The Meagher family at Christmas time in Scotland.

The Meagher family in Scotland.

When I was six years old I boarded a flight destined for Edinburgh, Scotland. My family (all of whom are American) and I were moving there from New Jersey, where I was born.

I went to school in the capital city, Edinburgh, but my family lived in a beautiful big old house out in the countryside. Like, sheep blocking the roads and not even on Google Street View level of rural. The overgrown sprawling garden seemed magical to me, and one part was even surrounded by old stone walls like The Secret Garden. Further afield (hah!), I went on family walks all over the beautiful Scottish highlands, with dramatic scenery so different from New Jersey. Something which really impacted me was just how old everything was. Castles and standing stones were the coolest thing ever, and I loved exploring ruins. It felt like I was rediscovering the past. The majority of my girlhood memories take place in Scotland (though I did visit family in America often).

I Skyped my mom to help me get some inspiration for specific stories about moving. One anecdote she remembered which I didn’t was in my first year there (primary 3, aged 7/8) when one day I was having trouble with my reading homework. Childhood me read all the time, so my mom was very surprised that I was having trouble. When she came to look at what I was trying to read, it was a poem in Auld Scots, probably by Robbie Burns. Here’s an idea of what Scots poems look like for any of you who haven’t seen it:

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!

Anyway, it made sense that I didn’t get it right away.

Looking back I might have been reading it because in primary school, in the lead up to the annual holiday Burns Night, there was a poetry recital competition in every class. Needless to say, I never got very far in those.

But, my ability to understand heavy Scottish regional dialects and slang has improved, you’ll be happy to hear. Just last week I did a quiz online entitled “How well do you speak Scottish twitter?” and I nailed it, 12 outta 12, baby!

To this day I love exploring, and remain fascinated by language and how it is woven into culture. Maybe this experience of learning English/Auld Scots helped prepare me for teaching English in Hong Kong today. Let’s hope so, anyway!

-Jessica Meagher
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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