Greetings, fellow travellers. I'm an American who has been living in Scotland for 5 years and I wanted to share with you my absolute favorite experience to date.
A week-long Scots Gaelic language course at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (the Gaelic college) on the Isle of Skye is the best back-door experience I've ever had in Scotland. It's like summer camp for grown-ups who love Scottish culture, but manages to be authentic and not at all touristy despite attracting people from all over the world.
Everyone is welcome and class levels are offered from the complete novice to the fluent speaker. These classes are dialogue-based and there are no textbooks so you don't have to be an academic to learn. In one week on the beginner course I learned to make conversation in Gaelic, which opens cultural doors to a side of Skye and the Highlands and islands that the tourists rarely get to see. I spent a fantastic evening in a converted barn surrounded by 100 Scots singing folk songs in their native language. Each day my walk to class came complete with sea views over the magnificent Sound of Sleat, looking towards the mountains on the mainland.
Accommodation (single or twin rooms), meals and a class taught by a native speaker all cost less than a week at a hotel and the course comes with nightly entertainment, including traditional music concerts and ceileidhs, group outings like boat trips and small tours to Skye attractions like whiskey tasting and visiting the Clan Donald Centre and castle. The SMO Short Course team has advice on public transportation for those of us without cars (I did just fine without one) as well as helping with all the other practicalities. Language and music courses run during spring break and summer.
I cannot recommend these courses enough. Sabhal Mòr Ostaig is a magical place and true cultural back door. 'S math sin! (That’s Gaelic for fantastic). Information is available at SMO's website: http://www.smo.uhi.ac.uk/en/cursaichean/cursaichean-goirid/
I would be happy to chat with anyone who wants more information from a short-course alum.
From Austin, Texas - residing in Aberdeenshire, Scotland