Thursday, October 30, 2008

Like and annoyance...

So it’s been a while since my last post, largely because I’m being indecisive about a topic.  Today I’ve decided: what we like about our life here in Scotland and what is a bit annoying. 

Like: the efficiency.  Generally, things here are more efficient than in the States.  The cars are smaller and get better gas mileage.  The food portions are not excessive.  The homes are smaller and cozier but not cramped.  The public transportation system is accessible and can get you most anywhere you want to go.  Since being here it has struck me how highly “big for the sake of big” is valued in the US, and in this regard I have found life here very refreshing.

Like: the history.  Charmingly, things here are saturated with rich history.  For example, my flat is older than my country.  Buildings made 100 years ago they call “new”, which is reasonable considering many buildings are several centuries old.  The Roundel, where my office is, was made in the 16th century.  Centuries ago the city of St Andrews was the center of religious life in Scotland and pilgrimages were frequently made to the Cathedral.  As such, the main roads in town all lead to what are now the cathedral ruins, which was the destination of many a European pilgrim.  Everything here seems to have a long and interesting back-story.

Like: the St Mary’s community.  There are 50 or so students in the postgraduate divinity program here at St Andrews.  By all accounts a unique feature of studying at St Andrews as opposed to other options in the UK is the closely knit community of students and their families.  Everyone has been warm, welcoming and helpful. 

Like: the academic climate.  I have found academic life, at St Andrews and in the UK broadly, to be extremely stimulating.  Students and professors alike are happy to chat with you about any and every theological topic, and do so frequently (the spouses of students call this “talking shop”, which happens so commonly it even spills over into social settings!  “Can’t you guys talk about something everyone thinks is interesting?”)   It is extremely rewarding to be in regular dialogue with some of the best minds working in theology and biblical studies.

Like: drinking tea all the time.  I didn’t think tea would grow on me so much, but I must confess that it has.  Thankfully tea has substantially less caffeine than coffee and doesn’t upset my system the way coffee does, especially since it has become quite the habit for me.  That said I still take my tea with 2-3 lumps of sugar, which means I’m not yet a refined Brit.  

Like: the highlands.  Scotland has much of its population concentrated on the east coast of the country, leaving the highlands to the west full of scenic natural beauty.  Amazing mountains and hiking opportunities are just a short distance from St Andrews.  Recently we went with the Egans to hike a mountain.  (If you’d like to see more pictures of this trip, visit )

Like: Not owning a car / walking everywhere.  Most everything we want and need is within a 10 minute walk.  I also use my bike most every day.  After suburban life that often required more than 2 hours daily in the car, this has been extremely refreshing.  I also am happy not to be concerned with automotive repair and maintenance. 

Like: My supervisor.  One’s experience in a PhD program is generally made or broken by one’s relationship with one’s advisor.  This is especially true in the UK system, where there is no coursework.  Horror stories abound of poor relationships with supervisors that were fatal to the student’s success.  Thankfully I have a supervisor who is supportive of my work, accessible, insightful, and committed to my success in the program (and beyond). 

Like: How everything grows here.  Conditions in St Andrews seem perfect for plants to thrive- it doesn’t get below freezing much here in winter and there is always enough rain.  I planted grass and now it is growing so fast you can notice the difference between one day and the next!  We’re looking forwarding to doing some serious gardening this spring, but we did some a few days ago- there was this strange plant that had giant roots that smelled like black licorice. 

Like: the beach.  I have been regularly jogging on the West Sands, which is an enormous beach on the northwest side of St Andrews (it’s actually the beach from the film Chariots of Fire).  The dog jogs with me and absolutely loves it- just last week he was so happy to be running on the beach he howled for joy!  

Like: our friendships here.  While of course we miss our stateside family and friends, our new friends here are great.  Not to overlook others, but our relationship with Ian and Corrie has been invaluable (see their blog at ).  I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about them in future posts.


