HSOG Spotlight: Rachel Millar (Class of 2007)

Our next HSOG Spotlight contribution is by Former Pupil, Rachel Millar, from the Class of 2007.

I feel a little old as I write this – I still vividly remember walking to assembly every morning covering my heavily caked make up face in fear of being told to go scrub it off (I had acne, okay?!) and avoiding getting my far too high heels spotted by a few unforgiving teachers (it’s a wonder I never broke my ankle, thank goodness high heels are out of fashion… hopefully forever)

After HSOG, I did what most pupils are advised to do if they get the classic ‘straight As’ – I attended the University of Edinburgh to study English Literature and Philosophy. I did it because English was my best & favourite subject at school, Edinburgh was a cool city a little away from home, and some of my best friends were going there.

My university years were both challenging and wonderful for growth. I had a lot of growing up to do – learning how to live with others, how to really discipline myself, and adapt to an entirely new realm of academic study. Spoiler alert – university is way harder than school! I left High School thinking I was pretty clever – and then all of a sudden found myself surrounded by geniuses everywhere, and I suddenly wasn’t so cocky!

Those university years are important – and I’m not even talking about getting a degree. Honestly, I wouldn’t worry too much about that. The important things are who you meet, your relationships with your friends and your network, getting involved in outside things, learning how to really be an adult, and discovering there’s a big world out there. It’s exciting and daunting. You will make stupid mistakes, and you will learn from them. I was poor, so I had to work part time. I’m grateful for that now, as it helped me learn the value of saving and budgeting money, and I liked that I had work friends outside of my university bubble.

I met a lot of people who had taken gap years, or who had travelled to faraway places. I was instantly curious. At High School, there were only a few people in my year who I remember decided to take a gap year. I remember ignorantly dismissing this choice, or not really thinking it was a great move to take. Now, I believe they were the smartest people in our year.

Captured by the travelling tales of my university friends, I decided that I wanted an adventure too. My first choice was to pick literally the furthest away, most remote place I could go to – The Cook Islands. There was a volunteering program to teach English, and I was mesmerized at the thought of going to a tiny dot in the middle of the Pacific Ocean all by myself. Off I went!

Of course, the itch never goes away.

The following summer, it was to the USA – although, this time, it was not such a success. I signed up for a student summer work program which involving door to door sales in America for the entire summer. Promises of making lots of money and having a resume above everyone else, as well as getting to spend a summer in USA, convinced me. However, when we arrived, after a tough week at Sales School in Nashville and then 5 weeks on the job, which involved odd rituals of waking up at 6.29am and yelling ‘IT’S GOING TO BE A GREAT DAY!’, racing out of bed to have a cold shower and doing weird teamwork chants in the middle of car parks, I realized that this organisation’s values were nowhere near in alignment with mine, and I left. At the time, I felt like a quitter and a loser for giving up but looking back I am really proud that I felt and understood my own principles. Failures should be celebrated, and you will experience them and you will be happy for them.

The following summer was a game changer. Ready for my next adventure abroad, I headed to Dubai. I had some distant family there who had a real estate company, and they offered me a job over the summer with them. I fell in love with Dubai. It was a melting pot of the entire world. There didn’t seem to be any worry about falling into the graduate black hole application world after graduating university, which was only a year away. There were so many exciting work opportunities for young people, and as a young city, it was the place to be for fresh, ambitious graduates. There were people from all over the world, and suddenly I realized how uneducated I was with a lot of world stuff. Middle Eastern cultures and people – so far removed from the stereotypes we are fed by the media. To add to that, I fell in love – and so, by the end of the summer, my mind was made up. After my final year of university, I was moving to Dubai.

I ended up spending 7 and a half years there! And what an adventure that was. I fell into working in live events management & production, working for creative agencies and for Dubai World Trade Center. I was lucky to work on some really cool international events, like Expo Milan, Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Dubai World Cup Opening Ceremony with Cirque Du Soleil, and even got to travel to places like Cape Town, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar in my work.

Not only that, Dubai is so accessible to the world that I was able to do a lot of travelling while there. I headed to South America (where I sadly had a teeth/ bunk bed accident – do NOT sleep in the top bunk, EVER!) Nepal, India, Philippines, Lebanon, Sri Lanka and other places that are otherwise tricky to get to.

After Dubai, I headed to New York City – this time, to go back to school! I did a 1 year producing course in film & TV at New York Film Academy, and then began working in unscripted TV development and worked on some commercials and a short film focusing on LGBTQ & immigration issues. Living in Brooklyn was really all of my dreams come true. It’s probably my favourite place in the world. You can literally be whoever you want to be there.

 “I was lucky to discover a wonderful community of people, and last year, had one of the most life changing experiences of my life – Burning Man. It’s a fraction of what you read and see on Instagram (the Russian models posing) – and I strongly believe it should be a wonder of the world, and that if you can, you should go at least once.

Sadly, Covid-19 put a stop in my NYC life earlier this year. I was right in the middle of figuring out my visa and future there, when I lost my job and had to return home to Scotland.

It was wonderful being back home for so long, even if it was just in the confinements of my house! It had been 9 years since I had lived in Scotland, and reconnecting with the wonders of your home is a magical feeling!

Now, I am based in Stockholm with my boyfriend for some time, until we can figure out plans to head back to New York. I am in the middle of setting up a small business ‘your presentations’ which help college students and small businesses with their presentations.

My biggest advice for HSOG pupils is – honestly, don’t worry about ticking boxes and doing all ‘the right things’. Some things work for some people, and don’t for others. If you’re a pupil that feels pressure to get 5A’s and become a lawyer or doctor, get a house in Glasgow and send your kids to HSOG – do it because you want to, not because you feel like that should. There are other ways of life if it’s not for you. And, if you can, take a gap year. I strongly believe that 18 years old is too young to make a life decision about your future. Travelling and taking a year out matures you a bit and gives you perspective on the world.

I absolutely loved my time at HSOG. It felt like a family every day! You really will make friends for life, memories for life, and lessons for life. The biggest take away for me is how HSOG treats people. This, I find, is a huge value that should not be underestimated. Thank you to all of the teachers who supported and encouraged me throughout my time there.