When Acquaintances Feel Like Old Friends

This afternoon I had the privilege of wandering Edinburgh with a new friend, Lizzie, searching around for cafés to use for study spots. Indulgent, we walked through the streets around campus smushing around exasperated people into secondhand bookshops, scouting out restaurants and coffee shops, and finding nooks in a city that’s beginning to feel like mine.

Lizzie is actually documenting her own stay in Edinburgh for a video diary and posted about our day, so in lieu of my terrible iphone camera photos, I thought I’d throw in her lovely video, as it captures the spirit of our mini-adventure this afternoon. (Yes, that’s me talking to the camera!)

I do feel like I’m starting to know the city with its character, charm, and all of its vibrancy. And it’s true – I can finally navigate myself to campus, and without a map at that! Still, I don’t know it at all. It would be insane to think that after two weeks here, I could. But it would be a dangerous game to be complaisant in my exploration of this city or this university. It’s important that I continue to get lost – intentionally or otherwise – and that I reach out to try and delve into everything that is at my fingertips right now. I need to remind myself to look up, see the sights, take steps off of the paths that I’m starting to feel comfortable navigating.

Setting aside time this afternoon with the express purpose of wandering was certainly a luxury, in the midst of my growing coursework assignments, cooking nightmares and list of societies I want to join. But moving forward, it’s luxuries like this I’m going to set aside time to afford.

(Many thanks to Lizzie (and her extremely expensive camera) for putting together a much better visual on our afternoon than I could have hoped to capture.)

So it Begins

It has only just now hit me as I sit perched on my bed with my 16-week-old family puppy by my side that I leave for Edinburgh in two weeks. As exciting as it sounds, it’s also unsettling. It’s not that I don’t know what to bring, I already have a few adapters, a raincoat, rain boots, even some A4 paper. I’m excited to have such a wonderful opportunity and this exchange is something I’ve dreamed about since I was in high school. But only today, just now as I sip my chai tea and stare at the laundry that’s cluttering my floor as I Google “Ikea cutlery” instead, that I realize I depart for Edinburgh in less than two weeks. I should be receiving my Visa next week (cutting it close, I know), my flight is booked, and I have the appropriate luggage. But I still lack the drive to figure out when to ship things like blankets, and clothing to my flat. Combating laziness to pack for school and will clearly take some willpower.

But as much as I have the anxiety of travel and the unknown, I’m not too anxious about starting at Edinburgh. Having started my first year in Chicago (hailing from the New York metro area), and transferring to the University of Connecticut, for my second year, having a “first day at school”, is something I’ve done twice. After all, I have spent the last five months talking about going to Edinburgh and researching fun spots to go to in the city to the annoyance and exhaustion of my gracious friends and family. I think at this point, they’re all ready for me to go so they no longer have to listen to me talk about it.

Now all I have left to do is channel my excitement for my next adventure into productive activities like getting boxes, more adapters, figuring out my cellphone plan, and saying goodbye to friends some I won’t see for nine months and others I hope to see while abroad. But now I’m just going to enjoy the time I have left (like my chai before the ice melts!), and get ready for what looks like be the best year of my college career.

From one capital to another

It appears that I was preparing to travel to Edinburgh my whole life, but I never knew it. My whole life I was moving farther and farther away from home, the big move (I thought) moving 3 hours away, but now I’m moving time zones away. Typically, one always hears about adventures once they are finished, and the exciting details of each place visited, not about the preparation for the adventure. Well this is a true story of my preparations for Edinburgh.

Once I informed my friends and family that I was going to Edinburgh for school they were a little more than sceptical that I would ever return, however getting to Edinburgh was testing. First, there was all the paper work. It felt like I was constantly writing to someone or applying for something. Applying for my UK visa was a long, intimate, and intense process.

To ensure I would get the most out of Edinburgh and bring the most of Canada with me, I had to purchase a bigger suitcase. For something that’s nature is to pack things into, deciding on what to fill the suitcase with was hard. Weeks prior to even booking my plane ticket I was scrambling around the house collecting my quirky essentials and practical items so as to not forget them. Items like my knee high, yellow rain boots, travel gnome and electrical current converter. Another essential item is my family’s tartan, the Murray tartan. For Christmas my family bought a scarf in the Murray tartan as motivation to connect with my Scottish roots.

After purchasing travel books about Scotland, specifically Edinburgh, I began making my “to do” list. I purchased the exact same travel book for my mom so she could mark off all the places she wants to go when she comes to visit me. I am especially, interested in seeing the Scottish Parliament buildings since I am moving from Ottawa, where Canada’s Parliament buildings are. I want to compare the two cultures as I move from one capital to the other.

To prepare myself for the cuisine of Scotland I booked a reservation at an authentic Scottish restaurant, The Caledonian. After researching I found that the name ‘Caledonia’ was a name given by the Romans to the Northern area of Scotland. Also, the name had been modernised and has taken on a romantic tone and had been incorporated into many songs. I have yet to attend the reservation, but perused the menu which included such items as haggis fritters, Scotch egg, and sticky toffee pudding.

