Brevity was never my strong suit, but I’ve done a lot of stuff, ok!

Straying from my normal post style exactly 1% I’m going to ramble interwoven with some pictures. Continuity errors abound but hey, nobody’s perfect.

I don’t have photos of everything that has happened for you – I’m still waiting to get some from friends who have visited. And also that would be impossible. I don’t even remember half of what I did, to be honest. It’s been a lengthy and unreal whirlwind.

Catching some rays on our second to last day in Dublin.

Catching some rays on our second to last day in Dublin.

I’ve been meaning to write a blog post for a while (surprise!) and so much has happened since I last threw up a jumble of photos and thoughts. So much that it astounds even me. I sometimes get paranoid that I’m not “living my life fully” or “experiencing everything” — some sort of larger, more anxious version of the FOMO world we are all socially wrapped in — but in reality we can’t do it all, see it all, experience everything.

At the cinema... my mom always tells me to smile in pictures and here I am, directly disobeying her orders. Watta grimace.

At the cinema… my mom always tells me to smile in pictures and here I am, directly disobeying her orders. Watta grimace.

Late-night swans. Dakota was not amused. Actually, she's incredibly afraid of swans.

Late-night swans. Dakota was not amused. Actually, she’s incredibly afraid of swans.

At night outside our hostel (The Generator).

At night outside our hostel (The Generator).

Trinity Dublin campus - beautiful.

Trinity Dublin campus – beautiful.

My flatmate Dakota and I traveled to Dublin and then London. We arrived in Dublin exhausted, and we sat in a café for a good hour or two before catching a movie – much cheaper in Dublin than in Edinburgh and easily the nicest cinema I’ve ever been in. From there, we visited four museums, and had the chance to hang out with my friend Campbell, who is a student at Trinity Dublin and who is in the debating society. We went to a debate on nationalism, which was fascinating, and it was a joy to get to see an old high school classmate.

After that, we made our way to London, where we did a bunch of tourist-y stuff that included 0 museums but a lot of buildings, etc. Then we returned home, completely drained from three 8AM flights, where I napped for about the whole day on sheets I had mercifully washed before we left. This was right in the middle of the semester during a pause in the traditional class structure called “innovative learning week.” They have a bunch of amazing stuff to do on campus during that time, but I personally wanted to get in some travel because I didn’t get to go anywhere over December break. Since then, everything has pretty much been a whirlwind. Classes are ramping up for the end of the semester (I’m in week 11/11 right now), and I was trying to secure an internship back home. On top of all of that, I’m trying to work out some academic details for next year without being able to directly contact my home university’s major department outside of email. That much has been completely exhausting.

Having visitors in Edinburgh has made me realize how beautiful the city is and how proud I am to live here, even for such a short time. I really think it is one of the most unique and charming places in the world – you can be at the beach, on a mountain, in a castle, eating food from all over the world, hearing accents from all over the world, seeing some of the finest art from Roman artefacts left in Scotland to the Dutch masters to contemporary artists, you can go out or go to the opera or ballet or comedy or really anything in the world all in the course of one day. I know, I know, a lot of other cities offer this kind of excitement. Lauren, you say, you live in such a small town of course you feel like it’s so exciting! If you were from New York or Chicago or Paris do you think you’d feel the same way?

More Trinity Dublin, still beautiful.

More Trinity Dublin, still beautiful.

Honestly, probably. Edinburgh, as much as it was a little bit of a love at first sight type of deal, has snuck up on me. I don’t mean to wax poetic about it for years, ok? But it has me by the heartstrings right now and that’s all I can say about it.

I was walking back from something or another the other night and on my way back to my flat I did my customary three or four 360 degree spins to try and take everything all in. Edinburgh hasn’t solved all my problems and being in another country has certainly spawned its own crying jags, but I do feel really happy here.

More from outside of our hostel - a little graffiti and some logs made to look like sheep, at which Dakota was delighted.

More from outside of our hostel – a little graffiti and some logs made to look like sheep, at which Dakota was delighted.

I’m still struggling with not being able to play the piano at all, due to limited practice room space, and of course there are things I would change if I could (time differences? No thanks!), but I still think I’m at one of the happiest places I’ve ever been in my life. Emotionally, not geographically.

Yeah, I’m sure some of that has to do with being older and figuring out whatever it is you figure out as you start to enter young adulthood, but I think that, if anything, this year abroad has been a jump-start to that growth.

We went to an amazing brunch place in London - waited in line for at least an hour to get in, but so, so worth it.

We went to an amazing brunch place in London – waited in line for at least an hour to get in, but so, so worth it.

