Highland Exploration

I spent last weekend exploring the Highlands and Isle of Skye. It was absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful. And, believe it or not, not a cloud in the sky the whole weekend! Insanely lucky. Even the tour guides were baffled! I just wanted to say a quick note about taking advantage of the opportunities to explore the more rural parts of Scotland while you are here. The International Student Centre on campus is really good about putting together weekend trips, day trips, and even little events throughout the year. All you have to do is pay (all trips very reasonably priced considering they cover tour guide costs, accommodation, and often breakfasts) and show up. You can of course explore places on your own or find a tour independently which may suit some better than others, but going with the ISC eliminates all the hassle. Trust me. I admit that I am not the most sociable person around and big crowds are not my favorite thing in the world. I also am not a huge fan of buses since I get motion sickness pretty easily (sit in the front!). Taking these things into consideration and the fact that I am still recommending you go on these trips should tell you something. You can make plans to go with friends or go by yourself! I went to the Isle of Skye alone and met a ton of people. (Side note: It’s really amazing talking to people from all over the world. Or meeting people from where you’re from! It is such a small world. One of the girls I was roomed with was from the same town where I go to college!) Everyone is super nice and usually there are others that are flying solo as well. Plus, most of the time you are on the bus or busy taking pictures of the beautiful scenery around you. There is usually down time in the evening where the tour guides will sometimes take you into whatever town you are staying in so you can experience the nightlife. But you always have the option to stay in as well – travelling is exhausting!

You came to Scotland for a reason, so take advantage and see all that it has to offer! It is really quite spectacular.

xoxo

Alex

Here are some pics of the beautifuls sights I saw, in case you needed any more convincing.

 

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Inverness

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Inverness Castle (not quite as magnificent as Edinburgh’s)

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Loch Ness

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One of the many beautiful views during our drive.

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Eilean Donan Castle (most photographed castle in Scotland!)

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This just happened to be the view right outside our hostel on the Isle of Skye. A few of us were lucky enough to catch the sunrise too. Absolutely breathtaking!

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Yeah.. So I might have been creepin’ a bit on this person.. But it was just too good of a shot to pass up!

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Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK. Okay.. I’m like 95% sure this is Ben Nevis.. Or it’s just a really cool mountain…

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Glencoe

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Isle of Skye and Copenhagen

The past two weeks have flown by. I feel as though I’m still recovering from Innovative Learning Week. It’s crazy to think that classes will be over in 3 weeks when most of my time is dedicated to planning future trips. However, my next 4 weeks will be dedicated to studying for my upcoming exam.

Two weekends ago, I went on a three day, two night trip to the Isle of Skye with the International Student Centre, which hosts trips almost every weekend. I was not prepared for the amount of animal excretion in the highlands, the gorgeous views, and the lack of cell reception. We stopped in Inverness, Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle, Fort Augustus, Eilean Donan Castle, Caste Moil, Sligachan Bridge, the Cuillins, Old Man of Storr, Trotternish Peninsula, Kilt Rock, Mealt Fall, Lealt George, and Portree. Being that we only had two full days to explore, this tour was reminiscent of the budget tours I went on in my childhood. I loved being able to visit so many sites, but I wished that there had been more time to take in the views and more historical information available. Still, it was an incredible experience.

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I never thought I would own a pair of hiking boots or visit Loch Ness. Or develop a mom style.

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Sunset from some place I forgot the name of. My iphone oddly geotagged this in Norway. The hike down was the worst (it usually is, I’ve discovered) because everything was muddy. I’m also not a nature person to begin with.

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I woke up at 6:30am to take this photo and was out the door by 6:50am. The sun didn’t rise until 7:40am. It was about 35 F degrees (2 C).

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Our tour group was MASSIVE (150 people). This is what our group looked like when we descended on our destinations.

 

Last weekend, I met up with my childhood friend in Copenhagen. It was raining for the majority of it but we still did quite a bit of sightseeing.

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Everything about Copenhagen is aesthetically pleasing. Even the airport terminals.

