Clichéd it may seem … but dreams can come true! Armidale lass Hayley Whitehill is currently enjoying being a part of the Round Square International Exchange Program in the “land of the brave”. Both a Highland Dancer and a bagpiper, it’s long been Hayley’s wish to visit Scotland, and she was very excited to share the experience with us …
Hi Hayley. Please tell us a little bit about yourself …
Hi Jo. I’m 15 years old. I was born in Armidale and live with my mum, dad and little brother Blake, who is nearly 11. Both Blake and I attend The Armidale School (TAS) and this year I will commence Year 10.
You’re a Highland Dancer, and you also play the bagpipes! How old were you when you first started these activities?
I started Highland Dancing in 2010, when I was just seven. Since that time, I have had weekly dance lessons, performed at numerous events, participated in workshops and completed exams. I have enjoyed a very successful and busy dance career thus far, at both social and competitive levels.
Competitive dancing is a big commitment and requires a lot of travel. I have danced as far north as Townsville to as far south as Melbourne and everywhere in between. One day I hope to get the opportunity to compete overseas in Scotland. To dance at The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is definitely a goal of mine.
Bagpipes are an essential part of Highland Dancing and because I am also a musician, I was keen to learn to play the bagpipes. You don’t see too many, but Highland Dancers make great pipers – it’s all about the tempo!
Whilst dancing at the Aberdeen Highland Gathering in 2015, I purchased my first practice chanter from St Kilda. Twelve months later, Mum and Dad bought me my precious McCallum pipes.
I have already enjoyed some amazing experiences with my piping and have competed at both solo and pipe band level. I do envisage that at some stage, I will play at the World Piping Championships in Scotland. To pipe as part of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is also a goal of mine.
Where do you think your love of “all things Scottish” stems from?
My love for all things Scottish is very unique. However, my mum was a Highland Dancer and my nan is to thank for my desire to dance. My great grandfather played the bagpipes, and my brother Blake is now learning the snare drum. With Buchan family history, it is definitely in my blood, and this gives me great incentive and a good reason to follow my Scottish dreams.
You’re actually communicating with me from bonnie Scotland right now, as you’re taking part in the Round Square International Exchange Program. How long will you get to spend overseas, and where are you staying?
A big HELLO to all of my family and friends in Armidale! I left our glorious summer early and flew into the UK on Monday 7th January, just in time to start the Spring Term at Gordounstoun School in Scotland. Gordounstoun is one of the leading full boarding schools in the UK, set within the beautiful Moray countryside.
I’m currently on exchange through the Round Square Program, boarding at Gordonstoun with some twenty other Year 10 students from all over the world. I have made friends from Canada, Russia, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Dubai, just to name a few. I believe the school has a culturally diverse community of students from over forty nationalities.
Round Square is a world-wide association of 190 schools that all share the same ethos of teaching social responsibility, as well as academic excellence. Being able to attend Gordonstoun School in Scotland is the heart and purpose of my exchange. I am extremely fortunate to be at a school where I can participate in their culture and do what I love best – dancing and piping.
Founded in 1934, the historic buildings at Gordonstoun have a real “Hogwarts-like” feeling and are complemented by a state-of-the-art Sports Centre and a Performing Arts Theatre. I am studying dance, I am having private piping tuition and I am looking forward to playing and competing with the Gordonstoun School Pipe Band.
As we speak, I am enjoying the mid-term break, staying with my host family in Dundee. The school term finishes on the 29th March, and then I hope to spend a little more time here exploring the UK before returning back to Australia at the end of April.
What have been some of your favourite experiences during your exchange so far?
In defiance of the seasonal temperature and short days, Scotland is historically beautiful, and I’ve enjoyed walking across a fresh blanket of snow for the very first time.
Our first exchange excursion was to Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands, with a visit to the magnificent Urquhart Castle. The ruins of the castle provided a glimpse of medieval life and although the view over Loch Ness was stunning, unfortunately “Nessie” was not sighted on this day.
Windmill is my boarding house at Gordonstoun, and we have lots of interhouse sporting competitions and social nights. I felt right at home at the Burns Night Ceilidh, with lots of dancing and a taste of haggis for the first time. Outdoor education is a huge part of the Gordonstoun ethos, and seamanship was an interesting but freezing introduction to sailing on the Moray Firth.
My host family have taken me to Edinburgh and St Andrews, and we plan to do some countryside hiking. I’m going to Highland Hustle tomorrow, so maybe we can all be hustling in Armidale by the end of the year. I am looking forward to returning to Gordonstoun for a jammed pack second half of term.
What have you found out about Scotland/Scottish people that you didn’t know before you left Australia?
I’ve discovered that Scotland is not a huge country, and to travel from one place to another is so much quicker than in Australia. We travelled to Edinburgh by bus for one netball game, and all was achievable in one day!
Scottish people are just adorable, and I wish to stay long enough to acquire that admirable accent.
What do you hope to take away/learn from the whole exchange experience?
It’s fair to say that I’m loving Scotland and having an amazing time. From my exchange experience, I hope to embrace and learn from the diversity that our world has to offer. I’ll cherish the worldwide friendships I’ve made here in Scotland.
I can highly recommend to my friends and other students that if ever they are given the opportunity to go on international exchange, just do it.
I sincerely thank my parents for financially giving me this life changing experience and for everyone else in Australia and Scotland who have encouraged and supported me leading up to and during my exchange. My five-year DREAM has come true!
Interview: Jo Robinson.