A thistle amongst the roses: to be a lone Scot in Oxford

Emma Leech questions the motives behind setting up national societies

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Full disclosure: my parents are English and despite having lived in Scotland all of my life (before moving to England for university) I had never really considered myself Scottish.

No part of me particularly enjoyed the obligatory bagpipe music, that seemed to accompany every mildly significant event. I had never tended towards the tossing of any kind of caber. Therefore, finding myself reduced to tears in a nightclub after the first few bars of ‘500 Miles’ (our unofficial national anthem) during Freshers’ week came as quite a shock.

In all honesty, as a chronic conformist, I had expected to adopt a Hermione-esque accent and attempt to blend in with the south-west Londoners who dominate the scenery of Oxford. However, somewhere along the line, all the Irn-Bru and deep-fried mars bars seem to have seeped into my arteries, and also my sentimental heart.

Whilst I assure you that I no longer suffer from such club meltdowns, I do find myself longing to hear rolled ‘R’s and the occasional “awa an beil yer heid quine” (a charming phrase which translates to “please go away and boil your head, young lady”).

Word of the elusive ‘ScotSoc’ came to me like a coarse Glaswegian whisper on the wind. However, further research concluded that it had died a slow and painful death several years ago, seemingly due to lack of enthusiasm. This is somewhat unsurprising considering that the closest you often are to a Scot in Oxford is someone with inherited land in the Highlands or a Bronze Duke of Edinburgh award.

My experiences made me wonder about national societies. Why do we yearn for them? Why do we feel the need to surround ourselves with people who simply share an accent and potentially a third cousin twice removed? Surprisingly, the longest running Oxford society, with the exception of the Union, is not a clandestine meeting of tail coats and port but, rather, the Welsh society. Every few weeks, Welsh people from across Oxford meet up to share sandwiches, memories, and very few vowels.

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Many of these types of societies exist within the university. They unite people who have left their hometowns for the Oxford tumult. And, they support those who perhaps seek to cling to some semblance of familiarity in order to ride out the eight weeks until they can return again.

I assume it is natural, in moving away, to at least slightly idealise your nation and pine for its comforts. But, personally, I did not expect to be so close to the brink of exchanging my everyday make-up routine for a Braveheart-style half-blue face.

Over time I came to realise that when searching for people who came from my home, that wasn’t actually what I was looking for.I was, rather, trying to find the same kind of unappreciated comfort that one only really feels around family and friends, and away from essays and tute sheets.

Not only did I associate the Scottish accent with tartan and haggis, but also with childhood, friendships, and the pre-Oxford kind of life where the opportunity to stop and breathe is frankly taken for granted.

Despite not having moved very far, relative to some others (it is but a short eleven hour Megabus journey between what I now consider my two homes), there are certain things that are undeniably different.

This was not something I had expected, and I can’t even begin to imagine how distant home must sometimes feel for those from even further away.

No doubt one of my favourite things about starting university has been meeting people from different backgrounds and nationalities. However, it sometimes is comforting to know that you have someone to speak to who understands your schooling system, your quirky foods, and why, when drunk, you feel the need to sing Loch Lomond.

So, as I plaster my walls with saltires and listen to Runrig in the library, I make a call into the red and white void. Are there any other lone Scots out there in Oxford, weaving their way through people who think that Jack Daniels is real whiskey, and clamouring to hear ‘bath’ pronounced correctly? Come and find me; we can dance the Gay Gordons until our feet bleed and it is time to go home again.

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P.S. England, your water tastes weird.