I know I haven’t spent much time talking about the academics on this blog, so I’d like to take a moment to do that. I guess if I could say one thing about them it would be: go for the full year! It takes time to adjust! I definitely have a much better handle on the Edinburgh University system now than I did at the beginning. I’m taking English II, Swedish, and I’ve taken two honors sociology courses, Contemporary Feminist Debates and Theories of Power. Especially for my English class, it took me a little while to get to the place where I understood exactly what the course was trying to impart on me.

Of course, Lauren took us to Camden market. I went in December with Spier and Alice, but got no pictures.

Of course, Lauren took us to Camden market. I went in December with Spier and Alice, but got no pictures.

It has given me a huge appreciation for the contextualisation of literature in a way that I hadn’t fully grasped before. Most of the work that I do at my home university is mainly focused on taking books as entities that can be deconstructed critically without needing to directly link back the ideas present in the work to historical context. This isn’t worse or better than Edinburgh’s overview of British literature that I’ve been privy to over the past two semesters – well, depending on what critic you ask, I suppose – but it is different. And I’ve come to blend my ideas about literature much more with history and contextual culture than I did before.

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Classic London, am I right?

Just two small failures to mention in this post – not even, more like works of progress. (Remember my first post? The one that was just me failing to navigate Edinburgh?) One of the things that I have been trying to do recently is more creative work, and you would think that being in a city with such a literary history it would be easy to be inspired to write. However, I have not found this to be the case. I’m trying to take the modern poets I’ve been studying in English II was a little bit of the push I need to get back into the grind of doing creative work and I’m happy to say some of it has really resonated with me, but I still haven’t totally got on the wagon of the effort it takes to sustain a decent creative output.

Across the water at night.

Across the water at night.

The other is obviously the suddenly looming: what the eff am I going to do with my life?!?!? Clearly, I do not have to have this figured out by now. I probably will never figure it out, and I’m resistant to the idea that I’m going to work towards any singular thing, because I don’t think I have the drive to do that. But studying abroad has definitely given me some breathing room to experience different things and

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What a night.

look at different ways of approaching things. I’m glad I have had the time and the energy to ruminate a little more over the course of the second semester. In a way, being rudely divorced from my comfort zone has been liberating, and I’m continually grateful that studying in such a different way with so many different people has opened my mind up to different angles.

So no, I haven’t solved that problem and, with the admission that I probably never will, perhaps that can’t be counted as a failure. Still, I had hoped that I would have a little more of an idea of where I wanted to go after my graduation next year and that one is still out for the count. Ah, well.

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Exactly what you think it is.

My sister came to visit (picture at the end) and I had a good time with her, but I was also a little disappointed by how our relationship has shifted. I’m the younger sister, and I’ve spent a fair amount of my life looking up to my older sister, trusting her and knowing she had had more experiences than me. However, now I feel more independent.

Tate museum.

Tate museum.

I have had experiences she’s never had, and I’ve become a little bit more of a complete person. I guess it was a little naive to expect that my relationship with my family wouldn’t change while being so far away from home, but it definitely has. Not that I am not still reliant on my parents, but I think I definitely need them less now than I did before. Of course, my mom is still my best friend and my dad is still the best advice giver I know and my ride or die sports watching partner, but I feel more like a person who can exist fully and completely without the comfort of knowing social attachment.

The London Eye - third time I've been, and I still haven't gotten on the damn thing.

The London Eye – third time I’ve been, and I still haven’t gotten on the damn thing.

For this parting thought, I turn to the infinitely wiser and more eloquent Azar Nafisi, who once wrote, “You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, I told him, like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.” I am not the same person I was in September, and I know I will only really begin to truly understand

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man on bridge

those shifts once I return home. I know my tiny town will feel even smaller and I will have a lot of things to readjust to. I’m beginning to feel the inevitability of my departure in intimate and immediate ways. More than once, now, I’ve languished about the fleeting time I’ve gotten to spend here while trying to fall asleep, memorising the way my room looks in the half-light of the street that filters through the curtains of my room. Looking at my flatmates and wondering how good friends we’ll be when we don’t see each other every day.

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On top of Calton Hill with my sister — more of these pictures to come!

It is comforting to know you have another – another day, week, month to get to know a place. Another short while to try. Less pressure to try and salvage the most of out whatever is left.  (Stay in Edinburgh for a year if you can!)

I haven’t even scratched the surface of anything I did with my friends or flatmates. I won’t apologize for my introspection and truth be told, as I said at the beginning, I’ve done so much in such a short time that I barely remember the half of it. Oh, and a protip: if you’re in Edinburgh when it’s going on, go to a 6 Nations rugby game, even if you don’t watch the sport. Worth the time, worth the money. Fantastic stuff.

The days are getting longer, beautifully doling out sunlight hours like candy. It’s uplifting and I can’t wait to move into the April and May weather and longer daylight hours. Sorry if you’re stuck somewhere with seemingly infinite winter (Massachusetts, I’m looking at you).

