"Telling old stories, and singing songs, that make me think about where I came from"

Posts tagged ‘Dundee’

Planning for Sweden, worrying about Sweden, deciding not to go, then go, then not…

I don’t usually get phased by big changes. I really don’t tend to think about life defining events or decisions until the precise moment when they kick in – in this case it would be stepping on a plane from Edinburgh to Stockholm. For some reason, though, this time is different.

Maybe I’m becoming a worrier in my old age – if mid-twenties can be defined as such. Maybe it’s just how big a decision this really is. I mean, I’ll be leaving Scotland for two years to study in a country I’ve been to once before. The thing is, I can’t quite pin point why I’m so nervous about the whole affair. My girlfriend, for her sins I guess, is having to deal with a rather temperamental version of me just now. At the slightest moment I snap at her – can’t be much fun. Maybe the whole thing will make sense if I go through some of my thoughts – apologies for the incoherence of this post.

Money, or lack thereof, is a serious cause of stress right now. I’m not too concerned about my financial situation a few months into my Swedish stay. The problem is the initial outlays; hotels (note the plural), first month rent on my apartment, food, clothes, books, and the distinct knowledge that my biggest weakness is blowing money on nothing-much-in-particular.

Missing home. This one is odd for me. I spent my whole life growing up dreaming of foreign lands, believing Scotland to have lost any charm or sense of adventure that it may once have had.  I remember reading somewhere that the Swedes have a word which roughly translated means ‘home blindness’. It conveys the idea that people never fully appreciate the merits of the place they call ‘home’. I think that idea can be expanded upon, because it is an affliction that particularly the young suffer from. Recently, and maybe because the reality of leaving has set in, I have begun to realise how great Scotland really is.

Leaving my life; Dundee, family, girlfriend, friends, and so on, and on. The same as missing home but a little different. By this I mean the personal aspect of home sickness, not merely missing my country and the things which I am used to, but missing the people who are part of my life.

Ok, now the big one, the constant nagging questions: Why the hell am I going to Sweden? And, why am I going to do a Masters when I, ignoring the arrogance, know that I could have gone and got a fairly well paid job? I’ll leave these questions unanswered and open-ended right now. I have to admit that the allure of a graduate scheme for some faceless corporation, as soulless as it may sound, is still a temptation that I’ve not fully managed to deal with.

Why is any of this helpful or worth reading? Well, I guess a lot of people who are about to head off to Uppsala, Lund, Stockholm, Edinburgh, or really anywhere that means going to a foreign land, are suffering the same doubts and indecision. If you don’t feel like this at all then I’d chance a guess that you will, or have, at some point. The reality is that we are never sure that a certain path is the right one. Particularly when our chosen path seems to preclude other hitherto options. I’m sure I’ll go to Sweden, figure out my finances, enjoy the novelty of it all, get excited about snow, get bored of snow, enjoy the academic challenge, blog, praise and curse skype in equal measure, and moan. Definitely moan, because if you’ve never met any Scots before then bear this in mind, we like to moan.

Oh, and just for you Troy if you’re reading, the price of alcohol in Sweden is playing on my mind as well.

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Scumdee?

Ever noticed how Dundonians are permanently moaning about Dundee but equally are the first to defend it?  They’ll also probably live here for the rest of their lives. People who live in Dundee for any length of time tend to adapt to this schizophrenic relationship with the city.

Dundee is an anomaly. It’s not obviously beautiful and prestigious like Edinburgh, it lacks the middle-class financial district that Glasgow boasts, and it doesn’t have distinguishing features like Aberdeen’s perma-grey sky. But it does have a unique charm. Take a step back for a second and truly think about it. The student bubble is concentrated in a tiny area of the westend surrounded by iconic pubs like the Speedwell (known as Menies to the locals). If you visit Speedwell’s facebook page it has fans from places as far afield as Vancouver. Dundee is a city that infects you deep down. I’m sure everyone thinks fondly of the city they studied in but there’s something magical that lights the eyes of Dundee alumni when you mention our grotty little city. The problem is I can never pin down exactly what it is that makes us feel this way. It seems simplistic to say it’s the student night life. The Union is great but there must be something more.