Even though “goodbyes” made up a large part of my pre-departure, I know they are going to be replaced by many more “hellos”, once I arrive in Edinburgh.

Katie Stanley

This Is The Beginning

Song: This Is The Beginning – BOY

I firmly believe that every city in the world has a distinct personality. New York is a businesswoman in her mid-30’s running around with a comically large cup of coffee and a pair of stilettos. London an elderly man in a tweed coat with an odd love for punk music and fast cars. Paris is an older woman sitting in a café wearing an oversized hat, sipping espresso and reading Proust. But Edinburgh – the city I’ve been fortunate enough to call my home for a week now – has the rare honour of not so easily fitting into one simple character description. At times it is young, vibrant, warm and welcoming, other times it is ancient, complex and overwhelming.

I was introduced to the former in my first few days when, while wandering aimlessly through the streets with a vision blurred by jet-lag and exhaustion, I was immersed in the smells of delicious Scottish food wafting out of pubs and fresh grass from the many parks around the city. I was also surrounded by a constant symphony of cars speeding by and snippets of strangers’ conversations in countless different accents. Everything about the city seemed to welcome me in, whether it was the kindness of all the people I met (I have never been called “love” so many times in my life), the unseasonably warm weather, or the seemingly constant hum of bagpipes playing in the distance. Scotland’s famous energy and hospitality were on full display every time my friends and I went to a pub (which I soon discovered was an almost daily ritual in Edinburgh). That famed Scottish friendly energy was especially apparent at the Big Ceilidh I went to a few days ago, where my friends and I stumbled our way through traditional Scottish dances until our feet were sore (but that may have had more to do with the constant stepping on toes rather than the dancing). Despite the lack of space in the overcrowded, overheated room everyone seemed to have a great time dancing with complete strangers (always a couple beats out of time) and fooling ourselves into thinking we were Scottish for a few hours.

View of Edinburgh from part-way up Arthur' Seat

View of Edinburgh from part-way up Arthur’ Seat

At other times, however, Edinburgh takes on a completely different personality. This week I went on a few tours – a historical tour of the city, and tours of Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace – and as I walked through those ancient buildings I was overwhelmed by the immense history that permeates everything in this city. Touring through buildings that are older than my home country, places that bore witness to some of the most dramatic events in British history, was such a humbling and awe-inspiring experience. The dusty, cobbled roads seem to almost buzz with the stories of the millions of people who have walked these same streets centuries before. Edinburgh is also wonderfully complex, with such an eclectic culture and cityscape – although I can’t say I’m too fond of the complexity in its urban planning, all of these levels and ever-changing street names have turned short trips into day-long excursions (but that’s a story for another day).

David Hume statue on the Royal Mile

David Hume statue on the Royal Mile

Edinburgh is a city so steeped in history and yet budding with new life at every corner. It is at once overwhelmingly grand and comfortingly quaint. I have no way of knowing what this year holds in store for me but after just one week I am already so excited thinking about all of the people I’ll meet, sights I’ll see, and (mis)adventures I’ll have. Hopefully this is the beginning of a grand new adventure… stay tuned!

Settling In

5 days after arrival and I have settled into my room and am ready for classes tomorrow! I was so lucky to have my parents help me during the process because we managed to get a handle of the city together and transform my room into a cozy and comfortable space.

Classes officially start tomorrow and even though I have a general sense of the city I was nervous about getting to my two classes on time. So, after my parents left in the afternoon I set out to find David Hume Tower in St. George’s Square and from there walk over to New College on the Mound. I was very happy to find both places without much trouble and I think I’ll be able to make the walk from one class to the other within the 20 minutes I will have — fingers crossed because I definitely don’t want to be that person walking in late on the first day of classes.

In terms of my impressions of the city I absolutely love it. No exaggerations. Edinburgh looks like a city out of a fairy tale. The buildings are huge and often intricate, built of big grey stone, and look like they are centuries old (which many of them are). Among the buildings there’s lots of greenery and when you catch a glimpse of Arthur’s Seat it’s stunning. On top of the beautiful backdrop I think Scottish people are great. In my experience locals are willing to sincerely help you when you ask and everybody seems to be very fun-loving.

My big first of the day was cooking a meal in my flat’s kitchen. It went well because the chicken I grilled and the salad I made (with feta and grapes) turned out delicious. However, there was a very scary moment when I turned around from the stove where the chicken was cooking and realized the whole kitchen was in smoke… Apparently the fan that circulates the smoke to outside was supposed to be turned on on a separate wall — not above the stove — and I wasn’t aware. Safe to say one or two more minutes of cooking and I would have set off the fire alarm. Luckily I figured it out and learned a big lesson for the future.

Some of my big to-do’s for the coming days is to head to the Student Associations office to figure out how to join some clubs, etc. and open a gym membership. I’m looking to really settle into a routine in terms of classes and preparing meals, and then start adding on new things to do.

All in all, love it so far and I’m really excited to meet new students and start getting into a rhythm. Thanks for reading, till next time.