Lauren C

Pano photo creds to Dakota.

Pano photo creds to Dakota.

Pride and Prejudice

It is a testament of how busy I have been adjusting to and enjoying life in Scotland that this is only the third blog post I have written so far. But wow, do I have a lot to talk about now! From living in a self-catered flat (read: cook for yourself) and trying not to get blown away by the wind to conversations about British English versus American and hour long debates about movies, life here has been swell. But, everything is not perfectly peachy either, and if anyone is wondering why I’m suddenly talking/ typing in such a strange fashion, it’s been because I’ve been holed up in my room too long, binge-banging Heroes and House on Netflix. Not so great.

Yes, first I thought I’d leave out the not-so-great parts and only talk about how awesome Edinburgh and studying abroad is, but then I realized that doing so would be a big fat lie and false advertisement. I mean, I would rather read a more honest blog that warned me about potential disappointments and difficulties than read dozens that only detail the best of the experience, leaving me unprepared. It’s the same social media debate: people only show what they want you to see, how happy they are, blah blah. So here’s to the hope that I can present a more balanced picture.

Scottish Sunset

Scottish Sunset

Did you know that some people come to study abroad with their own friends from college? I thought it was a fairly silly thing to do but right now it makes a lot of sense to me: it’s a little difficult to make new friends here. I admit, this is the toughest thing to admit or talk about. This might also not be true for everyone, it’s not a 100% true for me either, but it is hard and from what I’ve seen, heard, and read, it isn’t a 100% untrue for everyone either.

While participating during a 24-hour magazine event during the University’s “Innovative Learning Week,” I edited an article written by a full-time domestic student where she explored the pressures of having a social life and dealing with the feeling of not having enough friends. I guess it just gets tougher if you’re an introvert, don’t drink, and decided to study abroad during the middle of the third year at a huge university where pretty much everyone already has their set friend groups and people/ places to hang out with – rules out most possibilities of finding students (domestic, international, or visiting) to socialize with.

At Christ Church College

At Christ Church College, Oxford

The other struggles are minor, mild culture-shock almost. For instance, Emma and I visited The Elephant House (one of the cafés where J.K. Rowling wrote the HP books) and were completely taken aback by how upfront and almost rude the staff there were. We’d been warned about that during the Arcadia orientation, the difference between earning through tips and salaries, but it is still something I feel repeatedly, even if slightly, shocked about.

Classroom culture is a little baffling, too. First, being a third year “honours” student, I only have three classes per week, one for each of the three courses I take (we can’t take more, apparently). That means lots and lots of free time, especially if I compare that to my insane schedule back in Wooster. Then, of course, there’s the classroom environment itself. The literature honours seminars are brilliant, such great quality of discussion that sometimes I am left staring in awe, but there is also a marked difference between the way students act within the classroom. I tried hard not to make comparisons and be judgmental but you tend to notice if your fellow classmates are reading off of laptops for presentations, not doing homework, or openly checking Facebook and laughing out loud at jokes when someone else is presenting. I understand that participation, regular assignments, formal presentations etc. are not grading criteria here but I did grow up in a fairly British educational system (did my Cambridge GCE A-levels) so I had some trouble adjusting to this initially.

The Radcliffe Camera!

The Radcliffe Camera, Oxford!

The toughest part with schoolwork however, comes from communication gaps and the lack of information. Now this might just be happening with me and my classes, but often it seems like vital pieces of information related to the course, like essay guidelines and exam details, are not relayed to the students effectively enough and so we’re all left walking in the dark, bumping into each other. Sometimes, we laugh about it but sometimes it gets rather frustrating.

But wait, as promised, it really is NOT doom and gloom here. I sincerely love being in Edinburgh. For starters. It’s the joy of being able to live in a thriving, accessible big city again.  I love Wooster, my college, but often I feel claustrophobic and trapped there because of how small the town is. I can walk downtown in ten minutes but it looks like I’ve barely left campus – there’s hardly any interesting stuff to do there. We have the pretty public library, but the college has two bigger prettier ones, and there are a bunch of food places but I’m not a millionaire and I don’t eat steak either. The only reasons I visit downtown Wooster is if I have an unusually strong craving for Lemonberry or to visit Booker, the Wooster Book Company cat.

Waiting for the 1pm cannon at Edinburgh Castle

Waiting for the 1pm cannon at Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh, on the other hand, and even Scotland in general, is a great place to live in, especially for someone like me who doesn’t own their own vehicle. Back in Wooster, I find myself almost handicapped without a car and public transport because I can never get out of town even if I really want or need to. Here, though, just taking a five minute walk from my flat is a treat to the eyes. The town center is so close and so…happening! I could even decide to go to Glasgow or Aberdeen on a whim and still be able to get on a train without having to pay an arm and a leg for it. I love that. And of course, the over-abundance of South Asian (and international) take out places does not hurt either; the nearest Indian restaurant to Wooster is an hour long drive away.

