I got comfortable navigating Leuven I started to explore other cities in Belgium and have planned a few trips to other countries. So even though it was a rough start, once I became settled it has been going smoothly ever since!

One of my favorite memories so far has been visiting Brussels. It was beautiful and definitely a sight to see. Like Leuven, in Brussels everything is within walking distance. I went with a group of girls from my hall and it was definitely a bonding experience for all of us. We walked to see the Manneken Pis, the Peeing Boy statue, which had a lot of hype surrounding it but in reality was a statue that was only a foot tall! People clamored around the fence protecting the statue to take pictures. Even though it was small it was definitely worth the experience. We visited a breathtakingly beautiful cathedral that garnered a lot of visitors. We also stopped at the city square, and the buildings there were absolutely beautiful. I was in awe of how surreal it felt to be in a foreign country. At every street corner, you could smell the fresh fried Belgian frites and sugary scent of freshly made waffles. The chocolate shops had window displays that were drool worthy and there were lots of fun little shops to buy souvenirs in. We tried to visit the Chocolate Museum there but missed it by 20 minutes, so it’s a must for the next time I go!



Me in the middle of the city square in Brussels.


Me and the girls in Brussels.


Outside of a beautiful cathedral.


One of the beautiful stained glass windows in the cathedral.


My absolute favorite part of being in Belgium so far has been the friendships I’ve been making here. The people in my hall are all amazing people and they have made my transition to a new country significantly easier for me. They’re all so kind and so fun to be around! We definitely have a mix of students too, ranging from America and England to Croatia, Spain, and Germany! All of us are already dreading having to leave once December comes around. I know I’ll always keep them, along with the experiences I’ve made abroad, with me as I go through life. We’ve also had a hall family dinner where we made tacos and just caught up with one another, so that was super fun! This was definitely one of my biggest fears when preparing to go abroad- the question of whether or not I would be able to connect with the people I live with. But I am so happy with the group of people in my hall and am so thankful for them!

To end, being in Belgium has already given me so many lasting memories and has helped me grow as a person. I’m off to a local flea market at the town square here, so I’ll be checking back in in a few weeks! Tot Ziens! (That’s good-bye in Dutch!!)

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Filed under Nhi in Belgium, Western Europe

The Trials & Tribulations of Everyday Incidentals

Imagine you’re 18 and leaving home for the first time.  Your zone of authority has most likely been relegated to one room of the house for your entire life.  It probably doesn’t have a lockable door, or if it does the rest of the household doesn’t take kindly to its employment.  You may have decorator’s privileges, but not without inviting a stream of unsolicited opinions as to the quality of your particular tastes.  Some of them probably have veto rights.  You likely cannot come and go at your pleasure but must apply to the board for approval of your intentions, however well-planned or purely whimsical.  They inevitably demand more detail than you’re comfortable or prepared to produce on a regular basis.  Maybe your music bothers them, or your friends, or your gaming, or your internet search history. Maybe theirs bothers you.  The concept of privacy?  Veritably unfathomed.  Heading into one’s first home-away-from-home, the bar hasn’t been set too high.  Friendly roommates and you’re golden.

Now imagine you’re 36 and haven’t had to capitulate to anyone’s house rules in return for food and shelter in roughly a decade.  You’ve managed to keep yourself alive, to varying degrees of success, for a while now.  Being an adult is not all it’s cracked up to be, but we do it anyway because creating your own home remains the province of the vertically advanced and the youthfully impaired.  You can leave your bed unmade and your clothes on the floor and eat Cocoa Puffs for dinner – all without bringing your maturity into question because no one is the wiser.  You can infiltrate the fridge or commandeer the kitchen at any time, day or night, without petitions or excuses.  Bedeck the walls in whatever apparel appeals without answering for it.  Finally acquire that massaging-recliner or four-poster bed you still resent Santa for withholding.  Find the picket-fenced yard, start a fur family, develop that home theater or game room or man cave or lady lair you’ve always dreamed of.  This is why we trade in our badges for business cards, flying capes for collared shirts, and home-cooked meals for freezer food – to be kids, er, kings of our own castles.

And this king has been unceremoniously uncrowned.

I admit, I was seduced by the brochure.  Sure, I can handle a dorm… if it’s IN A CASTLE.  I’m sure the bay-window reading nook and rustic rock fireplace will compensate for whatever trifling gnats the neighbors may make of themselves.  Arriving in St Andrews, I lugged my backpack and two suitcases off the bus and, after a cursory scan of the horizon, made for the nearest towering, turreted stronghold.  Lower the drawbridge, Dunwyn, I’ve finally arrived.

But the drawbridge never descended.  Although the goal was in sight, it remained inaccessible and impenetrable.  I wound my way around a large green, up a hill, through a parking lot, past the campus field, and finally arrived at the gate which was, rather unwelcomingly, sealed shut.  Making my way around the perimeter I tried various doors with no success.  Finally I followed my ears to a nearby spot of activity and made inquiries.  A staff person led me around to the back of the beckoning stone masonry where a no-nonsense, asylum-looking structure was hiding in its shadow and impersonating its name.  “The main building is under renovation” the girl explained chirpily.  That wasn’t mentioned in the leaflet.  Sorry Mario



The castle and the asylum.