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We had a bit of time before checking into our accommodations so naturally, we decided to find a place to eat. We went to a nearby Italian cafe, Mad Cafeen, where our pasta dishes had Thai influences (think basil and lime flavors with fettuccine)!

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Smorrebrod: open faced sandwich. AKA artwork on dark rye bread. Insanely delicious. It made me question the lack of effort I typically put into sandwiches.

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There’s a parking garage under this playground!

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Random thoughts:

  • Being abroad has made me appreciate the availability of free walking tours
  • Hygge. Fascinating concept (it’s basically that warm, fuzzy holiday feeling but ingrained into Danish culture). I’m going to adopt this lifestyle. A low-budget version, obviously.
  • Finally visited Calton Hill.
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Super grey. Super wet.

  • So I’ve been climbing Arthur’s Seat several times per week to catch the sunset. Today, I found myself on a dicier path and caught the attention of a passerbyer who asked if I needed help. My pride urged me to decline the offer but I realized that I had no idea how to extract myself from my situation, so I asked what the quickest way down was. Turns out, there were stairs in front of me.
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    Snuck a photo of this guy who brought a chair and a beer to watch the sunset. (it’s  common to see people drinking here at sunset)

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    Where I hit a dead end, surrounded by 10 foot high structures.

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    Looking out to the North Sea

Sunny, Monday 29th

Hello, glad to be blogging again. I am sorry it’s been a while since I wrote my last post here but my life as been quite busy with the learning week and deadlines always nearer.

I am writing from the main library cafè, incredibly I found a place to sit! The library is packed these days, you have to arrive at 5am if you want to find a free computer. I cannot remember if I have already told you about the uni library, anyway, the main library is located close to 50 George Square which is one of the Uni buildings. It has 6 floors and all of them full of books (of course) and computers that the uni provides you with to study or look up whatever you prefer. Most of the time I have seen people who were watching rugby matches rather than studying… fair enough! On the ground floor there is the “info point” where you can ask questions and top up your university card! Your university card is essential, without it you cannot get in the library or borrow any books! Be careful not to lose it!

Close to the library, there is a cafè where I am now! Full of tables and sofas where you can stay if you need a break from the quietness of the library! Sometimes, it’s too quiet ( that drives me crazy). They serve lunch here or dinner, it opens really early in the morning and closes before 6:00pm in the evening! Well, if you are from Italy like me, get used to having dinner early! Here, people eat at 6:00pm and to be fair once I had dinner at 5:00pm! That’s amazing! I don’t have time to digest before I have to eat again! My stomach will be shocked in few months when it will see food at 8:30pm (poor stomach)!

I cannot finish my post without talking about the weather which has been surprisingly amazing in the last few days! SUNNY! Surprise surprise, Edinburgh knows what having light means!

I hope you are having a good Monday 29th!

xxx

 

 

UNI LIFE

Hey guys!

So I’ve been a student in the University of Edinburgh for five months now and therefore I feel like I’m in an adequate position to give you an overview of the uni life. As much as your exchange is about meeting new people and socialising, you can’t really deny the fact that going to classes and studying is also a big part of it. So I thought I’d share some things that maybe surprised me about the academic side a little bit, or that are just different from what I was used to back in Tallinn. My degree is Social Anthropology so I can only really talk about what it’s like to study something Humanities related, but hopefully the “science-heads” can find some useful tips as well.

Firstly, probably the biggest difference between Tallinn and Edinburgh is that the number of contact hours (e.g. the hours actually spent either in lectures or tutorials/seminars) here is much smaller than it was back home. You are expected to take three courses in one semester and for each course you usually have two 50-minute lectures + one 50-minute tutorial/seminar in a week. It was pretty hard to get used to the 50-minute lectures at first, since in Estonia our lectures were usually 1.5 hours, but also a lot of the times 3 hours. It’s pretty crazy to think about it now. Since there are only two short lectures in a week for one course, they tend to be pretty intense and demand really focusing. Also because you don’t have to spend a lot of time at uni, you are expected to do a lot of individual work. For us, anthropologists, that means reading, reading, reading. I almost feel as if I’ve read more in these past five months than I have in all my previous life, but I don’t mind at all. I wholeheartedly enjoy most of our assigned readings.