View from The Atkinson, Southport

View from The Atkinson, Southport

As for the remaining perks of studying abroad and doing the Arcadia program, I’ve so far experienced the wonderfulness of a fantastic homestay in Southport, a short but delightful trip to Oxford, and a visit from my best friend from London. This Saturday, I leave for the birthplace of the Beatles, right after finishing my first full-fledged lit. paper of the semester, and then there’s lots of touring around the Highlands and England to come, once April brings Spring Break forth.

But time is making fools of us again, said Professor Dumbledore once, and as I check the date on my calendar, realizing not only that I’ve been in Edinburgh for more than 2 months but that it’s 6 am here, I concur. Time is, indeed, making fools of us. Next post with details on my Liverpool adventures!

Southport Pier

Southport Pier

December: Vacation in Edinburgh

December started with a lot of stress but ended on a slightly higher note. Funny how your mood seems to perk up when you have several weeks of vacation.

I slogged through exams with the help of my flatmates, diet coke, and a LOT of digestive biscuits. So many, in fact, that a salesperson at Tesco suggested I buy the bulk packages after returning to stock up several times in one week. (No regrets.) Saying goodbye to friends just in Edinburgh for the semester was hard – there are a few good ones that I fully plan on staying in touch with. I was jealous they were going home for the holidays, even as seeing them go reaffirmed my own decision to stay the year. And when my exams ended early, the whirlwind that was December had just begun.

As soon as my break started I jetted off to London to meet two dear friends for a long weekend. (Just writing that sentence is a testament to how absolutely ridiculous my life has become.) We went to all the touristy places, and also went (back) to the Tate Modern, ran across so many bridges, and enjoyed outdoor ice skating. These two women are going to be my friends for a long time, and I enjoyed their company as much as ever – there were a lot of fits of laugher and comparisons of our experiences abroad.

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Alice, me, and “Spier” in front of Buckingham Palace. Another experiment in the selfie.

Sunset from the train ride home. Unreal.

Sunset from the train ride home. Unreal.

As soon as I returned, one of my friends came up to Edinburgh to finish off her study abroad in London. She had already visited me earlier in the semester and fell so hard in love with the city that she scheduled a return.

Friends since elementary school reunited in Scotland!

Friends since elementary school reunited in Scotland for the first time.

She brought her aunt to the city and they invited me for a tour of the highlands, on which I gleefully tagged along. I can’t believe how beautiful Scotland is. I don’t have many quality photos (running theme), but hopefully these will give you a glimpse of a small slice of this amazing country.

In the distance...

In the distance…

View from the Wallace Monument

View from the Wallace Monument

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Loch Katrine

Loch Katrine

Loch Katrine

Loch Katrine

The beautiful, the elusive, the hairy coo

The beautiful, the elusive, the hairy coo

A few days later, a friend of mine from the states ended up in Edinburgh and we wandered Princes Street and the surrounding area. It was a welcome surprise to see another friendly, American face before I was faced with my long, December break.

For the December holiday, I chose to stay in the charming city I’ve been calling my home for almost six months. It was a very isolating and a very powerful experience. For most of my stay, I knew nobody in the city. I have never spent a Christmas away from my family, much less entirely alone.  To make things even worse my computer broke (yes, again!) on Christmas day just as I was attempting to video chat with my family. My flat and building were mostly empty, eerily silent except for vague bumps from the next floor up.

So, I baked two quiches and made vegetable soup, actually watching as the onions and carrot soften instead of impatiently pushing them around the bottom of the pan. I sang a lot of Regina Spektor, because I only have three albums on my phone. I refreshed the twitter app, a lot, and became very intimate with crafting 140 character messages. My continuing love affair with ice hockey took a new turn as I discovered the joy of radio streams available on your phone. Once, in a fit of inspiration, I mopped the kitchen floor.

I also went to two art museums; I think the portrait gallery can’t be beat, so make a beeline there as soon as you get to the city. I wandered around the Christmas market and ate a really excellent sausage. I went to the one person I knew’s flat for Hogmanay and drank and laughed with his flatmates, grateful for their hospitality and company. (Hi, Alex!)

(Imagine incredible fireworks here – surprise, surprise my iphone was not able to capture their majesty.)

I went to Blackwells and bought a book to read purely for pleasure. Being a student of English, where heavy reading loads are notorious, this is beginning to feel like somewhat of a luxury.

Definitely not on the English II reading list.

Definitely not on the English II reading list.

I also journaled a lot and used some of my down time to do a fair amount of introspection. Before I came to Scotland, I expected it would be an experience that would allow for time to think about who I am and what I want out of life. That is true to some extent, but I hadn’t really put in the effort to examine my past few years at college and my next few tumultuous years ahead. Disconnected from much of my known world, I was able to finally work through some of my motivations and aspirations. Who cares if the reflection was forced by an abrupt cutoff from technology; still counts!

