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Robbie Burns & Me

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How living in Scotland has pushed me to re-examine my identity. 

Today is January 25th, which officially marks a month since Christmas, and a little more than three weeks since 2019 began. Watching the rain from the window of a coffee shop, I’m torn by how bittersweet that thought actually is: It has been nearly a month since I ended the old year surrounded by family and friends that are currently absent from my new year—rather, I am absent from theirs.

While most are only a phone call or message away, it is the experiences that come from being together that I miss the most. Whether it’s getting ridiculed for being absolute trash at the video games that we play on games nights with friends, or getting one-upped by my parents with awful yet satisfying puns, these are things that just won’t happen abroad, thousands of kilometres from home.

I didn’t realize until I laced up skates to play hockey however, that I wasn’t sad about being away from home, or even homesick, but rather that what I was struggling to come to terms with was my sense of identity. The familiar sense of cold from the ice was comforting and nostalgic, but at the same time, felt different. Fundamentally this is the same sport I’ve played on ponds in Canada, but playing in Scotland felt entirely different.

The sport hasn’t changed, but I have.

It is naïve to believe that travelling to a new country and living in a new culture won’t have any impact on the person that I was before I left. I’ve made friends and I’ve made mistakes, I’ve written good papers and came to class wearing sunglasses, I even wear cardigans now. Whatever I choose to do, I still am who I am, but I need to be conscious that how I see myself will change. I’m not just a Canadian studying abroad in Scotland anymore, I’m the Canadian living in Dumfries, enjoying my time here to the best that I can each day.

My experience with haggis was that it tasted delicious, and then I remembered what haggis actually is, and then it didn’t taste great, but overall I think I enjoyed it.

Today is January 25th, which officially means that today is laundry day. It marks the day that I get to flip my awful mattress over with the hope that I can enjoy a few weeks of sleep uninterrupted by a barrage of knife-like springs. Today marks the beginning of my weekend, where I will tell myself how productive I am going to be, but just like the springs, it will just be wishful thinking. Today is not another day away from my home in Canada; it is another day at my home in Scotland.

As it happens, today also marks the birthday of Robert Burns, which is understandably a huge deal for Dumfries. The Big Burns Supper, an 11-day festival in Dumfries, is advertised as the largest Burns Night celebration on the planet. Yet when I asked why it is called a “supper,” the only answers I received were about if I had ever eaten haggis before.

My only experience with haggis was that it tasted delicious, and then I remembered what haggis actually is, and then it didn’t taste great, but overall I think I enjoyed it. The overwhelming response to this was that I apparently didn’t eat good haggis, because if you eat good haggis, you like it. 

Despite sounding more like a Scottish maxim, I could kind of see the truth behind it: assuming haggis is a metaphor for living abroad, there will be times I enjoy it and times where I remember my life in Canada and may not enjoy it, but eating the haggis itself is being involved in my life in Dumfries. I’m not losing out on the food I would have had back in Canada, I’m gaining the opportunity to probably enjoy eating haggis here; I’m not losing the person I was before coming to Scotland, I’m gaining new experiences here, and gaining a new identity as a result of that.

In all the time I have spent trying to come to terms with my new sense of identity, I can honestly say I have no idea whether I’m supposed to recite a poem at Burns’ grave, or have a drink in his honour, or do other strange things that my English degree is compelling me to do. But one thing I do know is that I am entirely unprepared, but excited nonetheless.  

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Published in Study Abroad Blogs
Spencer Kalan

Spencer Kalan is a Canadian MLitt. candidate at the University of Glasgow’s Crichton Campus. He is an aspiring writer, avid photographer, and occasional gym goer that is making the best of this experience every step of the way.

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