Next, one of the perks of big universities is the wide choice of courses. Not sure if this only applies to me, but I had the freedom to basically choose ANY courses (any subject area, any year) I found interesting. That means that I can truly focus on those areas of anthropology that really interest me and I love it so much. And the selection of different courses is astonishing so I’m sure everyone will find something for their taste.

Also, continuing on the topic of freedom, you basically have the freedom to plan how your school week looks like. That is because of the fluid times of the tutorials and seminars. Lectures of course are pre-scheduled for you and take place at the same time for everyone and you can’t argue with that, but you can plan your tutorials exactly how you want. It depends on the course, but usually you have at least 2-3 different tutorial times to choose from. That means that your week will look exactly how you want it to look. Either you prefer your contact hours to be spread out throughout the week (this means shorter days at uni) or you like them to be crammed up in 2-3 days and have the rest off, the choice is yours. Last semester, for example, I had Fridays and Mondays off which meant that I had a 4-day weekend. Amazing, right!?

Actually the concept of tutorials was new to me when I first started uni back in September, so just in case I’m going to quickly explain what they are. Tutorials usually consist of your tutor and about 10-15 other students. This is the time to discuss readings, share your own ideas, ask questions and plan essays. Since the lectures tend to be pretty big and crowded, your tutorials are the perfect time to get some alone time with your tutor and to go over the topics that were discussed in the lectures. It is usually expected that you’ve done some readings for them and sometimes you need to bring in written personal responses. I’m sure the format of tutorials varies for different courses, but that’s how it’s usually been for mine.

Your final mark for the course is usually constructed by two essays. One of them is shorter, due somewhere in the middle of the semester, and usually counts for about 20-40%. The other one is longer (3000-4000 words) and counts for 60-80%. That one is due the end of semester. A really pleasant surprise was that the lecturers usually provide you with a long reading list at the beginning of the semester and you are expected to use those readings in your essays. In Tallinn, for comparison, we always had to find our own sources. The University’s online portal – MyEd – has an impressive online library through which you can access most of your readings (from articles to full-length e-books).

If I’m correct then there are 11 weeks in one semester. There is a week long break in the middle of each semester which is the perfect opportunity to get your mind off uni stuff and for example do a bit of traveling (that’s what most international students do). The off-week in February is called Innovative Learning Week and also offers a lot of cool events at uni. During my ILW I took a roadtrip to Manchester and Liverpool (both extremely cool and  vibrant cities), when my other international friends spent theirs in Cyprus, Copenhagen, Wales etc. The choice is yours!

In conclusion, I just want to say how happy I am with UoE and all my courses, professors and co-students. You can feel the curious, hard working, dedicated vibe whenever you set your foot to campus. Keep in mind that it is the Top 19 university IN THE WHOLE WORLD so it’s definitely not easy, but the quality of teaching you get back is totally worth every second of stressing in the library and every sleepless night (there aren’t that many, don’t worry). I love to know that I can 100% trust the education I get from here and it humbles me to think that I am an anthropologist who is trained by many of the field’s most brilliant minds. Another BIG reason to love Edinburgh!

I hope this post has helped to answer some of the questions you might have had and/or gave you the confidence to know that choosing UoE is definitely the right choice.

Until next time,

Minna

 

 

An Unexpected Journey: Finding Home in Germany and Greece

A Polish friend that I made at my hostel in Athens introduced me to the Portuguese word, ‘saudade’. The word does not have an English equivalent but can be described as a melancholic feeling of the love that remains after someone you care about is gone. It can be felt during the present moment when you are with someone, after you part ways, or even as a future feeling.

I can honestly say that I have felt this bittersweet aching to at least a mild extent, as I have formed friendships with some the best people I have ever met in Edinburgh and on my excursions elsewhere and possibly will never enjoy their presence again. I used to be under the impression that it was a poor use of time and energy to bond with people who will likely not continue to be in your life, but I was mistaken. Although physically absent, the impact that I have felt and the memories that have been created will always be a part of my life and in many cases, have changed who I am as a person. I will never again question the point of getting to know others over a short period of time. Two days or even a few hours with very special people have impacted more than some (but not many) connections I have had with others for years.

