American Teaching in Scotland

So, as I have been preparing to go back to work this week, planning and racking my brain on how I’m going to start off this next school year, I’ve also been reflecting on the school year I just completed – pros, cons, and all the things I’ve learned thus far about teaching in Scotland.

The last you heard from me, I had just been offered my first teaching job in Scotland – I hadn’t even started yet! Well, now it is safe to say that I survived until the end of the school term and have learned loads! So, as a part of my reflection process, I thought I’d write some things down (because that’s how my brain processes information) and share with you some of the similarities and differences between the Scottish and American ways of teaching; and some valuable things I’ve learned in becoming a teacher in Scotland.

As to be expected there were many things that were different from my past teaching experiences in the States, but surprisingly there were also many things that were the same.

SIMILARITIES

School Organization

For the most part, primary schools are organized in a very similar way to the elementary schools in the states with the exception of vocabulary.

For example:

Scottish:                                                  American:

Head Teacher                                           Principle

Deputy Head Teacher                              Vice Principle

Principle Teacher                                     Similar to a High School Dean – part admin, part teaching.

Curriculum Leader (High School)            Department Chair (High School)

Additional Support for Learning (ASL)     Special Education

Pupil Support Assistants (PSAs)               Instructional Assistants or Classroom Aids

Stage Level                                               Grade Level*

*There are a variety of stages in primary and secondary schools that I will detail out in a later blog.

…and lastly…

Pupils                                                        Students**

**kids are usually not referred to as ‘students’ in the UK until they reach university (or what we American’s call college).  ‘College’ in the UK is similar to Junior College.  In the UK there is a big difference between college and university (or ‘uni’) where as in American we just call it all college.

(There are also loads of other terms and acronyms that I’ve had to learn, but I don’t want to bore you with the details)

Staff

Another similarity that I experienced was the pleasure of working with a very dedicated staff, committed to their teaching practice, professional development, and their pupils!  I have a very supportive and encouraging Head Teacher and Deputy Head, colleagues who are always willing to help me out and appease my American questions with no judgement, a Support for Learning teacher that knows her pupils’ needs inside and out, PSAs who are willing to help in any way possible, and overall a great atmosphere to thrive professionally.

Kids & Parents

I have learned that kids are very similar to the kids in the states as well – they all deal with similar struggles of academia, insecurities, social media and peer pressure, family dynamics, extra-curricular activities, and more. I teach to a diverse pupil population, with an array of backgrounds and needs. There are many English language learners, as there are in my native California, however, the pupils here speak a variety of languages and come from a variety of cultures! At my school (and my kids’ school), we have many Romanian, Polish, Italian, Spanish, and French pupils (to name a few!).  Parents, as well, are very similar to parents anywhere – they all want the best for the children, some are involved in school life more than others, some work and some stay at home, and all come from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds.

DIFFERENCES

I could go on and on about all the differences with culture, British language and spelling, Scottish slang, and, as I previously mentioned, the variety in terminology, but I thought I’d try to stick to some of the ‘big picture’ differences for this section:

As a teacher trained in American, and more specifically California, there are certain aspects of teaching that are ingrained in you from the start of your first teaching course and from your own experiences as a student in school. Things like grades, grading, GPA, and report cards, homework, text books, class test and standardized test, state standards, and bench mark exams. To my surprise, there is very little of this in Scotland.  Let me attempt to break it down:

Grades: I was very surprised that grades are not given for assignments, nor are report cards issued in the same format that American kids are used to. Teachers do ‘mark’ assignments by giving direct marks or feedback, but pupils also often mark their own assignments followed by a peer or self-assessment.  There are two main peer/self-assessment tools that teachers used: (1) traffic light signals, and (2) Two Stars and a Wish.

Image result for traffic light assessmentTraffic light colors allow pupils to color code their work to let their teacher know how they feel about the assignment – I often use the happy, flat, or sad face method if I don’t want to mess with the kids pulling out their colored pencils.

Two Stars and a Wish is a method of assessment where pupils write down two things they did well or positive parts of the assignment and then follow it up with a ‘wish’ of something they could do better for the next time.  This is a great tool for peer assessment as well.

Although report cards with grades are not distributed, pupils do receive an end of the year formal report outlining what they have covered throughout the year and the individual pupils progress.  The format of these reports vary from school to school.  These reports require a ton of time to type up!  Luckily, my school’s report is a two page format with some boxes to be ticked, which makes the process a little bit less daunting.  However, both my children received 4-page typed up reports from their school!