And then, finally, my flatmates returned. Life began to resume what I’ve come to call normalcy. I met my new flatmate and cleaned my room for the new semester. I feel much more at ease going into semester two – one of the benefits of staying for a full year, I suppose. I know where things are and who to contact if I have a problem. My tutorial group for English hasn’t changed and I feel like I’m finally starting to make real friends in my Swedish class. My flat’s natural rapport has only increased – distance makes the heart grow fonder – and we even saw a rugby match together, at my prompting.

Edinburgh won!

Edinburgh won!

I’ll post again as soon as anything exciting happens, which might be next weekend. Dakota, Phie, and I have plans to go to Krispy Kreme. Flatmate donut adventures are the best adventures. We’ll just have to wait and see!

P.S. Did I mention I went to a ball? SURPRISE!

Thanksgiving ball with two flatmates.

EUNAS Thanksgiving ball with two flatmates.

Maybe the fanciest event I've ever been to. I will remember it for a long time.

Maybe the fanciest event I’ve ever been to. I will remember it for a long time.

P.P.S. Happy new year, everyone! Best wishes a month late from yours truly in Scotland.

First Impressions

It’s still hard to believe it, but I’ve been in Edinburgh for two whole weeks and Week One of “Uni” is done! So much has happened since, I wish I’d written sooner, with fresher memories, or taken more pictures. But then, like that John Mayer song says, I was “hoping I would see the world through both my eyes,” which I did, which I don’t regret at all. And hey, what use is this blog anyway, right?

When the sun shines, it really does shine!

When the sun shines, it really does shine!

So…let’s start from the beginning. The first three days here, we had our Arcadia orientation (that’s the program I came here through) and it was spectacular. We stayed at a lovely hotel called Jury’s Inn, which is located in possibly the best part of town imaginable for new arrivals, and somehow I’d been managed to be matched with the perfect roommate. Yes, as all orientations, some sessions weren’t as exciting as others, but the food and the company more than made up for it. I particularly enjoyed the ‘Scotland through Cinema’ session led by a University of Edinburgh lecturer and the stereotype debunking presentation by Arcadia’s John Bennett, which was intriguingly titled “Dinnae Fash Yersel” (turns out, “dinnae” is NOT Scottish for “dinner,” silly me).

Hmm. What else? I was impressed by the level of care provided by the Arcadia staff. Not only was everyone super kind and helpful, they had gone through the trouble of retrieving our University cards, accommodation keys, and even bringing over someone from the University’s Visiting Student Office to help us move in with as little trouble as possible.

On the 7th, we all moved into our flats (more on that later) then went through the visiting students’ orientation at the University itself. There was a welcome dinner, lots of informative presentations, student services fair, and the likes. It was basically like freshman year all over again…plus a ceilidh. On Friday, I met with my personal tutor, had my course schedule reconfirmed, and then spent the rest of the weekend grocery shopping and unpacking. Monday, classes began.

College Wynd, my humble abode

College Wynd, my humble abode

Now, before any of you close this tab thinking about how boring the rest of this post is going to be, let me tell you this: I’ve made a list again. This time, it’s a little less organized…it’s like a list of the things that excited me the best, combined with a list of things that I was struck by the most. Let’s just call it a list of the most significant thoughts/ experiences I’ve had in Edinburgh so far and get it over with, shall we?

  • Classes here are structured in a very different way. Okay, maybe saying “very different” is an exaggeration but I only do so because it is probably the only “culture shock” I’ve experienced so far, and because I don’t usually get culture shocked. I mean, I moved to the U.S. after living in Nepal for 19 years and none of the changes really felt like changes I needed to adapt to. But we’re only allowed to take three courses here, the lectures are usually two hours long, and the professors/ lecturers are very hands-off. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing. I mean, a different learning environment is what I came here looking for. But I am acknowledging the fact that it’s a little harder to digest that I had thought it would be for me.
  • The city is beautiful. I have no words to express how pretty this place is but it feels like every view is breathtaking, even if the crazy powerful gusts are trying to blow you off to Oz. (Right, wrong country, sorry. Moving on.) I like how the architecture is a feast to your eyes, how there’s a gorgeous view at the end of each gentle slope, how there are people but no crowds, and how you can be casually taking a stroll down to Lidl just to be greeted by the Britain’s Got Talent crew. Oh, the joys of a being in a big city!
  • That said, my classes are great! I’m taking two honors level Literature courses (Romantic Poets and Their Readers, and Creative Writing Prose) and a film studies module called Contemporary Cinema, and despite my super high expectations, the classes did not disappoint *touch wood*. Yes, I admit, attending a lecture with about a 100 other students was a bit strange…but you don’t really notice it beyond the first few minutes anyway. My first class for Romantic Poets was amazing. I’m pretty sure I was hanging on every word our lecturer had to say, when not attempting to commit the rest of it to writing or memory, and I can’t wait to go to the next one!
Aren't these notebooks absolutely adorable?

