Welcome to another exchange story! As Content Writer for ESN The Netherlands, this story in particular is very special to me, as it’s actually my very own. Beginning this year I did my exchange in the country of my dreams, Scotland. I don’t know what it is about Scotland, but ever since I visited this magical place a few years ago, my heart has been set on returning here. I’m 21 years old and currently studying Communication at the Academy for Creative Industries in Tilburg. My exchange was ultimately my bachelor’s minor, which was ‘Filmmaking and Screenwriting’ at the University of the West of Scotland in Ayr.
An (Erasmus) exchange is wonderful. As plenty have said before me, it’s truly a life changing experience. Going abroad, usually completely by yourself, will show you who you are and what you can become. Everyone coming back from their exchange has developed themselves in some way. But you will not only be developing yourself, you will also become much more knowledgeable. Be it because of learning about a different culture, different customs, different language, or simply meeting new (international) friends. One thing is certain, you will grow. Personally, I’ve already been in many foreign situations before I went on my exchange. I’m originally from Zambia and have lived in various other countries before moving back to my mother’s home, the Netherlands. However, my exchange still taught me more about myself than I knew before. I ended up learning much more about the mysterious Scotland that I loved so much, as well as about other cultures due to living in an international environment.
Scotland was my first pick, as I really love the UK’s film industry and was dying to learn more about it at a university there. To apply, I had to write an extensive motivation letter and answer numerous questions, and after that I just had to wait. Once I heard back that I had been picked, I was incredibly happy. I then had to finish all the other application rounds while I was traveling through Southeast Asia. That was definitely, uhm, exciting to say the least. The housing was easily arranged throughout the university. I lived on campus, a walking distance from my classes, but a solid twenty minutes from the city centre, supermarket, and clubs. Luckily, especially for us Dutchies, you were able to lend a bicycle from campus to get around. Scotland is truly amazing. I didn’t really experience a culture shock when living there. In fact, the Scots are so friendly and welcoming that I felt at home almost instantly. Talking to strangers is common, which I really appreciated. There was nothing better than ending up in a conversation with an elderly couple who I’d met on a train to Edinburgh, for instance. However, even though my English is fairly good, I have to admit that I definitely struggled from time to time to understand the Scots. Ultimately, for me the biggest challenge during my exchange was being far away from loved ones, but even that challenge you will learn how to deal with. You will make new friends, and new memories that will make your time away incredibly worth it.
My exchange was unfortunately pretty short due to Covid, but not short enough not to make memories. There’s many moments that put a smile on my face to this day. Be it making ice coffees with my roommate, dancing in jeans in a UK club where they do not dance in jeans, driving through the Highlands, or strolling through ancient Edinburgh. My fondest memories are definitely those that are either simple, such as making dinner together with my roommates, or those that sound ridiculous, such as going to a ‘haunted’ pub tucked away between the mountains. One memory that is worth talking more about is the day I headed to Edinburgh together with a friend. Edinburgh is a magical city that deserves it’s popularity. Not only is it where J.K. Rowling came up with her legendary Harry Potter story, but you actually feel like you’re walking on a massive set. However, in reality it’s just the UK's history taken very good care of. With Arthur’s Seat in the background, you’ll walk down the Royal Mile towards the Edinburgh Castle and on each side you’ll see shops filled with typical Scottish merchandise, food, and art. You’ll also notice the many closed, tiny pathways between the long strip of buildings. It’s magical. I definitely took advantage of the many free hours I had in a week to go and see the country. A friend that I had met on her exchange in the Netherlands lived in Glasgow, an hour from Ayr by train, so I headed up there a few times to go and see the city with her. But I also went to the east to see Edinburgh, north to the Highlands, and stayed in the west to explore the Ayrshire. Scotland has many beautiful sights that are 100% worth it to go and see.