Teaching Content

Much like the states have ‘state standards’ in all subjects to be taught and met by pupils each academic year, Scotland calls these standards ‘Benchmarks’ (which has a bit different use in California).  Unlike the States, these benchmarks are not public domain in the way that the California state standards can be accessed online by anyone.  Teachers use these benchmarks as a guideline for teaching and assessing each pupil’s accomplishments. Though, how teachers accomplish and teach these benchmarks can vary from teacher to teacher and school to school.

Unlike most schools in the states where every teacher teaches through a variety of textbooks (which usually map out the standards within the texts and teacher’s editions), the only subject that usually uses a textbook here is math, but you are not limited to the use of the single texts.  Instead, teachers use resources – loads and loads of resources – some that the school provides (there are tons of resource closets around the school as well as a resource room packed full!), online resources the school and teachers pay for, and, of course, good ol’ Google.  This aspect was one of the hardest for me to get used to by far.  I have always taught from a text.  This resource-driven way of teaching certainly allows for more individual creativity for teachers in forming lessons, but as a new teacher, it was difficult to navigate myself through all the resources that were available to help teach the benchmarks.  Another benefit to this type of teaching is the flexibility to teach all subjects across the curriculum – interdisciplinary learning is a key element in the curriculum, which I have found really enjoyable! (see below for links to various resources)

Trips

Another thing that I have found quite enjoyable is the focus on experiences for pupils – trips and hands on learning is very encouraged, and living in a city like Edinburgh there are loads of opportunities for

Image result for international festival edinburgh hub
‘The Hub’ – Headquarters for the Edinburgh International Festival

free activities (all museums are free to the public)! For most trips, classes will use the public bus system, which also helps keep costs down.  There are also a lot of opportunities to take walking trips as well.  In my short 5 months of teaching Primary 7 (aka 6th grade), my class got to travel to Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory during our WW2 study, we walked to the local park twice for outdoor learning activities and a picnic lunch, had 6 weeks of Tennis lessons for PE at Abercorn Sports Club (a short 15 min walk from school), a trip to ‘The Hub’ to participate in an activity put on by the Edinburgh International Festival, and a trip to the Risk Factory during our topic of health and safety.

 

Bilingual Education – French

Scotland, as previously mentioned, has a very diverse population of learning from all over since it is still part of the EU; so it makes perfect sense for there to be English language support and also an element of bilingual education – which I absolutely LOVE! Most schools have a French specialist (in the same way they have a PE and Music specialist) that come in once a week to teach French (and some primary schools even do a bit of German). Finally, I’ve been able to put my petite amount of French that I had learned in High School to good use (although I still regret not knowing Spanish a little bit). I can only imagine what my language skills and opportunities would be today had I started learning another language from Kindergarten.

Other Aspects of the Curriculum

A few other things that I thought I’d mention that are incorporated into the Curriculum for Excellence here in Scotland are the subjects of Health and Wellbeing (HWB) and Religious and Moral Education (RME).  HWB not only covers your typical topics of health (diet, exercise, drugs & alcohol, sex ed, etc) but also covers topics such as peer relationships, problem solving, and life skills.  RME is similar in that teachers can discuss basic moral principles.  RME also allows teachers to discuss religious holidays and practices– which covers not just Christian education but also other world religions.

Other Aspects of School Culture worth mentioning

Assemblies – Schools have assemblies every week.  At my school, assemblies occur every Friday – usually split into lower school (P1-3) and upper school (p4-7) with the occasional all school assembly.  Assemblies serve as a way for classes to present what they are learning to the whole school, a way for the Head teacher/Deputy Head to have face time with pupils, discuss new school focuses, policies and events, and, of course, to celebrate anything great happening at the school or with individual pupils.  In most high schools, assemblies are held every day with a different year group attending each day.

Political Awareness – I’ve never met so many young people interested and knowledgeable as toImage result for bbc newsround what is going on around the world and in their own country!  The conversations I have had with pupils (especially all their questions about President Trump!) is mind blowing, in a great way!  One way that many schools promote these conversations is by watching BBC’s Newsround, every day. Newsround is a short (c. 6 min) update for kids that airs twice a day covering world and UK news. Our kids often bring up Newsround topics and want to discuss them at the dinner table (lucky for me, I know what they are talking about because I watched the same episode with my class as well.)