Aren’t these notebooks absolutely adorable?

  • Times can get rough. I don’t mean to scare anyone (if you are, please refer back to #3) but the change in the system, coupled with being a newcomer in the second half of the academic year, means that things get extra confusing. For instance, I had a minor freak out on Wednesday, when I found out after attending a class, I wasn’t allowed to be in it. Apparently, for this particular course, all visiting students are put into one separate section and take classes with each other (rather than alongside domestic students) but no one really knew about it. Of course, the issue got resolved by Friday, but it was stressful not knowing what was going on and wondering whether being a visiting student comes at a great disadvantage (the answer is no, by the way)…. Another example is from yesterday, when I got an email about homework that I had no idea we had, or how to do at all. I had to keep reminding myself that this was all new and I would need time to learn how things work, not to mention that I hadn’t been getting emails about it earlier due to some error in the software. But the truth is that I panicked and I felt incredibly stupid, just because I didn’t understand what was happening, which brings me to my last point.
  • It helps to keep in touch. Living in a flat isn’t like living in a dorm full of your old friends and it can be very daunting, especially if you’re a person like me, to feel like you’re missing out by not “socializing” or to feel lonely and upset. This weekend, for instance, I was in my room watching Netflix most of the time. But, thanks to the holy internet, I also messaged my friends back home, Skyped my family, and bawled my eyes out in front of my trusted Oxford buddy. And guess what? That made all the difference.
Pretty City

Pretty City

Winter is Here and November is Gone

November it seems went by in the blink of an eye because I’m uploading this in December. Honestly each month I’m here becomes better than the last and I’m very happy that I picked to come to Edinburgh and University of Edinburgh over my other options. Though this month has been fun, it was the most academically stressful. Having three essays due back-to-back in all three of your classes kind of takes the fun out of being abroad just a little bit. But I am here to study so it all works out. One of the first things I did in November was go up to Calton Hill with some friends to watch the fireworks for Bonfire Night (aka Guy Fawkes Night). We made some mulled wine from scratch and hung out. Tesco’s sells mulled wine sachets, which are inexpensive and tasty. We then used travel mugs and brought the rest of the mulled wine with us to keep warm while we waited for the fireworks to start. It’s still quite jarring that you can purchase fireworks so easily here, and not just the small firecracker ones you think of on the fourth of July, I mean the ones that can sky rocket into the stars. But beyond the fact that we were probably too close to some of the fireworks being set off on the hill, it was amazing to see fireworks going off all over the city and country. There was almost a weird sense of solidarity knowing that people all over the U.K.

Calton Hill for the fireworks

Calton Hill for the fireworks

Later on in the month, I was able to celebrate a friend’s birthday where a large group of us went out for dinner and then to the Bedlam Theatre to see Spring Awakening. Bedlam theatre is right by Teviot and Potterrow, and George Square. The Edinburgh University Theatre Company the converted church and put on over 100 shows during the academic year. Their rendition of Spring Awakening was amazing for such a small budget (each ticket for a student costs four pounds). The theatre is small but that gives the space a sense of intimacy that you wouldn’t experience at larger theatre houses in Edinburgh or in London. Plus, what’s better than supporting other students at your university and inexpensive way to go to the theatre. I’ve also experimented more with my cooking this month. I’m proud to say I no longer rely on pasta bakes and other easy meals like omelets. I now have made things like vegetable loaded stir-fry’s. Not even just with food though, but also with drinks like coffee. Buying coffee out sadly is too expensive to do regularly so I rely on a French press to get me by. Instead of the usual black coffee (or when I’m hankering for something sweet milk and sugar), I’ve started trying to make the drinks I’d buy out. This makes drinking coffee in a lot more desirable but every once in a while I do splurge. The last thing I did in November was celebrate St Andrews Day by going to Holyrood Palace for free. If you order them online early enough you can get tickets to the castle or the palace. Being there reminded me of how rich the history of Scotland is and that it’s embedded so deeply everywhere you go in Edinburgh. But now, it’s time to bunker down and prepare for my finals.

St Andrews Day at Holyrood Palace

St Andrews Day at Holyrood Palace

 

Until next time,

 

Alex

October + November = Rough Times (feat. Lots of Food)

Well, well, well. It’s almost time for the end-of-semester exams and I’ve only thrown up a scant few blog posts. I am here, friends, to explain. And then fill you in.

