(Uist Community Paper)
February 2001, Louise Cook
CHILDHOOD DREAMS COME TRUE FOR AMERICAN STUDENTS
Two students from the United States of America are fulfilling childhood dreams by studying Gaelic in Uist.
Caroline Root, from Boulder in Colorado, and Geoff Frasier, from Portland in Oregon, are studying on the new Gaelic music and language course offered at Colaisde Bheinn na Faoghla.
Caroline, aged 20, first became interested in Gaelic culture when she was 12 after seeing Celtic knot work. Geoff, aged 28, learned about the Gaelic language from a book when he was 8 or 9. He started to teach himself the language at the age of 13 after finding a ‘Teach Yourself Gaelic’ book at a bookstore.
Both students have Scottish ancestry although it is quite remote at five or six generations. Geoff’s family celebrate their Scottish roots by attending Highland Games in the States along with other family members and his father always wears a kilt at Christmas.
Caroline’s interest in Gaelic increased as she grew older and she attended Gaelic classes in her hometown for around a year prior to moving to Uist.
In Boulder, Caroline was working in a grocery store and trying to save money to travel or study. She had considered a course offered at Inverness College that was mainly language based, but then she learned about the Uist course through a friend at her Gaelic classes. As she discovered more about the Uist based course she felt she was more interested in the music and singing aspect of the course. For a short while, at the age of 11, Caroline started to learn the violin and now is developing her skills on the fiddle.
For Caroline, one of the most interesting and enjoyable aspects of the course is learning the connections between the songs, the people who wrote them and the islands.
The huge difference in the weather and population between Caroline’s home town, a very busy city which is often in the 90s, and Uist does not really bother Caroline. She prepared herself for a year of wind and rain in Uist but has discovered that it’s not as bad as she first thought. However, with no car, any notion Caroline had of getting a bike to travel around was quickly abandoned!
The pace of island life suits Caroline, who has always enjoyed camping trips to remote areas of the Rockies. She is also enjoying being closer to the sea, as Boulder is three days drive from the coast.
Caroline is interested in languages and can speak French and Spanish. She has been trying to persuade her mother to learn a little Gaelic but says her father is not interested in language and cannot be persuaded.
Geoff is very involved with Gaelic language and culture in his hometown and he is the leader of the Portland Gaelic study group. He comes from a long line of Frasiers and his Scottish ancestry is very important to him. The Highland Games in Portland and Seattle are huge events and there are lots of people with an interest in, but very little knowledge of, their Scottish or Island roots, said Geoff.
Geoff had a basic fluency and could communicate in Gaelic prior to starting on the course. He has also been playing the chanter for 4 years and the pipes for the last one and a half years. The course has made him realise how much more there is still to learn. His local university in Oregon is developing a course in Celtic Studies, which he is hoping to be involved with on his return.
Music is a big part of Geoff’s life. He has attended, and really enjoyed, Ceòlas for the last two years. His first trip over to the islands was in 1998, when he went to Barra for one week. He recalls the feeling of standing on the deserted pier in Castlebay after the ferry had left and all he could hear was sheep in a nearby field and wondering what on earth he doing there! But he thorougly enjoyed his holiday.
Geoff, who already has a degree in Philosophy and Psychology, was asked by people in Glasgow “Why on earth learn Gaelic?”. Meanwhile, Caroline was told by acquaintances, “Oh, you don’t want to go there!” However, both students have found everyone in Uist very generous and considerate toward them, telling them about local landmarks and events that they may wish to go to, as well as being willing to talk and take the time to listen and be patient when they are talking in Gaelic.
Geoff’s hopes for the future are to be able to earn a living from his music. He has played in bands and would like to be involved in music therapy. He will be staying here for Ceòlas this year. Meanwhile, Caroline is unable to attend the summer school as she will be returning home for the birth of a little niece or nephew.