Golden Time – Golden time is an all school reward system that most schools use here.  For my school, it occurs every Friday for 30 min. All pupils are rewarded Golden time at the beginning of the week; however, depending on their behavior, they can lose Golden Time as the week progresses. I have to admit that as an American teacher, I felt that Golden Time was a big ‘waste of time’ when I first started, but I’ve seen the effect that having Golden Time has had on my own kids (something for them to work towards each week) and am slowly changing my feelings towards the reward system.

Half day Fridays – yup, every Friday is a half day! This is a bit inconvenient for working parents, but it makes for a great start to your weekend!

 

Like I said, there is so much to compare and discuss when it comes to the differences between the American and Scottish ways of teaching, but I thought these were great starting points.  Please feel free to comment below if you have any further questions or thoughts about this new way of teaching I’m working through.

-Leah

 

Teaching In Scotland

After months of waiting to become a registered teacher in Scotland, I am not only proud to announce that I received my clearance for registration, but last week I landed myself a teaching job as well! I am beyond thrilled and so excited to start this new adventures!  I was offered an 18 month temporary contract (which is a very common offer here in Scotland) while the current teacher is doing an 18 month Secondment.

I will be starting my post on 30 January teaching Primary 7 (US equivalent to 6th grade) at Royal High Primary School.  One common teaching practice for primary teachers here in Scotland is for teachers to change stage levels (aka grade levels) every year. So, next year I will be assigned a different stage, but I am so happy to be starting off in Primary 7 (P7) as I love working with older students.

Royal High Primary School

I also feel so fortunate because I have been able to be in contact with the Head Teacher (aka Principle), current P7 teacher that I’m replacing, and the other P7 teacher (called my stage partner) while awaiting my first day.  The head teacher has been so encouraging towards me and has eased many of my insecurities regarding coming into the Scottish school system.  This week I am tying up loose ends at my current job as I prepare to transition out, all while communicating and planning meetings with those from my new job to ensure a smooth transition.

Royal High Primary School

An added bonus to this job is that Royal High Primary is located only a short 1.7miles from home (approx. 35min walk), as opposed to my current job which is 2.3 miles (50min walk) away.  I will also be getting off of work the same time as my kids get off school, so I will be getting home much earlier than I am now.  And lastly, but certainly not least, I will be making more money!

Royal High Primary School

I feel so fortunate to have been offered this post! I also feel so grateful for the time that I’ve been able to work and serve on staff at Broughton High School as a school support assistant (SSA).  My time as an SSA has afforded me so many great conversations and insights into the Scottish school system, and I have received loads of support from the staff regarding my pursuit to teach and interview for teaching jobs.

Cheers to a new year!

Leah

Trying to Teach

As Mark previous mentioned in our Summer Is Here blog, I thought I’d write a little update about my process of looking for a job.

gtc247_380When Mark and I were preparing for this journey across the Atlantic, we had decided that I would take a year off of working to help situate our kids into our new life in Scotland, all while applying for registration with the General Teaching Council of Scotland (GTCS), with the hope of being registered and ready to teach/supply teach (substitute teach) by fall of 2016. Well, the registration process with GTCS has been anything but speedy!

To sum up this process, let me just say that hindsight is 20/20, and if I could go back and start things sooner, I would! But, for now, I live in the present and have to wait.

So let me now explain my process (with the hope that this post might help some other California teacher pursue teaching in Scotland!)

Substitute/Supply Teaching

Unlike in California, in order to substitute teach (or supply teach, as they call it in the UK), you have to be fully certified and registered with GTCS. In CA, all you need to substitute teach is 90 semester units at university under your belt and to pass a test (called the CBEST). However, due to the amazing maternity benefits this country offers, many supply positions are long-term jobs, sometimes upwards of a year; so, it makes sense that they want supply teachers to be highly qualified. Unfortunately for me, this means that substitute teaching is not an option until I complete registration.

Registration Process

I started filling out my registration paperwork in December 2015. All was going well until I hit the part of the paperwork that required a police certificate from my country. Although I am cleared to work full time in the UK through my visa, GTCS needed this certificate, which required me to get finger printed and all my info sent into the United States FBI. My first issue with this step was that there is literally only ONE person in all of Edinburgh (the capital of the country mind you) that does official fingerprints, and he lives about a 45 min bus ride away. So after setting up my appointment, getting finger printed, and mailing in my prints, the wait time with the FBI was estimated to be 13-15 weeks! Needless to say, I got my police certificate back in April 2016! Hindsight: If only I would have done this before we left the states; (1) it would’ve been a lot cheaper (it cost me £70 – roughly $100) to get my prints done, and (2) I could’ve submitted my completed application much sooner.