My trip to Munich was a complete success, my host Lili and her friends and family made my experience more wonderful than I could have imagined. Experiencing traditional Bavarian and Portuguese food was a great highlight, both types being every foodie’s dream. The best way I could describe this food would be to call it home-cooked and heart-warming, although not always warm or cooked at home. German beer is also excellent and has ruined me for life (sorry Budweiser). I had the delight of experiencing rowdy dancing starting a tussle in one of the nicest bars I’ve ever been in, the unique and unnerving Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibit, Olympia Park and tower with the best view of the city, and all the wonder of the Marienplatz. Salzburg, Austria also provided its fair share of amusement, and I found that the only and best way to travel in Bavaria is by car, on the autobahn, listening to German guys sing along to Justin Bieber with much enthusiasm.  I also learned that McDonalds in Germany is far superior to anything served in the States, why we haven’t figured out that a hash brown patty on a bacon burger is a good combination is beyond my reckoning. While the food and activity was amazing, the most valuable part of the trip was the short friendship I made with everyone I spent time with, especially considering the language barrier, as the only German I picked up is ‘scheisse!’ Lili and her family were extremely welcoming and made me feel like I was at home with mine and her friends welcomed me graciously. Leaving behind my own friends for nine months is hard every single day, but I find a bit of each friend from home in the new ones that I make and am home.

The most fortunate trip of my life, I am beginning to think there is some truth to the positive energy emitted from the ancient relics of Greece. Traveling solo is not something that I planned on, but that is what happened and I was anxious to see how it would play out, never having been completely on my own in an unfamiliar place. It turned out that I was hardly on my own and traveling solo is one of the best leaps I have ever taken. Athens is beautiful, a mixture of the extremely old and very modern, an interesting and diverse city that is unlike anywhere I have experienced. Staying at a hostel in the heart of the popular Plaka area, I had the privilege of waking up to views of the Acropolis and even getting to relax on the roof and stargaze. I was afraid that the hostel would be deserted (February being the off-season) and I wouldn’t have anything to do in the evenings and become lonely on my own. Although it was not crowded, the people I met at the hostel and in town were incredible and formed my entire experience. In my observation, nobody who travels alone actually wants to be alone and human beings naturally desire companionship. The first night I was in Athens, I was culturally educated by friendly Greeks, invited along for an impacting adventure with a wonderful French girl and German man, and became part of the unique vibes of the streets of Athens. Hearing and watching young rappers of varying nationalities freestyling for the public, seated at the edge of the ancient Agora, was one of the defining moments in Athens. I learned that while many struggling people try to scam you on some entrepreneurial scheme, some Athenians just want to be friendly and that the walls I put up were closing off to a much higher extent than protecting. And maybe paying a euro for a cheap bracelet isn’t the worst thing to do. The National Garden in Athens is one of the prettiest I have ever seen and with the lucky warm weather, I spent a relaxing afternoon delighting in ripe strawberries and sunshine. I also was bestowed cultural wisdom from a pleasant Greek man who simply wanted to pass time with conversation. Even when I was departing, I was not alone, for a fellow hostel-mate had a flight at the same time and we enjoyed each other’s company on the metro and beyond.

Everything I learned in Athens was not an effect of my own influence, but was mainly due to the impact of the wonderful people I met there. A group of American guys basically adopted me for a few days and I could not be more grateful for that fast friendship. I had no plans other than to see the main sights in Athens and figure it out along the way. It turns out, I am horrible at navigation and deciding where to go and what to do on your own is difficult when you haven’t planned ahead. Lucky for me, I had an army to rescue me and with whom I got to travel to Delphi. In my limited but staunch opinion, they are the most fun and laid-back cadets in the entire force, and they taught me a lot. Further, I found that spending six hours on a tour bus is one of the best ways to bond with new friends (especially when you share a love for Lord of the Rings and an impressive Gollum voice is casually used). I highly recommend it, and Delphi is sublime in every way.

