Pass the Haggis

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew Romano

At an age when most toddlers were singing along to Raffi, Zarya Rathe got hooked on Celtic music. She listened with her mom--a violinist--and played herself. So when the time came for college, Rathe applied to four schools in Scotland, ending up at the University of Edinburgh. "I wanted to do something different," she says. Except that when Rathe arrived in Gaelic 101, she was hardly alone. "It was all Americans."

Rathe is one of a growing number of U.S. students heading to kilt country for college. The main attraction: a quartet of medieval universities--Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow and St. Andrews--known as the Scottish Ivies. Since 2000-01, American participation in study-abroad programs has increased by 20 percent; England and Canada still attract students looking to attend a foreign school. But U.S. enrollment in Scottish colleges is up 80 percent in the past decade; at Edinburgh, it's tripled since 2003, and more than a tenth of St. Andrews' students are American.

Part of the appeal is esthetic. For Americans taken with the looks of an Ivy League campus, Scotland's ancient universities can hold an ever-richer store of history. Aberdeen was founded in 1495, 141 years before Harvard; St. Andrews has stood on the cliffs of Fife for nearly six centuries. Stephanie Gorton got into Columbia--her dream school--but that dream faded after a weekend visit to Edinburgh, the youngest of the lot. Compared with better-known British schools like Cambridge or Oxford, the Scottish colleges offer a curriculum that strikes a nice balance between the foreign and the familiar. …