How to Prepare for Study Abroad in Scotland

You’re getting ready for your study abroad in Scotland and if you’re anything like me you’re doing a ton of research on how to prepare. Fortunately, you’ve landed here, and I’ve already studied in Scotland and returned. I’ve previously provided a student’s guide to Scotland. Today, I’m sharing my tips for preparing for a study abroad in this beautiful country.

Keep Weather in Mind

One of the most important things to keep in mind when planning to study abroad is the weather and climate of your destination. When I was preparing to study abroad in Scotland I was warned repeatedly that it was cold and wet. I had originally planned to go for the Spring semester and when I was forced to change my plans and go in the Fall instead my primary concern was the cold. I was surprised to discover that it is actually warmer and drier than my home state of Kentucky. Although it rains a lot, it also stops raining, and until late November there was beautiful, sunny weather almost every single day. Also, despite being as far North as Canada or Alaska it doesn’t reach the same extreme temperatures because of the mitigating effects of the Gulf Stream. It is windy, however, especially out in the countryside or up on hills, and the weather can change very quickly, so you have to be prepared for anything when leaving your dorm. Therefore layering becomes essential. Not only is it an effective way to stay warm, it means you have layers that can come off when the sun is shining, and go back on when it disappears.

Waterproofs are an essential part of any Scottish wardrobe. Since I didn’t already own waterproof boots, I waited to buy some in Scotland. I ended up putting it off until November when it was raining every day and spent about a week with wet feet. It wasn’t that I’d never had to walk in the rain before, but because in the US I drive everywhere I spent comparatively little time out in the weather. Because in the UK walking is so prevalent it’s important to be equipped in case of weather changes. A waterproof coat is important for the same reason. A lightweight coat layered over a hoodie or sweater is better than a heavy winter coat as it may be wet without being cold.

Don’t Over Pack

Of course, packing for several months abroad while also being sensible of bringing too much luggage on an airplane is a challenge in and of itself. I am a minimalist packer and spent weeks packing and repacking trying to decide what to bring. The rule of thumb for packing light is to pick a simple color scheme–one main color and one accent. This allows you to mix and match articles of clothes to make different outfits without having to pack too many individual items. It’s also a good starting point for layering clothes as discussed earlier. My favorite site for how to pack is https://blog.tortugabackpacks.com/. They cover everything from how to fold clothes to providing recommended packing lists to make sure you have enough.

Be Prepared to Jump in as Soon as You Land

Make sure you know in advance what to expect on your first day/week in your program. After a transatlantic flight (often overnight) you will have jetlag, and then you still have to get from the airport to your university, get checked into your dorm, and possibly attend orientation. There were a lot of events that took place my very first week in St. Andrews but I had planned to figure out what was going on once I arrived and ended up being so bewildered and out of it that I missed out on them. A little research in advance and a schedule that I could stick to would have helped make my first week a much more profitable experience. Figure out your schedule for the first few days before you leave the US so don’t have to spend any energy figuring out what happens next once you arrive.

Research the Country

Another great way to prepare for a trip abroad is to read up on where you’re going. I was able to pick up quite a bit of history hands on through travelling around, visiting historical sites, and listening to tour guides, but knowing some basic history of Scotland and her relationship with England and other nations can help make a lot more sense of being there. You can’t throw a stone in Scotland without hitting something of historical and cultural significance and often the explanations of specific historical events tie into a much larger historical tapestry.

Bring a Converter

Don’t forget that the UK uses different outlets than the US! Make sure any converters you bring meet international standards. Some universities require electrical testing of equipment, and some cheap converters will fail the test. Limit the number of electronics you bring that plug directly into US outlets. Also, no matter how many USB drives and SIM cards you bring with you, if you’re into serious video/photography it will not be enough. I made the mistake of leaving my school laptop at home and using a convertible tablet while at university. While this was fine for writing papers and browsing the internet, it was insufficient to keep up with my extra-curricular projects and made even more work for me when I got back to the US and had to sort through 300 GB of media that I hadn’t been able to edit while I was abroad. I also had to deal with the panic of knowing that all my pictures were not backed up, and constantly being afraid that I would lose track of the micro-SD cards that they were stored on.

Start to Plan Your Travels in Advance

Scotland is staggeringly beautiful. The changing seasons are breathtaking. Every day the North Sea stole my breath away. I traveled as much as I could, travelling south to the Borders and as far North as Orkney. It is worth seeing as much of it as you can as the landscape can be drastically different across the country. The highlands are rugged and desolate. The borders are fairy-like and full of myth and story. Every village has a story. Every cathedral is a ruin. Advance planning can be key to having a good travel experience. Many tourist destinations close for the winter and remote locations like Orkney are not easily navigable by public transportation. Check your destination for opening hours and bus routes. Visit Scotland is a good place to start finding places to visit and planning your trip. Most of Scotland’s major cities also have an iCenter where you can pick up maps, buy souvenirs, and talk to an agent who can provide you with useful local information. It’s worth mentioning that USAC provides a variety of field trips included in your program fees. Most of these field trips are places you’d want to visit anyway, so it’s worth going on them since they include a tour guide and the company of other students. USAC will take you to the Scottish Borders, Stirling Castle, Loch Ness and the Scottish Highlands to name a few. 

Be Prepared to Be Surprised

Above all, be prepared to be surprised, to be amazed. Expect the unexpected. Try to go without any preconceived notions of what your trip is going to be like. No matter what you expect, the reality will be different. If you have a specific idea of what you want your experience to be you’ll find the reality upsetting or even disappointing. If you instead determine to enjoy whatever comes your way you’ll be rewarded with all the excitement of an adventure abroad. There is nothing that can adequately prepare you for walking through the ruins of a medieval castle or standing in a five-thousand year old tomb. So stay open minded and you’ll have an amazing experience in Scotland.

Katie Daniels is a Western Kentucky University student. She studied abroad in St. Andrews Scotland. During her time abroad she served as a Digital Documenter for USAC.