It’s funny how in the Netherlands I like to surround myself with international people but in Scotland I definitely used to hang out more with other Dutch students. The international group that studied at UWS in Ayr was relatively small and it was easy to connect with them as most of us lived on campus together. My classes consisted mostly of Scottish students and only a few internationals. I had one class that had a group assignment and got paired in a group where I was the only international student, and I enjoyed that very much. As I said before, the Scots are incredibly friendly and it was easy to work together. At home I lived together with an American, two Finnish girls, an Italian, a German, and my fellow Dutch exchange student who was also half Greek. After classes we would hang out and have dinners together. A regular week would look a little like the following: Monday through Wednesday I’d have classes and Thursday through Sunday I’d have free time to do other things. I’d usually fill up this time with lots of exploring, shopping, hopping to different cafés and pubs, and studying. Together with my friends I’d go out sporadically throughout the week. Never till too late as clubs in the UK tend to close around 2AM already.
Living in the UK isn’t necessarily that more expensive than the Netherlands. They work with pounds and 1 pound is equivalent to €1,10, so it’s a matter of cents. The rent however was definitely different to what I paid in the Netherlands, I’d say it was almost double the price. But other than that the costs for traveling were cheaper, and food and drinks were the same. “Is there anything I wish you knew before going on exchange?”, yes. I didn’t know I was going to be studying in Ayr. For some reason I had never really looked into the town until the last moment, but I’m just going to blame that on traveling during the months prior to my exchange. Despite it being beautiful, Ayr was still far away from Glasgow and other iconic places we wanted to visit. I think if I were to do it over, I’d put more effort into finding accommodation in Glasgow rather than on campus in Ayr. Just to be in the city atmosphere and closer to everything else.
Go out and explore
If you’re thinking about going on exchange abroad, just like the others before me, I highly suggest you do! It’s going to be an incredible opportunity that you will have maybe once or twice in your life. You’re going to meet people that are going to change your view on the world, you’re going to learn more about yourself, and you’re simply going to have so much fun. As someone that loves exploring new countries and learning about new cultures I can’t suggest enough to go and grasp the opportunity if you have the chance. If you’re thinking about Scotland as your destination, trust me it’s a good one. Yes it rains a lot, yes it is cold, but the people and the landscapes make all of that totally worth it. Something you cannot pass on is visiting the iconic cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, but you must also definitely head up north towards Fort William and beyond. The Highlands will be a treat to sore eyes, it’s truly magical up there. Once you set foot in those landscapes, you’ll feel the thrill and understand why so many movies are filmed in these areas. I highly recommend it. You must also definitely try Scottish food such as haggis, steak pie, etc. Even if you’re vegetarian, you should try the veggie options of these meals. “Is there anything from your time abroad you still practice now?”, yes. In Scotland I decided to become vegetarian/flex vegan as the UK offers an extensive variety of products that make that possible. I’ve continued with that the rest of this year and still do. I also like to throw in a typical Scottish word every now and then when I’m in a conversation, haha. I fell in love with Scotland way before doing my exchange there, but the moment you travel towards your new home, I’m sure you will instantly too.
As I said before, my exchange was cut short due to Covid-19. When we heard the news that the world was slowly closing down their borders, we figured it was best to head home instead of being stuck in our dorms in Ayr. Classes would end soon anyways and the only thing we still needed to work on was assignments that needed to be handed in online. I was incredibly sad that it had to come to an end so soon. The situation back then seemed so surreal still, as the UK wasn’t taking that drastic measures just yet like the rest of Europe. Going home went pretty smooth and it was nice to see my loved ones again when I got back, but I’m definitely not over Scotland and long to go back as soon as possible. My exchange group was pretty small, but I’m still in touch with some of them, my Dutch roommate from then mostly. I haven’t been back to Scotland since my exchange, as it wasn’t too long ago and unfortunately also isn’t possible right now with Covid-19, but once this situation blows over I will rush there again.
Honestly, as someone who always immerses herself in international environments, I think exchange is a brilliant way of becoming more comfortable with that. It’s a great way of developing yourself socially and culturally. Just go! If you’ve got any questions about Scotland, the UK, studying there, etc. You can reach out to me here and I’ll happily answer them! Cheers!