So, with my fingerprints in hand, I officially submitted my application to GTCS in April! However, a week later part of my application was returned because they needed more information…

In Scotland the grade levels are labeled a bit different from CA. For example, when Penelope started school this past year in October 2015 she was 5 years old and she started P1 (primary 1), which is equivalent to Kindergarten in the states.   This school year she is in P2 (primary 2), which would be labeled as 1st grade in the states. There is also no “middle school” or “junior high” here. There is only two school levels – primary and secondary/high school. Things get a lot more confusing when it comes to labeling levels in secondary school, and I’m still trying to figure it out, so we will just leave that conversation for another day.

In California I have a K-12 Multiple Subject Credential, but that label does not necessarily translate in terms that are relevant to the Scots system, so GTCS asked me to get a formal letter from my university explaining in detail what ages, not grades levels, I am certified to teach and the details on the subject matters in which I am qualified. The letter took a few weeks to get completed after a few timed out conversations with my university and GTCS (which I am incredibly grateful to the time and effort made by National University’s credential office!), and I have to say, that after reading the details of the letter from NU, I was pleasantly surprised to see all that I was qualified to teach!

So where am I at in the process now, you may be asking?

After submitting all of the new information from NU, I was finally contacted that my application was under review on 19 Aug! However, although I was ecstatic to receive this email, with the email came more requests for information. The council informed me that although I have a teaching “credential” from the state of California, they are more concerned with the course work that I studied and not the certificates that I have earned…which I completely understand. So they requested detailed course descriptions and syllabi of some of my specific courses. Again, National University pulled through for me! After multiple phone calls, conference calls, and working with various departments and professors, I sent off the official letters to GTCS this morning (5 Sept)!

So the waiting resumes…

But in the mean time what are we going to do to generate income?

Because our timeline has been prolonged, I have not been able to jump into the teaching game as soon as we had hoped. We budgeted for my year off of work, but our first year abroad has come to a close (12 Sept). So, while I have been waiting and working with GTCS, I have also been tirelessly pursing a job that does not require registration (this effort deserves a blog of it’s own!); however, I am happy to announce that I was offered a position as a School Support Assistant at Broughton High School. This job entails working 34 hours a week in a variety of areas within the school: reception, attendance, administration, welfare (first aid), helping students and parents, and anything the staff needs. Although this is not a teaching post, I am very excited to be in a school, working around staff and students, and getting to know the school system a bit better. I have also been afforded a tutoring opportunity with Kip McGrath, a private tutoring company that focuses on math and English. As of right now I am tutoring a class of my own on Wednesdays and covering other classes as needed.

Because Mark has a some-what flexible study schedule, he will be able to walk the kids to and from school and take care of Markie during the day after he is finished with nursery. We are still trying to work out all the logistics, but we are feeling hopeful. Our needs are being provided for, and I am on my way to being able to teach in Scotland.

Image result for broughton high school edinburgh

Birth Pangs

Leah and I have a pattern. Beginning nearly six years ago, we happened to birth a baby at every new stage of my education. In each case, both kids were born just one week before classes started (who cares, you don’t need sleep in a Masters program!). For the nine months prior to our move to Edinburgh we were certain that Leah was going to get pregnant or just have a miracle baby a week or so before I matriculated.

Leah pushing out babies.
Leah pushing out babies.

Though we didn’t have an actual baby, something else was birthed in our lives…my dissertation (they call it a “thesis” in the UK). The UK PhD system is beautiful for those who are ready to move directly into the writing process and avoid two more years of classes. This seemed the better option for me considering I had to rectify my teenage screw-ups by taking years of community college courses. In any case, the average U.S. PhD in Religious Studies / Biblical Studies is completed within 6-7 years whereas in the UK the program is designed for completion within 3-4 years. The UK has a high expectation of readiness for language skills in the field of biblical studies—typically, incoming students are required to have strong proficiency in Greek and Hebrew, and a healthy level of scholarly German, French, and Latin (or another biblical language) along with strong writing skills. During the application process I had to present a dissertation proposal along with my plan to execute that project. In the U.S., this part of the project is done only after the second year of classes are completed. So, to say that I hit the ground running when we got here is an understatement.

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One of Mark’s translation projects.

