Stirling: The Heart of Scotland for Good Reason Past Review

By (Journalism , California State University - Chico) for

USAC Scotland: Stirling - Undergraduate Courses

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
For those of you reading this, I cannot advise you enough to consider traveling abroad--whether it be for a year, a week, or a lifetime. Seeing the world from a different locale is a heady feeling, especially when you can experience it through study abroad. It reminds you that we humans have so many things in common, despite our differences. More than that, though, it gifts you with a million memories, enriching the world around you and your place in it. When it comes down it, can we really ask for more than that? It's something to think about, at least. Stirling in particular is a gorgeous locale and situated in an ideal location of Scotland. It's known as the "Heart of Scotland" because as history tells, "he who holds Stirling, holds Scotland." When you get to Stirling, you'll see what I mean. Take a hike up Dumyat and spread out before you to the south will be the lowlands and greater cities of Scotland, while northwards the infamous Highlands are markedly familiar by all the rolling hills as far as the eye can see. This central location also allows for the Gulf breezes to hit it, meaning the temperatures are more temperate than other locations in Scotland. If you're anything like me, you'll fall in love with the country and never want to leave. It's a place where history is still deeply felt and where modern advancements are tempered by a healthy respect for the land. My experiences in Stirling have made it my goal to get involved in study abroad as a career, so that I may help students achieve their own dreams of international travel & education. Every student owes it to themselves to broaden his/her education by stepping outside their comfort zone and leaving the "familiar" behind--and even if you don't realize it yet, you will be thankful that you did.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 0-2 weeks

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

Above all, I loved attending university at Stirling. As a study abroad student, I was able to work on my upper division general education requirements and my minor, which allowed for a diverse number of classes. Whether I was learning about Scottish history and literature or taking a stab at sociology, the professors at Stirling all had something to offer. As an American student, the amount of time spent OUTSIDE the classroom doing work/studying/etc took some getting used to, but it was a challenge I met head-on. Unlike many American higher education institutions, the university system in the UK is quite a bit different. It's a much more independent program, with an emphasis on outside the classroom reading and study--this is what allowed for me to connect with many of my peers though, and as a student in a foreign county, I appreciated that concept. The workload was definitely manageable, as long as you planned out your schedule and gave enough time to get your studying in. It's easy to get distracted with all the traveling and adventures you participate in as a study abroad student (which you should definitely do!), but you also have to remember that you ARE a student as well. Make use of the library is all I can say. It's a lifesaver. Stirling's library has tons of resources and multiple copies of textbooks you'll need in classes-it actually saved me quite a bit of money to check out books from there, rather than purchasing them. And as any traveling student knows, a dollar saved is a big deal ;) The best advice I can give to any student is to take advantage of the international student office. They have the best advisers there who are completely willing to help you adjust to the cultural changes and give you a better idea about ideal study habits, how to understand the grading system and how to generally make the most of your education there. If you've already decided to attend Stirling University for a year or semester abroad, you've definitely made the right choice. It's a gorgeous campus (with it's own castle!) and boasts some of the nicest people around...okay, so I'm slightly biased. Spend some time at Stirling and see for yourself :) There is only so much I can include in this review, so if I've left anything out, gotten some fact wrong, or if you'd simply like more information, please don't hesitate to contact me!