Greek cuisine was a treat as well, indulging in delicious street gyros, greek salad, traditional dishes such as moussaka, ouzo and the best wine I have ever tried. Greek yogurt is not just a marketing ploy and paired with honey (which I am convinced is in every greek dish) and muesli, is fantastic. It was the first time I was in a warm climate during the winter months and having fresh fruit and vegetables widely available was one of those lovely little things.

If you would have told me six years ago that I grew up to travel solo to Greece and met many amazing people, I would have laughed and said that was impossible. I could hardly work up the nerve to ask for directions, talking to strangers by choice was completely out of the question. My shy nature has thankfully evolved over time and I hope to continue exploring with a fair amount of boldness.

While my time spent in new and exciting places is highly enjoyable, I found myself homesick for Edinburgh often. It is not common to have multiple layers of home, but I very much appreciate it. Not only do I get to feel at home with new friends on holiday, Edinburgh and the States also hold my heart. I only have a few more months in this beautiful city and I sure plan to make the most of them.

My good fortune wasn’t fortune at all, not ancient blessings of the pagan gods, it was rather a gift of kindness and love from so many souls and I am forever blessed. I know my family was praying for my safety and overall experience and surely those prayers were answered and I am very grateful for that support as well. If you are ever losing faith in humanity and are in need of some saving, hop on a plane and get lost somewhere. I assure that someone, or perhaps many, will point you in the right direction.

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Olympia Park in Munich with the best

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Who doesn’t love a giant, old cuckoo clock?

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The lovely Lili❤

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Some fine and old Greek architecture appropriately covered by graffiti along with the rest of the city. There are many trees like the one on the right as well, interestingly ugly.

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The humbling Parthenon

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Sphinx

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One of the first Olympic stadiums

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The Theater

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Delphi and Mount Parnassus are underrated and incredible

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Ruins of temple of Apollo, note the dog, which there are many of in Greece. Some became our best friends and some had us running for our lives, this one seemed like the former.

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The sprawling Athens from a trek up one of the many hilltops

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Doing what I do best

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We make a good squad

 

Brussels, Amsterdam, and Things on My Mind

This past week was Innovative Learning Week, which was basically the halfway point of the semester. During Innovative Learning Week, the university hosts a variety of events and more importantly, everyone gets a break. These events ranged from painting with bacteria to a lecture on emotional intelligence. Sadly, I signed up for multiple events, but had to stay in to finish my two papers. It was worth it because I took off on Wednesday for a 4.5 day trip to Brussels and Amsterdam and stayed in a hostel for the first time, which was a surprisingly pleasant experience (probably because they served free breakfast). Here are a ton of random photos.

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If you’re ever in Brussels, try a Leige (crispy and chewy-not soggy, pictured above) and Belgian (crispy and flaky) waffle at Maison Dandoy. They’re also known for their speculoos biscuits.

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Apparently, this little guy has an entire wardrobe. #jealous

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Drunk food: Mitraillette. Look it up. I also have a new love for fries with mayo.

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With Maria, taken by Fernanda, at the Grand Place. Funny story: they’re high school friends who randomly ran into each other at the hostel.

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Immortality by Paul de Vigne. Or as I call it, 19th century dabbing. Taken at the royal museum.

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Anne Frank Museum. Buy your tickets online because that line wrapped behind that building on the right.