The project has in many ways been like a baby, needing my full attention and nurturing as I bring her to maturation. She has changed, and has changed me, so much in the six short months that she has been alive; and she continues to grow stronger and healthier each day. She regularly causes me to lose sleep, consuming my mind and testing my patience. However, I wouldn’t change my situation for anything. Over the next month, I will be wrapping up my first completed chapter and preparing for my boards (May 31st), where I will stand before five notable scholars to explain and defend my thesis (sweating bullets I’m sure!). This process is not an intimidation tactic, but rather a way to assess the student’s progress and to make sure the school is providing them the best representation possible (or so they say). My project, for example, has shifted so much attention to Roman Studies (Classics) and Numismatics (study of coins) that I may need to double dip by getting a secondary supervisor in Classics as well as Biblical Studies. This will be brought up at my evaluation and the board will help decide the best course of action. Still, a PhD student can fail the process and be recommended to change or rewrite their thesis (worst case scenario). So, the heat is still on and it is important to perform well. Therefore, over the next few weeks I will continue to strengthen my arguments and tidy up my languages. Though this process has been quite difficult I am thankful for this opportunity and look forward to watching my new baby develop into something beautiful.

In the next blog, I will elaborate more on my project and discuss some exciting opportunities I have coming up this summer.

Six Months In….What We Not-So Love

As with anything there are two sides to the equation. In our last blog I wrote about some of the things we really LOVE about our new city and new life. But, not everything is always rosy. So, we thought we’d also go through a list of some of the things we not-so love about our new home. Enjoy!

We NOT-SO LOVE…

Our regular walk up Calton Hill, which leads to a spectacular view.
Our regular walk up Calton Hill, which leads to a spectacular view.

 

Walking – Although walking has amazing health benefits, it does fail when trying to get to places in a timely fashion. Walking requires much more planning and timing, which can be difficult when you have small children and things don’t always go according to plan. Also, with small children come little legs, which can’t endure as much walking as adults. We brought our sit-n-stand stroller (or buggy) from the states, but the wheels are not fit for cobblestone or the rough roads.

 

See the COBBLESTONE?!?!
See the COBBLESTONE?!?!

 

We’ve thought about buying a single buggy for the boy, but the cost is just not in our price range. The buggies here are insanely durable, constructed from kryptonite and Schwarzenegger’s sweat (to take on those cobblestones from hell!), rather than our cheap plastic California stroller. So, for now, we’ve chosen to invest our money in warm jackets, gloves, hats, and better footwear. Walking in rain hasn’t been too burdensome, but at times the wind is uncomfortably chilly and the ice is slippery, which is never any fun, but we are doing our best to trudge on.

 

Penelope on our daily walk.
Penelope on our daily walk.

 

Public Transportation – Although a great, faster (and warmer) alternative to walking, public transit still has its time constraints. A trip that could take 15 minutes in the car, may take 30 minutes and transferring between multiple buses. Again, it calls for greater planning, but most people sympathize when you are late somewhere due to bus delays since the system is used by so many.

 

Waiting at the bus stop...Penelope is so bored.
Waiting at the bus stop…Penelope is so bored.

 

Smoking – Everywhere you go the ever so disagreeable smell of cigarette (and sometimes something else) smoke graces your nostrils. With Mark’s asthma, this is especially frustrating and irritating. Before we left California, I remember Mark and I having a specific conversation about how it was such an oddity to see someone smoking in public. Not any more! It’s everywhere! I think the most frustrating situation is when someone is smoking at the bus stop or in front of a building entrance. There are no-smoking signs everywhere, so some folks will generously step aside, yet forgetting that the ever so gusty wind doesn’t care. End of rant.,,,

 

Lacking a Dryer – I have never liked air-drying clothes and have never had the need to do so unless the tag on my sweater called for it (and even then sometimes I didn’t listen). However, long are the days gone now when I would throw my clothes into the dryer to get them warm before I’d put them on or to freshen them up. Long are the days gone when after I washed a pair of pants they would shrink back up to their original size again and fit like new. Air-drying is the way of life now. No washing and wearing on the same day anymore, another task that causes more planning and thinking ahead. On the bright side, our electric bill is probably lower and our home smells of fresh laundry constantly (two things I don’t hate).

