Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Campus Life

The original plan for this trip had us finding a small flat in Stirling, with Jennifer commuting to the campus a couple miles out of town by bus. This would have been a real Scottish immersion, but also pretty much moving across the ocean to go from one tatty Victorian neighborhood to another. As it turns out, it is hard to rent in Stirling if you aren't there, and late in the process we realized the uni was opening a block of brand new on campus family flats as part of an overhaul of its mostly 1960's era student housing, so we ended up on campus at Alexander Court.

The University of Stirling is not actually in Stirling (pop. 45,000). It is a couple miles north on the former Airthrey Estate. The university was built from scratch on the grounds in the 1960's. It is like a compact campus plopped onto one side of a nice old park, with 60's institutional architecture centered around a nice little lake. We're on the far side of the lake, past the 9 hole golf course and the rugby and football pitches, a full mile from the main entrance to campus.

Our three bedroom flat is fairly minimal, as you'd expect, but big for Scotland. The master bedroom has a nice workspace that I occupy, the biggest problem being that sometimes I realize I've spent about 20 hours of my day within a 6 foot square. There are a few conveniences for international families, including a TV.

Here's a peek into our flat while the finishing touches were still being put on last August:

2013-08-18 at 19.49.14

My current theory is that we lucked out by being the last family to request a flat, and the last one available was the ground-level handicapped accessible flat (which they'd have to keep open just in case). This gives us a glass door and full length window opening out onto a patio and garden, directly out onto the junction of a dirt road and several trails leading to campus, up to the pitches, into the woods or up into the hills. I guess you could say it is a high traffic neighborhood, but with mountain bikers and hillwalkers instead of the Honda Civics blasting reggaeton and unlicensed motorcycles we get in Elmwood this time of year.

There are eight other families living in this block: two from Malaysia, one from Iceland, Zimbabwe, Thailand, and Scotland, and Arab and Carribbean families. Mostly they all have early elementary or younger kids, so there hasn't been a lack of playmates for the girls. The rest of the students in the courtyard are mostly Asian grad students who were seen more than heard and barely seen.

After the end of the school year, Alexander Court hosts a variety of visiting groups, this year including members of the Team Scotland and event support staff preparing for the Commonwealth Games, a couple of pipe bands (including the Dunedin, Florida high school band), a bunch of karate enthusiasts and a group of spiritualists.

So from my point of view -- since I'm not the one studying here -- it has mostly been like living in a little managed apartment in a low-key resort for a year.

What is extraordinary about this place is the overall setting, in this strategic bottleneck between the lowlands and highlands, between the Pictish fire hill of Dumyat and the Abbey Craig, where William Wallace waited for half the English army to cross the Forth before falling upon them, next the ancient standing stone perhaps commemorating where Kenneth MacAlpin's Scots assembled in 834 to before the battle that united Scotland under one king.

2014-08-03 at 21.02.28 2014-08-03 at 21.02.44

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