King Arthur and Merlin

Guys, I am in the land of ancient kings and castles. Naturally, I’m taking a class that is essentially a crash-course in the last millennium of Scotland’s history. We finished the Wars of Independence last week (far more dramatic than even Braveheart paints them) and went over the entire Scottish Reformation in one lecture. Fun fact, apparently kings from Robert the Bruce to James VI (centuries later) quote the unbroken line of 113 Scottish kings. One hundred and thirteen at the time of Robert the Bruce, and no more or less during James VI’s reign.

Questionable as that statement is, it illustrates the sheer power of the mythology of this ancient kingdom. Edinburgh Castle is still an active  garrison, and rally leaders for the second Independence Referendum quote the 700-year-old Declaration of Arbroath. In its self-checkout stations and contactless payment options, Scotland is very modern, but in other ways, it’s ancient to a level that is hard for my American mind to grasp.



Meanwhile, it’s been a while since I posted. It’s a gap I didn’t intend before lectures swept me up into a whirlwind of note-taking and then buried me under a pile of reading. On top of that, there’s the realities of being in another country, as well as my dreams of hiking the Highlands and spending nights at trad music sessions. This madness has made me very aware of my personality and limitations.

For example, I can only really attend one, at max two, social events a day. This includes choir rehearsals and even the tutorials required for my courses. Otherwise, a variety of things can happen. I can end up feeling like my nervous system is frizzing. Often I zone out and stare blankly without really hearing or saying anything. Sometimes I get so tired that everything is extremely funny. This overwhelm has been a constant ever since I can remember, but I’ve always wondered, why do I respond this way?

For a long time, I thought I got overwhelmed so easily because I’m an introvert. Introversion explains why I love to sit quietly and research and why I prefer to socialize in small groups. That makes sense. But all of my research into introversion revealed that while large crowds and a rapid series of events can drain introverts, it did not indicate that these situations could overwhelm one’s entire body.

I found my answer in the university library. A few years ago, my dad mentioned the idea of a highly sensitive person (someone who happens to sense and feel everything more intensely) in passing. So when I saw a book titled – you guessed it – The Highly Sensitive Person on the shelf, I was drawn to it – especially since the subtitle was “how to thrive when the world overwhelms you.” Jangled by a day of walking up and down bustling Byers Road, I curled up in my quiet room to read it.

Elaine N. Aron’s book, backed up by years of scientific and psychological research, assured me that I am not, in fact, crazy. Fifteen to twenty percent of the population shares the same intense sensitivity that seems to dominate my life. More people than I could have imagined have the same tendency to pick up on the mood of every person in the room, take criticism to heart, and bounce off the walls after one cup of coffee.

I’ve often considered a career as a hermit. Some of us HSP’s do end up retreating. However, some of us brave the huge world of crowds of people, of drama that affects us intensely, and even scents that overwhelm our consciousness. Sometimes we go on to do great things.

In her psychological framework, Elaine refers to us as the king’s advisors. Behind the scenes of the reigns of kings like Malcolm I and Robert the Bruce, and even the legendary King Arthur, there were the Merlins, the people who would stop and check and guide their brave king to victory. Behind the great revolutions (and the not-so-great ones) of the last four centuries are those to whom the injustice to the people cannot be ignored, and they must understand it, they must write the great texts, they must change the world.

I don’t claim to know the neurological makeup of every great writer and thinker of history, nor do I necessarily commend all of their actions. However, it’s really exciting to find people like me in a historical record full of great adventurous men. My high sensitivity now seems more like a superpower – like a Spidey Sense!

Granted, I’m still a little annoyed that the mere passing of a motorcycle makes me flinch. It’s rather disappointing to be knackered after only an hour walking around Edinburgh Castle. However, I have a greater understanding of my strengths. My thin skin means I can empathize intensely. My acute hearing means that when the fire alarm goes off down the block, I hear it. And, least practical but best side effect, I can taste everything in my favorite mocha.


Alice Major


Alice Major is studying at the University of Glasgow in Glasgow, Scotland. She is a double major, focusing mostly on music and adding history because history is cool. Study abroad is Alice’s first time out of the country, and she hopes to come home in one piece and with a wicked Scottish accent.

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On Culture Shock and Coffee Shops

In Denver, one of my favorite things to do is go discover new coffee shops. I’ll order a mocha or a latte and sit down, planning something or other and just observing. It’s a tame form of exploration. I know there’s a good chance of the menu being on a blackboard, the payment being via Square, and the tables being just the right size for a laptop and a notebook. The only unknowns are the baristas, the menu specifics, the decor, and my fellow patrons, and I can manage these unknowns.

I moved to Denver in 2016. Until then, my hometown of 3,000 was my whole world, and it took me until the middle of my sophomore year at DU to feel comfortable crossing the streets. With Denver’s multi-lane streets and its population that seemed to take ignoring each other on the streets to an art form, cafés were one of the few things that made sense there. The culture shock took weeks to wear off.

Plane View

I caught my first glimpse of Scotland on Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. British Summer Time. Our plane descended through the clouds into the greenest hills I’ve ever seen and took us over the edge of Glasgow. From the air, it seemed picturesque. I could see myself spending the next four months picking up nuggets of culture and storing them in my travel treasure chest.

The plane deposited me onto an alien planet.

Once I stood on the pavement, the picturesque city became entirely too much. They drive on the left side of the street. Sidewalks are asphalt or cobblestone and irregular. The speed limit signs say “twenty’s plenty.” People say “cheers” as they walk out of shops, which line the streets instead of sitting in their own tidy buildings. The phrase “Scottish water” is everywhere from trucks to teabags. There is moss everywhere. The aforementioned shops sit directly under three or four stories of apartment buildings – flats – which all look very old. Every safety poster tells me to have a separate chopping board for meats. Cafés offer lower prices for “take away” items.

I expected that I would find much of Glasgow uncomfortable and unfamiliar, but I did not expect the immediate paucity of familiar things. For the last four days, the things I held on to during my transition to Denver simply have not existed. From the moment I stepped off the airplane, I have been in what the OIE’s Canvas module “Culture Shock” describes as “cultural confrontation.” For my own purposes, I renamed it “EVERYTHING IS WEIRD AND I WANT A NAP.”

This is a normal stage of adjustment, one I saw in international students at DU and see in my fellow adventurers at UofG. They all seem unflappable and are acquiring UK SIM cards and frying pans with great capability. All of the advice I remembered about culture shock was that you should throw yourself into activities and meet people. They all seem to be doing that very well. I am not – I am very much flapped and 90% of my brain is off yelling about pound coins.

My sane remainder realized that I’m suffering from simple overwhelm. I found a notepad and made a grocery list, then dragged my butt out of my comfortable flat to a nearby coffee shop. I ordered a latte (£2.70 and the change came in the form of two coins, a ten pence and a twenty pence) and sat down to watch the cars go by on the wrong side of the street.

Alice Major


Alice Major is studying at the University of Glasgow in Glasgow, Scotland. She is a double major, focusing mostly on music and adding history because history is cool. Study abroad is Alice’s first time out of the country, and she hopes to come home in one piece and with a wicked Scottish accent.

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