 

The Weather – This California girl misses the sunshine. Although the sun has been saying hello more now as of late, it is still not the same. Even though California is craving the rain (and soaking up the rain it has been receiving lately), I miss having more dry days than wet – especially when it comes to being able to play at the park. Also, the lack of sunlight effects the good ol’ production of Vitamin D. SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a real problem that presents itself, and we’ve been doing what we can to increase our vitamin intake and exposure to sun, but some days you just want to stay in bed, cuddle up, and watch Netflix all day. Motivation is a struggle as well, but our daily routine of taking the kids to school must go on. Mark must research, even if it’s in his pajamas on the couch!

 

 

So, with all that said, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the Atlantic pond, but we are learning to adjust, anticipating the spring, and are embracing the simple things of a slower paced life.

Six Months In….What We Love

When you embark on a new journey, it is typical to do pre-research to prepare yourself for what you are about to encounter. Before moving to Edinburgh Mark spent countless hours on blog sites (it’s amazing the things people blog about!) trying to prepare our family for our new home in Edinburgh. Now that we’ve been here for roughly 6 months, I thought I’d throw together a little list of the things we love (so far) about our new home and city. Enjoy!

We LOVE…

Walking – When we moved we did not bring our car with us. And, if you remember from our arrival story, driving here was not our best experience! So we’ve embraced the life of walking. Recently both Mark and I downloaded the Pacer App on our phones to start tracking our steps. We shoot for 10,000 steps a day. With our five-story stair climb and three walks to and from the kids’ school a day, we’ve found that hitting 6-7,000 steps is easy to do just by walking our way through our daily routine.  On the weekends we have been trying to take some walking adventures; some Saturdays that may just be a walk into town to go to the store, or Penelope’s favorite walking place – Calton Hill.   We also walk to church on Sundays (about a mile away), which takes us roughly 20-30 minutes because we often detour through London Road Gardens.

Our family on a treasure hunt at the London Gardens.

Public Transportation – On the same note, when we can’t or don’t want to walk, the public transit is great! With a very helpful app, it is so easy to navigate our way through the city. A few weeks ago we decided to take the tram just to see where we ended up, and low and behold we found the Saughton Skatepark. We also stumbled upon a great shopping center and found some much needed items at great prices. Our kids love the bus (much more than walking!) and get so excited when we tell them we are going for a ride.

History & Culture – Everywhere you go you will find some sort of monument or homage being paid to someone. I think I’ve spent more time on Wikipedia and Google since we’ve been here than I ever have before. The other day we found out the building we live in was built in the 1890s, Penelope and Markie’s school is the second oldest working primary school in Edinburgh, and Mark found out that one of his peers lives in the former flat of J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan. The stairs in our building are very worn in the middle of each step, and it’s hard not to think about all the people who walked up and down these stairs before us each time we walk them.

 

The kids hanging out at Calton Hill with their Aunt Hannah.
The kids hanging out at Calton Hill with their Aunt Hannah.

 

National Healthcare System (NHS) – With Mark’s Diabetes and Asthma, healthcare bills are something that have always been a part of our lives. Even with the good insurance we had before we left the states, we had been paying upwards of $5000 a year in deductibles, prescriptions, and co-pays. When we applied for our visa we were charged $1000 to pay into NHS for all four of us for four years! This was peanuts compared to what we were used to paying annually. So, like many who are skeptical of National healthcare, we were curious what kind of service was going to greet us. We have been amazed! Our Surgery Center (or GP’s office) is just up the road, and we have never had to wait more than 5 minutes – if that – when we have a scheduled appointment. We’ve had a few urgent care situations in which we were seen either the day of (within a few hours) or the next morning depending on the problem. Mark has already been referred to a specialist at the University of Edinburgh – one of the leading universities in medical studies. Also, all prescriptions are paid for through NHS, so you walk in, give them your script, and walk out with your meds in roughly 10 mins! I never realized how my awareness of medical fees was engrained in me until I got sick a month ago and waited as long as I could bare it before making an appointment. Mark had to remind me that through NHS that burden was something we no longer had to bare. (Unfortunately, we still have a few medical bills beckoning our attention back in the States from when Markie took a spill down the stairs weeks before we moved!)

These are just a few of the many things we love about city we now call home. There are many more facets that would make this blog terribly long, but as you continue to follow our journey we will continue to share all our new experiences with you.