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Before I get to talking about all the wonderful people at Stirling, I'd first like to say that studying abroad with USAC was amazing. They are a fountain of of great information and will provide step by step support as you prepare to leave the country. Whether it's first putting in your paperwork to apply to a program, working out visa details or coordinating communication with your host country/university, the people at USAC know what they're doing. I was always able to call up my adviser with any questions I had, and she would get back to me in a timely fashion--ready to answer my questions or direct me to someone who could. Even when I returned from being abroad, there were new opportunities to stay involved as an alumnus. I couldn't have asked for anything better. As mentioned in the academic section, there are tons of people to help you out at Stirling. Upon first arriving for the academic year, you will participate in an informational orientation session--there were a few of them if I remember correctly--and these sessions will give you a great foundation for understanding how Stirling's system works. If you're anything like I was--out of the country for the first time, all alone and not knowing anyone--it will ease your mind to know that Stirling's staff will welcome you with open arms. Prior to arriving in Scotland, it is was easy to arrange pick up when you arrive at the airport (Glasgow and Edinburgh) and they will transport you directly to campus. Another factor I think should be noted are the activities that the university arranges for arriving international students; they usually take place your first week there but there may also be others throughout the year/semester. Check with the administration for specific dates. The most important thing: TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THESE TRIPS. You won't find another free tour of Stirling city centre, the William Wallace Monument, Stirling Castle or the Robert the Bruce statue at the Battle of Bannockburn site, and when you're brand new to the country, it will help you to get your bearings. It will also introduce you to other study abroad/exchange students who feel exactly the same way. It's how I ended up with some of the best friends I have to this day--despite the fact that they are now hundreds of miles away. As far as expectations being met, I was more than satisfied with the support Stirling and all it's host staff had to offer. They were extremely helpful, without being suffocating, and it ended up being one of the best years of my life.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I lived in the Pendreich Way Chalet accommodations, which are on campus yet quite unlike the other dorms. The University of Stirling's campus is a gem--it's close enough to the big cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh (which can be accessed easily by train) but when you're on campus, it almost feels more like a nature walk. This is especially true for living in the chalets. When I first applied for the dorms, Pendreich Way was not one of the choices I made--I ended up being put there quite by accident, and I glad that it did. While Stirling did offer off-campus accommodation, I decided it would suit me better to be located on campus. It was centrally located, easy enough to get to town by bus, and I wanted to be able to live with other international and local students. More like tucked-away log cabins, the chalets sit at the back of campus right up against the local mountain, Dumyat (a wonderful place to go hiking). You live with four other students (a mix of local and international), where you each have your own bedroom and share a common living area and kitchen. There are typically two washrooms, meaning two showers and toilet. The small quarters take some getting used to, especially with the closet-sized showers, but you'll learn to adjust. You're about a 5-7 minute walk to the library on the other side of campus-separated by the loch-and the buses to town come about every 10 minutes, so it's no problem getting back and forth. The cookware/utensils/etc you will have to provide for yourself--or if you're lucky like I was, some of your flatmates will be locals and will bring them (provided that they are willing to share with you!) My favorite part about living in the chalets were the privacy they accorded. They had the benefit of being termed 'dorm housing' without actually feeling like a dorm (unlike the other options on campus). It was more like a mini-house, with next door neighbors living in another mini-house. There were some downsides though: the first was the refrigerator. It's a mini-sized one and when you consider that you will be sharing it with four other people, you'll have to make some compromises. Otherwise, you'll run into a problem we typically had, in which our fridge was filled to bursting where everything was difficult to find. The other issue with the chalets, and I'm not sure if this applies to all student housing in general, is that the heating and hot water runs on a timer. These would typically from 6 a.m to about 10 p.m. so be sure not to save your showers for after, unless you're okay with ice cold water. It gets chilly in the winter there as well, so make sure to have some extra blankets on hand. Finally, one really important thing to consider about the Pendreich Way Chalets: they don't come with internet access. Now, I could be giving you outdated information ( I did study two years ago) but when I was there we had to purchase separate internet access. I would double check with USAC and with the University of Stirling staff to see if this has changed since then. The chalets on campus are in a safe area and I never felt any problem walking to and from there, even if it was at night. You're also really close to a nightclub/restaurant down the street in Bridge of Allen --called the "med" during the day and "the beat" at night--so if you don't want to go into the city centre for a night out, or check out the bar Studio on campus, that is another option. So whether you choose to live on or off campus, you will definitely have some options. Either way, being able to say that you're living in Scotland will be a treasure in itself!

* Food:

I'm not going to lie to you. Before I left, everyone told me that all the food in the UK would all be fried and extremely bland. Well, I'm not exactly sure where "they" were getting their information, but I found the food to be a delight in Scotland. Of course it's different than home--you are studying abroad after all!--and it's part of the fun. Try everything at least once I say. If you don't fall in love with the Haggis, neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes, respectively) I would be quite surprised. The pub food is also fantastic--you get large portions and there always a wide number of options. I'd never tried Potato and Leek soup before living in Scotland, and now I can't get enough. Be bold, be brave! I assure you that you'll come across something fabulous! Some of the food differences that stood out the most to me: 1) The milk. After awhile I couldn't even tell the difference but when I first had milk in Scotland, I noticed that it tasted a lot different than milk from home. Not bad, but just different. 2) The eggs. Another difference that wasn't bad and that I quickly didn't even notice. 3) The bacon. I HATED bacon before I lived in Scotland and realized that American style bacon is quite different than the "back bacon" they serve and it tastes much better (to me at least). 4) The Squash. No, I'm not talking about the vegetable, but instead I'm referring to the squash juices--it's highly concentrated and you dilute it with water. Totally threw me off for awhile and though I never was a huge fan of it, it wasn't all that bad. I won't spoil all the food surprises for you, but instead tell you this: explore the city and test your palette. You'll be surprised at what you find and come to appreciate. I would definitely recommend checking out Nicky Tam's Bar and Bothy, as they had some of the BEST pub food and live music combo in Stirling. They were also reputed to be haunted, although I never had the pleasure of meeting any ghosts myself. One other favorite of mine was a coffee place called "Has Beans" It's a local, Scottish coffee house and you'll see quite a few of them throughout the country. If you're looking for the most delicious Chai tea around, you'll find it there. I still miss it terribly, especially in the Autumn.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