The room was, to phrase it generously, a shoe-box.  Four white walls, some recycled office furniture, and a stripped mattress.  One of the more scandalizing discoveries I’ve made about Saint Andrew’s accommodations is that they are strictly BYOB: Buy Your Own Bedding.  They generously offer bedroom and bathroom sets for your purchasing convenience.  Determined to bargain-hunt, I spent the first week sleeping on thrift-store throw pillows and trying to turtle under a jacket.



The shoe-box.


Justice in the asylum is maintained by on-site officials aptly called “Wardens.”  Ornamentation is absolutely opposed by the tricky tactic of forbidding all forms of fastening – from tacks right down to poster putty.  Bring a pile of family photos to stave off the homesickness?  They kindly supply a pin board for that which, incidentally, is also utilized for general notices and regulations, not to be removed or obstructed.  I figured I could rig something up with string and clothespins, but the room has been meticulously scrubbed of any lasso-able extensions you might utilize to commit something so scandalous.

Despite the fact that the hallway looks like something out of a horror movie, it quickly becomes a happening social hub for the new arrivals, which I have the benefit of participating in from either side of the sociably eavesdroppable walls.  The tiny window offers a welcome reminder of the breathably spacious outdoors, but the curtains look like they’ve been upcycled from Aunt Gertrude’s old school dresses, themselves upcycled from an antique tablecloth inspired by the lovely color patterns of an upchucked potato stew.  One of my study abroad organizers, herself a former international student, raved about the welcome package included with her room, offering practical items like a UK sim card.  I find a pinstriped french-fry bag filled with a lollipop, bubblegum, and a few pieces of hard candy.  Malcom Gladwell would be proud.



Hallway of horrors.


Delicious curtains.


But these are mere trifles.  The real surprise comes three days into my incarceration when a sharp knock awakes me from blessed semi-slumber beneath my luxurious hoodie-blanket.  Through my sleep-addled brain and the benefit of hotel experience I suddenly ascertained the word, “housekeeping!” and immediately ejected an emphatic, “No, thank you!”  The door swung wide and a woman poked her head in.  “I need to get the bins,” she stated patly.  I sat in my shoe-box as startled as a hounded hare, and nearly as naked.  “Sure,” I mumbled, shell-shocked and dream-dazed.  “Go right ahead.”

In consecutive days, the incident repeated itself courtesy of the managerial staff and the porter.  I studiously composed a pleading appeal to the management to inform me of impending appointments, but soon learned that students do not require such extravagances when my request was politely ignored.  Welcome to the playhouse – it’s great to be a kid again.

The kitchen oven proves another insurmountable hurdle for my simple American mind.  There are two separate knobs, each with its own little series of incomprehensible symbols.  A pro-Googler, I soon learn about the wide array of conduction methods of which the modest English oven is capable.  I expertly select the fan symbol, set the temperature after a quick conversion to Celsius, and watch my dinner sit in the dark, getting colder.  But wait!  Everything, and I do mean everything has a wall-switch in Scotland.  Yes – here it is, marked: “cooker”!  I flip it triumphantly. A little while later finds me improvising with two cookie sheets sandwiched over the graciously functionable stove. (Turns out English ovens can’t cook without knowing the time, and you have to depress a cleverly randomized set of buttons to do it.)



The oven challenge.


Not to be shown up by the kitchen, the bathroom has its own set of hurdles in store.  It consists of a small room with toilet, sink and showerhead.  The latter is hung just to the right of the throne in a deformed-diamond shape corner of the oddly-angled room.  It’s partitioned off by a curtain which falls about a foot short of the floor, and a four-millimeter depression in the ground tile.  These are there to present toe-stubbing opportunities and the illusion of containment.  Don’t be fooled: the entire bathroom is your bathtub.  Your toilet will be standing in a centimeter of water on the memory-foam bath mat.  I initially sought to combat this unwelcome wading pool with sand bags strategically placed for maximum trippage, but ultimately found that an extra-long curtain resolved the issue more gracefully.  Score one for Ravenclaw.



The shower challenge.


The shower diamond is about 30 inches across at its maximum width and barely sufficient to contain even a skinny sneetch like myself.  A large horizontal pipe additionally protrudes into the space with adjustment knobs at either end for activation and temperature, respectively.  The pipe gives literal meaning to the phrase, “piping hot”, so I spend my mornings skillfully tetrising myself between this and the lecherous curtain.  Most tragically of all, my beloved hand-held showerhead is conspicuously absent from this Scottish dormicile. I’m forced to resort to the medieval method of standing in the stream.

So far, this grand new adventure proves commendably challenging.  Level one starts off with a bang, dumping me into the playing field without even a tutorial (who’m I kidding?  I never use those) and forcing me to relearn the basics.  But I expect no less from this strange new Scottish world.  The princess may be in another castle, but the game hasn’t defeated me yet.



Stranger in a strange land.

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Filed under Jordan in Scotland