Ho-Ho-Ho’s At The Lamas House

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM THE LAMAS’S

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The Lamas family has, for the first time, experienced Christmas in a foreign land, and without family or friends to celebrate the occasion. Every year during Christmas we would make the rounds to our parents’ houses. Because of our families situations, we had four to five places to go in under 48-hours with everyone vying for our time. This was often a stressful season for our family, but to say we’ve missed our families (even in light of the holiday stresses) this Christmas is an understatement. Thankfully, Leah and I have found a new joy in one another and our kids. We have loved the prospect of forging our own traditions as we mix things up from the past.

IMG_0703Unlike back home, our family uses the city bus system to get around. In most cases, I love using this system, which has alleviated much unnecessary stress from my life. Though, at times, there are drawbacks, and Christmas was no exception. Typically, I’d borrow a truck or strap a Christmas tree onto my Prius, but Edinburgh didn’t afford such luxury. Not only were we without a vehicle, but we were also not familiar enough with our neighborhood to track down a Christmas tree lot. Luckily, as we were out for our daily stroll, we stumbled across a small storefront, a little more than a mile awayIMG_0957 from our flat, which had Christmas trees for sale. Their selection was slim and the trees were small, but they were perfect for our 2-bedroom flat. We decided to get a 5-foot tree (opting out of the Charlie Brown size) that would fit in our foyer. However, as I said before, we had no car—and the bus doesn’t run from the store to our flat—and the only option was for me to carry the tree home. The trek back wasn’t fun, but after twenty-five minutes of stop and go we made it back. That night we dressed the tree with lights and ornaments, snuggled up, and drank some hot chocolate. The kids had a blast as we forged ahead, determined to make new memories.

IMG_0960Family members wereIMG_0961 itching to figure out the best route to send gifts to Markie and Penelope. Unfortunately, the post office is VERY expensive and most US retailers won’t ship to the UK without astronomical charges for shipping. Ultimately, it worked out where family members were able to put money into our American bank account so we could purchase gifts on their behalf. Though, it’s not the same, the kids still loved their gifts!

IMG_0874Also, Leah and I decided to get the kids fewer gifts than normal and invest the money from family into making more memories. Fortunately for us, living in the UK allows for affordable access to nearly all of Europe. So, for under $500, we were able to book a 5-day trip to Italy (4 people including flight and hotel costs!!). Leah and I thought building memories around the world would be a wonderful and lasting gift for our little family. We are looking forward to that trip at the end of February, and will be sure to share our experiences. IMG_0941Additionally, we gifted the kids with a year membership to the Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park (after two trips the membership pays for itself). So, on Christmas Eve we decided to visit the Zoo, and the kids fell in love. The zoo offered a full gamut of animals, and it was clean to boot. We are excited about the memories to be created, and we are thankful for family who gifted us and made it possible. We hope all our friends and family had a wonderful holiday as we certainly did.

 

Here’s a few more photos:

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Bah-Humbug

Leah and I are not a sentimental people. We don’t care much for extravagant birthdays or anniversaries, and we are especially disinterested in the hoopla of the holidays. I never installed Christmas lights on our house and we’ve never had a real Christmas tree. Only since Mark and Penelope were born have we begun to dabble in the Christmas spirit, but only menially. So, to our surprise, the city of Edinburgh began to erect a Christmas village in the center of town shortly after Halloween.

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Here, unlike America, Thanksgiving and Christmas don’t have to compete for airtime. It is Christmas 24/7 from November –December. The city goes all out; boasting a Ferris wheel that stretches to the sky, hundreds of vendors, two ice rinks, multiple kid’s carnivals, regular fireworks, and scores of live bands, dramas, and plays…and so much more! The smell of sizzling bratwursts, crepes, and Belgium hot chocolate are enough to bring a grown man to tears, how much more a child?! Since November, Christmas town has become a regular stop for our family, as the explorations seem endless—and our kids are enamored with the spectacle each time. We’ve come to love that our city is plastered with lights and marks of the Christmas spirit, a spirit that has helped mitigate some of our “bah-humbug” ethos (Dickens would be proud!). Though we miss friends and family, and wish we could share this experience, we have fallen in love with the liveliness of Edinburgh, and their enthusiastic attitude towards the Christmas season! Please, enjoy some of the photos and video attached below.

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Planes, Buses, and Automobiles

The adventure has started…

So much has happened over the last week that it is almost overwhelming thinking about where to start.

The Flight:

Our flight from LAX to London ended up only being 9 ½ hours (we were told it would be 10 ½!). Our flight left LA at 9:45pm Pacific Time, and we landed around 3:30pm European Time (7:30am Pacific Time). Both kids slept most of the trip, but we… did not!