A friend has just this second changed her facebook status to ‘just watched the sun going down over the River Tay this evening. That’s why I go to uni in Dundee (the only reason)’. Maybe that’s it. Dundee is in a beautiful geographic position with the city rising from the banks of the Tay and the sunsets are enough to put everything into perspective – even if it lasts merely seconds. There’s also something different about the kind of people that come to Dundee to study. Something a bit more real, down to earth, and rebellious. Like the city, the University has a unique character. We’re not like the other ancients but we’re not one of the new kids about town either.

To me Dundee embodies modern Scotland. It has a plethora of ‘old man bars’, dwindling industries and the scars of those that have already left. Pulling in the other direction is a Scotland embodied by the cultural quarter (by that they mean the DCA) but also investment in the water-front project, the Victoria and Albert Museum and a burgeoning biotechnology industry. Look at the city’s politics: a microcosm of the trends in Scottish politics, where we see Labour gripping on to one MP – the only bulwark to total SNP domination over the city. To me this is what Dundee is all about. It doesn’t hide itself away like St. Andrews or Edinburgh, it doesn’t have localised concerns like Glasgow but instead has all facets of Scotland and unashamedly presents them.

The mentality of Dundonians is also a representation of Scotland. We harken to the past but there is a confident, forward looking and progressive beast that is slowly awakening. Dundee is an exciting place to live and study – I just hope it can retain its charm as it strides forward into the unknown.

Why Uppsala?

It was around the end of 2010 that I began to panic about what I was going to do after university. When I started my History degree in 2007 I was focused on an academic career, I had it all figured out. I would do my undergraduate at Dundee then move to somewhere, at the time Trinity College Dublin was the hope, to pursue a masters and then phd. But by the time I had reached fourth year, the fourth year of not only my degree but also of being poorer than the guy begging for money outside my crappy little flat, I had decided that enough was enough. It was time to get a job and earn some money.

My flatmate was very much of the same opinion so we both embarked on what was to become a soul destroying search for a faceless ‘graduate scheme’. You see, the problem with these schemes was not the money – which is rather good – it was not that on the whole they required us to move out of Scotland, it was not even that we were unmotivated. No, the problem was that neither of us were remotely interested in the jobs or companies we were applying for. To be honest, most of the time we had no idea what we were actually applying for. In one instance my flatmate attended an interview in Derby and when he received feedback he was told that he had aced the assesment centre. However, it would have helped if he knew what industry the company was part of.

After a moment of epiphany I came full circle. I decided that I would pursue an academic career and take the years of poverty that would come as part and parcel. The new problem was where to study a masters. I know my family could have helped out with postgraduate fees in Scotland, but I didn’t really want to put them in that position. So I decided to look beyond the UK. At first I was fairly set on applying to universities in the Netherlands. Although not free, the fees which the Dutch universities charge are certainly more manageable than the UK institution’s fee structure.

One evening my flatmate – I think since he has appeared so often I should name him: Gary – observed that Swedish women were not harsh on the eyes. We joked about it and I, still joking, googled Swedish universities. Up popped Uppsala – I have to admit I’d never heard of it. As I looked through the courses taught in english I couldn’t believe what I was reading. They offered a course called ‘Early Modern Northern European Studies’. A glance at the syllabus proved that if I was to design a course to fit my academic interests, well, this would be it.

I did a little research about Uppsala and discovered that it was a fairly impressive instituion. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the application procedure and I had no idea what my chances would be. I decided that I may as well apply, what was the harm?

Anyway, the fact I’m writing this you have probably guessed that I got in. I don’t want to go overkill with this post so I’ll leave it there. There’s a lot more to write about; from the appallingly bizarre centralised application procedure, to visiting Uppsala in April and feeling like I had been transported back to the middle of January. But I’ll leave these rants for another time.

Over the next two years I’ll be updating this blog weekly, so if you’re interested in the fortunes of a Scot in Sweden, then keep checking back.