The main reason for the lack of posts is that my hard drive crashed and was completely wiped in mid-October. This was obviously a wholly unwelcome intrusion into my technology-fueled life. Combine this with five essays, a fractured nose, shin splints, and an unexpected bout of – not homesickness, fit of nostalgia? – and, well, you get the picture. Or not, actually, because they were all on my broken hard drive.

Luckily, what I had taken on my phone is still accessible, so I’ve decided to just throw up the hodgepodge and some thoughts to go along with it. (Warning: this post is very garbled!)

Me and my mom took a quick selfie in front of Princes St Gardens before I moved in.

Me and my mom took a quick selfie in front of Princes St Gardens before I moved in.

I miss my parents and my sister, of course, and I knew I would. I’ve been away from them for long periods of time before, but I’ve never dealt with a time difference. It’s extremely annoying, but staying up talking to my family until 1 or 2 in the morning is never something I regret.

My first foray into pie crust... delicious!

My first foray into pie crust… delicious!

I have started to enjoy cooking a lot more than I thought. I think it’s because I have become mostly divorced from my normal creative outlets (sports – thanks, nose and shins!; my various music ensembles; unlimited access to a piano less than a 5 minute walk from my dorm). I have started to get more ambitious and more experimental. For the first month I think I only made slow-cooked beef dishes (hello meatballs, hello goulash!), but now I’m shelling out the time and £££ for more complicated dishes. I’ve fried chicken now, made shepherd’s pie and empanadas – which combines spiced meat and a dough – kind of like a calzone.  I made pie crust by hand for them, which was surprisingly fun. Working with my hands and puzzling over converted measurements takes me out of whatever is going on in my day and puts me totally at the mercy of time pressure, chopping, the scrape of a pan on the stove… My mentality has shifted from “cook to survive” to “enjoy cooking as a leisure activity” and my palate has been enjoying the shift.

Apparently "the best hamburger in Edinburgh"... certainly the closest I've found to an American hamburger.

Apparently “the best hamburger in Edinburgh”… certainly the closest I’ve found to an American hamburger.

More food (you’ve been warned). My flatmate Jordyn and I went to this place, a 10-15 minute walk from our flat.

What a tasty pun...

What a tasty pun…

We had both been craving a little taste of home, and decided to put the good reviews of Burger Meats Bun to the test…. I was not disappointed, but for some reason hamburgers just aren’t quite as satisfying here as they are in the states. Still, it has been nice to get to know my flatmates more as this process has gone on, whether through our weekly takeout nights (Saturday curries are a GO!) or our trips to the Christmas market, our nights out or our flat Halloween party, our movie nights in…

Yes, that is a BOX of food for the six of us... delish!

Yes, that is a BOX of food for the six of us… delish!

View from the ferris wheel at the Edinburgh Christmas market.

View from the ferris wheel at the Edinburgh Christmas market. Photo creds to my flatmate Maggie!

As we were decorating for Christmas yesterday, I mused out loud, “Do you ever wonder what your experience at Edinburgh would be like if you weren’t in this flat?” One of my flatmates looked me dead in the eye and responded “Awful!” Certainly, she probably still would have had a good experience, but we’ve really gelled as a flat in a way that has made my experience much easier than it could’ve been. I am learning a lot from them, and having a lot of fun with them, too.

Waiting for the bus has never been so beautiful.

Waiting for the bus has never been so beautiful.

The weather – let’s just say it’s been much better than expected. The fall has started to cool down into a perfect November. Often it’s sunny, and I’ve been lucky to experience high temperatures and low winds. I haven’t pulled out my winter jacket yet, and checking the weather back in Massachusetts always gives me a chuckle.

Old College at the start of the evening - stunning.

Old College at the start of the evening – stunning.

Riding the bus as the evening is creeping into the city is one of the most beautiful commutes I could imagine – seeing the old buildings lit up and grasped by the new evenings – I could never do it justice. Come see it for yourself if you ever get the chance.

The view from my evening commute. Not too shabby.

The view from my evening commute. Not too shabby.

I’ve also been exploring a little more; I’m definitely more comfortable wandering from my beaten path to scout out new places to visit knowing I (roughly) can get myself back to my flat or city centre without much trouble. It’s always fun to drag friends along, and I plan to use December to try and insert myself into this city much more than I have been. There’s some lovely areas around my flat that I’ve barely even touched!

Stumbled upon this view while taking a circuitous route to a friend's flat.

Stumbled upon this view while taking a circuitous route to a friend’s flat.

One of my first nights in Edinburgh, took a wrong turn down a popular street and was rewarded with this beauty.

One of my first nights in Edinburgh, took a wrong turn down a popular street and was rewarded with this beauty.

