A second year in Scotland

Kirsten Beattie takes a new year’s look at her life in Edinburgh and beyond.

By Kirsten Beattie (English, Studies in Women and Gender ’03)

Photo by Jack Mellott.

Kirsten Beattie (English, Studies in Women and Gender ’03) is in her second year of teaching and mentoring students at Fettes College in Edinburgh, Scotland, as a UK fellow. The UK fellows program is sponsored by the U.Va. Center for Undergraduate Excellence. She has agreed to give the readers of A&S Online a glimpse into her life in Scotland through monthly updates.To read her previous reports, click on “Related Links” at the bottom of this page.

A new year, a new you: January is for most of us a month of introspection and self-assessment. Somehow we convince ourselves that January 1st is so very different from December 31st that we can change our lives and become better versions of ourselves. We form New Year’s Resolutions, not just as positive statements for improvement, but as promises meant to address what we saw as our failures in the previous year.

There is, undeniably, great value to this practice of sitting down, mentally or literally, and examining where we have been, where we are, and where we want to be in our lives from year to year. Because of this, however, I have spent much of January feeling somewhat dislocated, trying to negotiate the boundaries of these three states of being.

I know that I have changed, have grown, from my days in Charlottesville through the experience of living abroad, but I am now trying to determine what I have gained in my second year at Fettes. Some of the growth is obvious: more confidence in the classroom, closer relationships with my pupils and co-workers and a stronger sense of self and what I want my life to look like, changes that anyone settling into any job will experience.

I notice small differences in my life this year, too; I have learned, for example, to appreciate mornings rather than trying to hide from them under my duvet. Last year, I struggled to adapt to how dark our winters are here, with less than eight hours of daylight (never mind whether the sun is shining or not); this year, the knowledge that life must continue, dark or not, and that the endless summer light will make up for it, makes it much more bearable.

Yet in spite of this adaptation to the cold, dark days of January, this period of self-assessment has been somewhat more of a challenge than normal for me this year. For starters, I finished my holiday travels, which included two enjoyable weeks at home and a memorable but tiring week skiing in France, only one day before term started up again. My first week was, needless to say, rather hectic.

Another challenge has resulted from the process of starting a new term. At Fettes, January is a time of trying to reclaim and re-establish our lives. The autumn term is weeks longer than our other terms, and this, combined with the holiday season, means that we tend to cope our way through those last weeks, just getting things done with little sense of control. January is our time to remember who we were (oh, the golden days when we felt organised and on top of our workloads) and get back to that place.

I can happily write that, at this moment, I have reached the point where I recognise where I have been in the last year or two, and I finally have had time to catch up with myself and figure out where I am now, at the end of a brief, 34-hour leave weekend in House. Indeed, my flat is tidy — dusted and vacuumed — and my papers and notes are filed into their proper folders. My desk is neatly organised and rearranged to my satisfaction. Now, I am back in control. I know where and who I am right now.

What comes next? Where I am going, what I am headed for?

Faced with less than eight months left in my life overseas (for the next few years, anyway), I find myself trying to prioritise what I must do before I head back to the States. What I will do when I return is another question and one in the process of resolution, with a graduate school application in and a resumé floating through cyberspace.

In the meantime, I want to make the most of my holidays by travelling, to see places that I might not be able to see for several years, depending on my situation. I want to travel some on my own, as well. My trips have thus far been with friends or family, but I am craving the chance to be on my own, planning my own itinerary, doing exactly what I want to do, when I want to do it, and having the satisfaction of finding my way around somewhere I have never been.

There is an entire world for me to explore, and the more I see of it, the more I want to see and experience. I hate having to look at my travel wish-list and admit that I won’t see everything that I want to. At the same time, however, I must look forward to living and experiencing as much as I can while I can. I want to make the most of my time in this phase of my life, before I move onto the next.

In my daily life, that means earlier mornings, more productive days, focusing on being the best version of myself that I can be -- and, here I am, back at New Year’s resolutions: “I will try to make the most of every day and live my life fully, not thinking too much about ‘life after Fettes.’”

Meantime, life at Fettes calls. Lessons to plan, papers to mark and a speech to write for the Burns’ Supper on January 29th. A speech toasting the men at the dinner, it is meant to be witty, tongue-in-cheek, memorable, celebrating Rabbie Burns, his ideals and Scottish culture. And, I’ll be giving it before several hundred of our students and a large number of our staff. No pressure. Surely this must give me bonus points in the “living my life fully” and “being the best I can be” categories of my New Year’s Resolutions.