Lesson learned: never underestimate the value of the neck pillow!

We stayed at the airport hotel for two nights, and we are so glad we did! We were allowed double the luggage on our LA flight, so we had to ship 4 of our bags via post while we were in London. This was so great because it made our check-in process so much easier than it was the first time (see picture! – it was as awful as it looks!)

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Us before check in at LAX: 3 luggage carts, 15 bags, 1 bike, and a double stroller!

Our second flight from London to Edinburgh was about an hour and the kids loved their little travel kits that they got from many of those who attended their birthday party before we left (thanks again!!).

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Arriving in Edinburgh:

This day was CRAZY! We landed around 10am, then we rented a car – big mistake!! So stressful! Mark drove, on the left side of the road and the right side of the car.

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Our first stop – McDonalds! We were starving and it was right by the airport. Next, we got SO lost! We didn’t have GPS because we couldn’t access our data on our phones, so we stopped at a literal castle (Craigmillar Castle) to get directions.

Not a terrible place to get lost!
Not a terrible place to get lost!

At the gift shop, there were two ladies that looked up directions for us and spent quite a bit of time explaining them to us, and, when all was said and done, they gave us a small atlas that we’re supposed to return to them sometimes in the next 3 years (Ha!). After we left the home of Mary Queen of Scots, we got lost again and ended up stumbling upon Mark’s school, New College, (another castle looking building) and he was able to get directions from the computer (not exactly the way he would first experience stepping on to campus). Then we, finally, got to our place and unloaded. We were exhausted and cranky to say the least. However, after driving around aimlessly trying to find our place, we then found ourselves driving around to find parking (which there was none!). SO … we decided to just go back to the airport (with the help of my atlas) and returned the car, give up on driving forever, and took a taxi back to our place. Kids slept the whole time until we had to get them out of the rental to catch the Taxi.

Lesson Learned: Never drive again the entire time we are here! Mark ended up telling his supervisor about our chaos driving; her response, “I’ve lived here 15 years and have never driven here!”

So how do we get around?

The Bus System:

Lothian busThe bus system is very well organized here. However, it did take us getting lost a few times, missing stops, and missing buses to begin to figure out the system. Mark got his cell phone service activated on day 2 here in the city, and the first thing we did was download the Lothian Bus mobile app, which is SO helpful! The kids are also loving taking the bus (especially because it means they don’t have to walk!), and their favorite place to sit is on the top deck, so they can see the city as we drive around.

Speaking of cell service…

 

Phones:

Here in the UK you need crazy good credit in order to sign a contract with a cell phone provider. Because of this, most people here just purchase monthly service which runs around £25 (approx. $39) per phone – this includes a data plan. Mark was able to set up his phone and get a UK number, but unfortunately my phone is still locked up through AT&T – who told us it would be no problem to unlock online.

Lesson Learned: always go into the AT&T store to do anything!

Unfortunately, we don’t have the option now to go into the store, so we are still waiting on this process, which hopefully will be cleared up in a week.

Until then, Leah does have access to her phone using Wifi. The best way we’ve been communicating with our friends and family WhatsAppfrom the US is through WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, both which are free!

Through WhatsApp we can call and text. Through Facebook Messenger we can call, message (text), and video chat. We encourage anyone to message us through either application! We love hearing from our friends FB Messengerand family! We have an 8 hour time difference, so just remember to mark it down on your world clock, or here’s a few ways to think about it:

Noon in California is 8pm in Scotland (we go to bed around 10 or 11pm)

Midnight in California is 8am in Scotland (we tend to wake up around 6 or 7am)

So feel free to contact us first thing when you wake up in the morning, at your lunch break, or, for you night owls, right before you go to bed (after 10pm).

Weather Report:

We have been greeted by this city with the most beautiful weather!

University of Edinburgh Old College
University of Edinburgh Old College

It has been in the high 50’s – low 60’s – Fahrenheit that is – with only a few sprinkles of rain.

"Mark texted me this picture while on the bus home on his first day of orientation" - Leah
“Mark texted me this picture while on the bus home on his first day of orientation” – Leah

The biggest shock was on Mark’s first day of school when there was a random downpour on his walk home.

Lesson Learned: always check the forecast in the morning even if it looks sunny outside. Next purchase is to be umbrellas!

 

Housing Updated: We finally found a place to live! We move in October 1st, so stay tuned into the blog for all the details!

 

Grace and Peace,

Mark and Leah