At this point, I’ve never been more sure of my decision to stay for the year. I know that the toughest parts are just coming up – missing my family for the holidays and gearing up for another semester after a steep learning curve – and I can’t imagine having to leave right now, with all the challenges of the new semester laying unfaced. Staying the year may be one of the most rewarding things I’ve done. I can feel myself becoming more confident in my decision to separate myself from my family, my school, my country, and my friends for 9 months. When I write it out, that aspect of study abroad always seems insane, and in many ways it undoubtedly is, but without doing insane things how would we grow?

A post-workout burrito is never a bad idea... tex mex lives in my heart.

A post-workout burrito is never a bad idea… tex mex lives in my heart.

Splitting desserts with acquaintances - surefire way to friends status.

Splitting desserts with acquaintances – surefire way to friends status.

Maybe the most beautiful loaf of bread I've ever seen.

Maybe the most beautiful loaf of bread I’ve ever seen.

Of course, I had to end with some more food. All purchased and consumed with new friends – the most social of all my endeavors may be mealtime. Although it has been very hard to adjust to a new school and city, I feel good about this final stretch of the semester. Things are slowly starting to settle into place – another reason I couldn’t imagine having to leave now.

Hopefully it will not be as long until my next post! Until then –

Lauren C

Striking A Balance

Well, it has officially been two months since my move to Edinburgh and, after staring at my laptop screen for an inexcusably long time, I have realized there are absolutely no words to sum up how incredible this experience has been so far.  Embarking on an international exchange, I knew that I would encounter a whole slew of new customs, opportunities, and challenges. And while I felt fully equipped to tackle the majority of these, such as differences in academic structure, currency, drinking habits, and road rules (hint: pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way here!!), I was caught completely off guard by one thing in particular. During all my preparations for school, and my giddy planning for weekend trips and traveling excursions, it never once occurred to me that the life of a student doesn’t necessarily mesh with that of a tourist.

A month ago I embarked on my first touristy excursion – a weekend trip to the Highlands. Let me tell you something, this country is beautiful, and not the “with the right Instagram filter this landscape shot will be stunning” beautiful. Rather the type of jaw-dropping, breathtaking beauty that seeps into your pores and heightens your senses and makes you swear that you’d crossed into a parallel dimension where colours blend a little differently and the wind speaks a whole new language. I’m sorry I know that was the cheesiest line you’ve ever read (it’s certainly the cheesiest I’ve ever written), but at the risk of sounding trite, a journey through the Highlands is nothing short of a tour through a storybook. I distinctively remember, while staring at the magnificent sights out the tour bus window as Scottish folk music played overhead, that this just couldn’t be real. Certainly I’d been dropped into another world, where every scene was taken straight out of a movie. To be honest I was half-expecting the sheep on the hillside to break out into song at any moment…

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Sorry, I think I’ve gotten a bit off track but the point being that this trip was one of the most incredible journeys I’ve ever had the good fortune to go on – which made returning to the land of school and responsibility that much more jarring. Almost immediately after coming back classes kicked into high gear. Usually this wouldn’t be a problem. I was always able to keep up with my (much heavier) workload at my home university, and if there’s one thing you learn as a student it’s time management. But somehow, even as deadlines drew nearer, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was just on vacation. Certainly getting my work done early didn’t really matter, and of course I should take every opportunity to  make new friends and explore the city rather than studying, right? I mean who knows when I’ll have the chance to travel like this again?! And here in lies the ultimate exchange student dilemma: How do you maintain your good grades and make the most of your education when all the while there’s a little nagging voice in your head saying things like “Time’s running out! Have an adventure! Go out there and enjoy yourself! Have you filled your ‘incredible stories’ quota for this trip yet? No?! Then get to it!” It’s hard to shake the feeling that these two lifestyles were really never meant to coexist, and that ultimately the quality of one will have to make way for the other.

At first this was difficult for me to deal with, some sub-par work was completed just in the nick of time, other deadlines were completely missed (for example, this blog post should have been submitted weeks ago – sorry!). Whenever I did manage to stay in and do work the dreaded FOMO syndrome hit, (mom don’t worry this means ‘Fear of Missing Out’ and is not some horrible new flu virus). But in the past couple of weeks I think I’ve started to figure out this vagabond life and how to best traverse the two worlds.

I’ve found coffee shops where I can work really well (like Black Medicine Coffee Co. and the Brew Lab), and I plan out my studying days to include some interludes for exploring. I’ve stumbled upon places in the city that I can always visit when work gets too stressful, without sacrificing my whole day. For example, Cameo Picture House has become a quick favourite of mine. It’s a movie theatre in a beautiful old building (with a conveniently attached bar), where I can go relax for a few hours and watch a movie, or meet up with friends for a drink after a particularly long study session.

Speaking of which, I have an essay that’s waiting to be written, so I think I’ll leave it here for now. But if in the meantime someone stumbles upon a world that allows you to travel, study, explore and get a full 8 hours of sleep without losing your sanity, please let this wandering student know.