Getting here

August 18th, 2014

My preparation to head off to Edinburgh has been a wee bit different than most study abroad students, at least I am almost positive. I said goodbye to my family, friends, and boyfriend over two months ago. I packed three suitcases full to the brim with clothes and necessities such as rain boots, a plethora of summer dresses, makeup I never have time to actually wear, various medical supplies as I get hurt a lot, and of course plenty of books, and I got on a plane to the South of France. This was in June.

The entire process of shipping my passport off the WEEK before my flight, getting it back a day late, changing my flight, and finally getting my visa was stressful enough. But once I arrived in France, the stress would be daily, but well worth it.

I work as an au pair during the summers, and I live in the house of a wonderful family, and watch over two very spirited little girls; Perle (6) and Ambre (2).


Perle and Ambre in Elba, Italy

They keep me so busy, I had barely had time to even think about heading off to school in just about two weeks, until this weekend. I realized that I have absolutely no supplies, or bedding, or a pillow, or anything to bring with me besides clothing, So when I get to my flat, I will be sleeping on a pile of clothes if I don’t do anything about it. With this realization, I did what any twenty year­old alone in Europe would do, and I called my parents.

It was my day off, so I was up in the outdoor kitchen ( I know…) on Facetime with my mom, dad, twin sister, dog, cat, and little brother, (when he was able to tear himself away from his new Xbox.) As it was my one day off, the girls are supposed to leave me alone. but as they are children, this of course will never happen, which causes for some frustrating and entertaining situations.

I would talk as fast as I could for about 5 minutes asking my parents rapid­fire questions about money, and food, and plane baggage, and then Perle would appear with a princess crown and a foot in my face, causing my mom to laugh and my sister to roll her eyes, as she knew
what it was like because she stayed with me for two weeks. I would attempt to give Perle enough attention to buy myself another five minutes of constructive conversation. This went on for about an hour and a half until I was feeling a lot more comfortable with my plan for September, and Perle’s mom had given her a stern talking to.

I am so excited to start my new adventure in Edinburgh in just a few weeks. This is something that I have been dreaming about since I was 15, and I hope I do not burst into overwhelmed tears as soon as I land in Scotland. It will be scary to be completely on my own in a country I have yet to experience, but I cannot wait to see what this adventure brings me. I will miss my girls here, and I will continue to miss my loved ones back home, but I hope to bring back many stories for them that I will share with you all as well.

Until next time,


…and I ended up lost.

  • On Saturday, I tried to go to Boots or Superdrug in the mall near my flat to buy a makeshift first-aid kit … and I ended up lost. In the shopping center.
  • On Sunday, I tried to go for a quick run around the area where I’m living. I even took a couple of pictures of a map on my phone to ensure that I didn’t get lost … and I ended up lost.
  • On Monday, my attempt to make it to the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures’ welcome meeting culminated in getting turned around and taking a side street by accident, even though I was about one block from the building I needed to be in … and I ended up lost.
  • On Tuesday, I don’t think I actually got lost. I don’t remember, but Tuesday must’ve been a good day.
  • On Wednesday, I was making my way back from an International Buddies event, got lost in city center, got on the wrong bus, got off the wrong bus at a stop I’d never seen before … and I ended up very, very lost. Luckily, I was with a friend and we called a cab to bail us out!
  • On Thursday, I tried to make it to the Sports Fair at the university gym, which I’d never been to before… and I ended up lost.
  • On Friday, I missed the bus up to the main campus where I was set to meet a new friend before we went to hang out with some of the Edinburgh University Ladies Rugby Football Club (EULRFC) members, so I had to power walk from my flat two miles away to our meeting point… and I ended up lost.

Are we sensing a theme here? It seems like everything I would normally not have a problem doing has suddenly become a draining adventure of bus lines, furrowed brows and sore feet. I’m unabashedly leaving my flat two hours early to every meeting to ensure that I have time to figure out the tangle of streets in Edinburgh. And you’d better bet I’m going to be spending all of tomorrow scoping out my class buildings before I actually have to get to them on time for lecture.

On the plus side, being helplessly turned around has made my flat almost instantly feel like home. Standing on an empty and unlit street corner waiting for a cab during The Wednesday Night Bus Debacle left me turning to my friend and exclaiming, “I just want to be back home in my flat watching TV in bed!” It was an odd moment when I realized I had just called my flat – my residence of all of four days – home. There’s almost nothing unique in my room to suggest that I even live there – a postcard from my parents pinned to my bulletin board the only clue. There are no books, no stuffed animals, no favorite pillows, no posters or well-watched DVDs.  Even my mattress is uncomfortable – springy and a size I’m unused to. But right now it is my one anchor in this unfamiliar (albeit welcoming) city.

My flatmates are all lovely and hanging out in our kitchen, cooking and talking has made it feel like a makeshift home. There’s always a door open or someone lounging on a couch, ready to make light of our day’s adventures. I was worried about how I would get along with my flatmates before I arrived, but I am beginning to suspect I couldn’t have ended up with a better group of people.

The list of things I have to do next week is as long as both my arms, and most of it are tasks I have to venture into the city in order to complete. Don’t worry – I’m not going to post another run down of every time I got lost next Saturday, but think of me sometime this week, turning in a circle and squinting between my phone and the sides of buildings, trying to find my way. And know that I’ll get there eventually.