If you can't already tell, I had the best experience studying abroad in Stirling. It changed my perspective about everything and gave me a deeper appreciation for education and study abroad opportunities. Although it's a bit different of an experience studying abroad in a country where you don't have to learn a new language (although I would say the Scottish accent could rightly be it's own language!), there are still cultural experiences to be had. I always reminded myself to keep an open mind and repeat the mantra my study abroad advisers back at home were known for saying: It's not wrong, it's not right, it's just different. These were words to live by and opened the door to a wide array of adventures. I could go on for days about the number of social and cultural experiences to be had in Scotland, but I don't want to ruin anything for you :) Instead, I'll give a few teasers and tips. First and foremost, if you're planning on doing any sort of traveling around Scotland, invest in a train rail pass. It will save you quite a bit of money in the long run, as it enables you to some pretty good deals. Public transportation is a dream overseas, and I never once worried about not having a car. Take advantage of that while you can! Into sightseeing? Don't worry, you're in the right country (and city for that). This place was built on history. The William Wallace monument is a quick jaunt from campus--about a 15 to 20 minute walk (and a gorgeous one at that), so if you would like to learn about the real William Wallace (not the Braveheart version) try checking it out. They will give you some background about the Battle of Stirling and Stirling Bridge--which you can visit (and walk across) in the city centre. Stirling Castle is also fun to explore every so often. There is a pass called "Historic Scotland" I would recommend getting if you like to explore other historical sites like castles, battlegrounds, etc, all up and down Scotland. It saved me a ton of money in the long run, and I could get in to the castles as often as I wanted! Great investment :) Going out in Scotland is also a fun experience, and something I'm sure many students participate in. While Stirling isn't necessarily a huge city, there are plenty of pubs and a couple of nightclubs you will be introduced to. The bar/lounge on campus, called "Studio" is also fun--especially if you were like me, a person who couldn't even imagine a bar on a student campus!! And yes, they also have karaoke nights there on occasion ;) The drinking culture took me by surprise at first, as it was radically different than what I was used to. The best way I can think of to describe it is like a remixed version of a coffee shop: you've got all the atmosphere of a laid-back coffee shop where friends come together to chat and listen to good music, but instead of coffee it's usually a pint that is being enjoyed. If you feel a need for a more metropolis place to go out, hop on a train for Glasgow and Edinburgh where there is plenty of entertainment to be had. They are only about 20 to 30 minute train ride away from Stirling and they run pretty late on the weekends, so you'll have time to get back. One of the most, MOST important things you need to plan on in advance is the currency exchange. Before you leave your home country, keep tabs on what the rates are like so you won't be taken by surprise when you arrive. Budgeting is also very important, since living in the UK can be very expensive. I was working three jobs the summer before I left for Scotland, and even still I had to carefully manage my expenses throughout the year. This means picking and choosing trips, not going overboard with the credit card--trust me, that WILL come back to haunt you--and just generally making smart financial decisions. Sure, I'm like many people who will say that spending the money was worth it, but you have to decide what is best for you. Coming back home broke and heavily in debt are two entirely different things.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

I never had any problems or issues with feeling unsafe on the Stirling campus. It is well lit at night, and with the comings and goings of so many students, you don't ever feel completely isolated. I cannot comment too much on the health care system, simply because I never had any serious injuries/sickness that would've required me to completely utilize it. I will tell you, though, that health insurance is provided for through the USAC program--so if anything does happen, there is health centre on campus and ready people willing to help. No vaccines were necessary for studying in Stirling, Scotland and if you happen to come down a cold (I got one my first couple of weeks in) there are medications available either from the health center, the on campus pharmacy, or in the city centre. It would also be smart to have a supply of tissues on hand :)

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • International Students
  • Local Students

A Look Back

* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Any student with a passion for Scottish culture, who is independent, motivated to succeed and seeks adventure would be suited to this program. There is a fine balance between being a student and being a traveler, so any person who can see themselves willing to put in the effort will find many joys at the University of Stirling. There are tons of ways to get involved--whether through sports or clubs--so make the most of your stay.