 

Things on My Mind

  1. As a class representative, I collect feedback from the class. As I was doing this yesterday, it became apparent that about half of the class, including me, was unaware that our weekly assignments were optional. Cue the surprise and disgruntled faces.
  2. Almond butter is expensive and not as popular here as it is at home.
  3. In Amsterdam, I ran into a high school friend at a bus station, after tripping over her luggage.
  4. As an overpacker, I struggled with American Airlines’ 50 pound baggage limit. This is a list of what I should/should not have packed:
  • SHOULD NOT: extra pair of black knee-high leather boots, clothes I don’t wear on a regular basis, sweatshirt (I purchased a new one from the giftshop), clarisonic face brush (I can’t use it because my skin is insanely dry for the first time ever)
  • Flip flops (I couldn’t find any in convenience or pound stores nearby before my trip to Brussels. Luckily, I found a pair of Havianas in the corner of the men’s section at a charity shop)
  • A windbreaker (My down coat has a slight smell after being worn in the rain so often. It takes up quite a bit of room and doesn’t transition well from winter to spring)
  1. Tips:
  • pack your toiletry, shoes, socks and underwear in reusable grocery bags so that you can save $$
  • I was lucky enough to have had the previous study abroad student leave behind her comforter, pillows, sheets and utensils. You can easily purchase these things at Primark (Princes St.) or Sainsbury’s (Cameron Toll) for ridiculously low prices. However, I would recommend that you land earlier in the day so that you get to these places before they close (I feel like stores close too early). Basically, if you can buy it here, don’t pack it. Also, contrary to other packing suggestions I’ve read, I have not seen any charity shops down South Clerk Street selling comforters or sheets.
  • Do yourself a favor and start budgeting. For me, I separate my expenditures into eating out/having fun, groceries, necessities, aesthetics, and travel.
  • Take advantage of free walking tours. Almost every city offers them.

A Few Surprises

Choosing a place to study abroad can be tricky. Maybe there is somewhere you have always wanted to go. Maybe there is somewhere you have visited before and want to spend more time exploring. Maybe you have never traveled internationally and don’t care where you go. Regardless of where you end up, your time abroad will be an incredible, eye-opening experience. Not only will you learn things about a new place and meet new people, but you will be amazed by how much you learn about yourself.

No matter how much you prepare for living in a new place, you will inevitably run into things that you had not expected. I thought I would mention a few things that surprised me about living in Edinburgh.

  1. THE WIND. When I told people I was going to study abroad in Scotland, they would always mention the weather and how wet it is over here (keep in mind that I come from sunny California). I don’t mind the rain or the gloom, but no one prepared me for the wind. Living in California, I never understood all the hoopla about people envying our weather. I mean it is hot. All. The. Time. And I’m not a fan of heat. I never knew I was such a weather brat, but coming here I’ve learned how much weather can dictate your day. The wind has gotten up to 30mph and is extremely difficult to walk against. Add a bit of rain and it’s impossible to stay dry. And then your eyes get all dried out so they start tearing up like crazy while your hair is soaking wet and all knotted. Now this may not be news to anyone who is from a place with actual seasons, but if you are from somewhere that’s anything like LA, you’ve been officially warned.
  2. Where are all the Scots?? I have been here for almost 5 months now and of all the people I have met, a very small percentage have been Scottish. I don’t know if it’s because I’m American that maybe I notice other Americans more, but I swear that 70% of the people I have met have been American. And when we get to talking, they seem to have experienced the same thing. 4 out of 7 of my professors have also been American and only 1 is Scottish. Edinburgh is a really diverse city, something I didn’t really realize when I came over here. I remember hearing that a really huge percentage of Edinburgh’s population are international people, so I guess maybe that explains things a bit… But if you find out where all the Scottish people are hiding, let me know.
  3. If you need credits to transfer back to your home university while abroad, try your best to get all of your classes sorted BEFORE you come. Or at least have a detailed game plan. Because of a number of complicated reasons, I need pretty much all of my classes to transfer back to my home university. I did all of my homework before hand and thought that I had all of my classes sorted, but once second semester rolled around, I realized I had forgotten to account for some credits. It was a very stressful week of trying to communicate with my personal tutor here while also trying to get classes approved by multiple people back at home who are 8 hours behind. Just save yourself the trouble and triple check that your academic plan is solid before you get here.

It is nice to be aware of everything that’s heading your way, but it’s impossible to be 100% prepared. But don’t worry. Seriously. Trust me when I say that you are definitely not the only one in that boat. And people are generally really eager to help out if you ask. Discovering new things you hadn’t expected is half the fun of studying abroad, so embrace it and enjoy.

Alex