Annoyance: slowness and bad customer service.  Ineptitude, slowness, and poor customer service seems to be tolerated much more here than in the States.  Perhaps it’s the regulatory interferences that stifle the competition that comes from a free market- I don’t know.  I just know that the customer service here is awful.  Some examples: 1. when calling the internet provider to see when our internet connection will be active (it’s been almost a month now!), they say things like, “I can’t really get at the information I need to answer your question… can you call back in 3-5 days?”  What? I have to call you back in several days to get a simple answer?  I have half a mind to take my business to another company, but ALL the phone/internet companies here are like that!  2. Store clerks / shopkeeps are often annoyed if you ask for help.  I’m trying to give you money, why wouldn’t you be a bit nicer to me? 3.  In applying for jobs at the University, after putting in your application they can take 5-6 weeks before even contacting you about interviews.  Poor Sara has been waiting seemingly forever, which has been difficult.  Why would it possibly take 5-6 weeks?  They are so slow here…  4. We were without water for almost 3 days as the local gov’t water dept displayed baffling incompetence.  I won’t give the full story right now, but suffice to say that trained monkeys could have done a better job.

Annoyance: darkness. Being as far north as we are, the winter days are very short on daylight.  In December it will get to the point where there is less than 4 hours of very dim daylight.  It’s already starting now and I think we’re going to need to get a sunlamp to make it through the winter with our sanity intact (that said, remember the payoff- in summer there is less than 4 hours of darkness!).

Annoyance: the exchange rate.  While the exchange rate has shifted dramatically in favor of the dollar in the past month, the exchange rate is still painful for those of us living off the dollar.  The hope is that Sara will begin earning British Pounds soon, but that goes back to the earlier annoyance about slowness…


Despite these complaints, life here is enjoyable and fulfilling.  We are thankful to the Lord for providing us this opportunity.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Settling in quite nicely

It’s now been over three weeks that we’ve been living in St Andrews and it’s starting to feel like home. We’re settling in quite nicely to life in this small but interesting Scottish burgh. Here are some pictures I’ve taken from around town.

I’ve moved in to my desk in the Roundel- the building that has the study spaces for postgraduate Divinity students- and I am pleased with it. It’s where I’ll be spending a good bit of my waking life for the next few years and it is a blessing to be working in such nice facilities- truly the envy of all other postgrad departments at St Andrews.
Here’s my desk.

And here is just one of the lounges in the Roundel; as you can see it’s quite nice.
We even have a courtyard garden.
Walking right out the back door of the Roundel, you see the ruins of St Andrews cathedral across the street.

We’ve found the postgraduate divinity community to be absolutely great here and there is ample opportunity to build friendships with other students and their families. Most everyone has been extremely warm, welcoming and helpful. Also, I have met a few times with my supervisor and I'm very pleased with his attentiveness, availability and commitment to his advisee's success. I've found that he and I are on the same page in most theological issues and hence he is fully supportive of my project, which has been very reassuring.

As one might expect, most all the buildings here are very old (at least by US standards). Our flat is actually older than the USA- quite a strange thought! Even in our short time here we’ve enjoyed the rich history that permeates most everything in St Andrews. Just today we made it over to see the St Andrews castle.

The view of the coast from the castle was quite stunning. Also, if you look closely you can see the walls of the king’s pool- it was high tide, but you can see a rectangular wall underwater that retains a swimming pool during low tide for the castle residents.

I couldn’t resist posting pictures of this: the castle even had a toilet (of sorts!).

Finally, in an attempt to do some gardening I’ve planted some grass that covers the path from my flat to the shed in my garden. I was becoming increasingly annoyed by the mud that I would inevitably drag into the house after making a trip to the shed. Come spring we will be planting some berries and vegetables, but for now I want to keep a photo journal of my attempt at growing grass. Here’s the day after I planted.

At least I don’t have to water it since it seems to rain more days than not here in Scotland.