Leaving Home and Coming Home

Exactly one week ago today, I moved 3000 miles across the ocean to attend the University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland, for the 2013/2014 school year. I’m typing this at my empty desk in my (mostly) empty room. Outside my window, the sounds of traffic and construction clash with the beauty of the Salisbury Crags. Tiny figures make their way across the cliffs—the unusually sunny weather has brought the hikers out in droves. On a clear day like today, I can see the waters of the Firth of Forth on the horizon. I’m drinking instant coffee from Tesco and blowing my nose like it’s a full-time job. (It’s the Freshers Flu, they tell me.)

My name is Rebecca Gyllenhaal. I am a 20-year-old, third-year English major from Bryn Athyn College, just outside of Philadelphia. I work at a bakery. I watch far too much Battlestar Galactica. I love books, cities, and cats. In Edinburgh I will study Gaelic and Scottish Literature, which, strangely enough, surprises Scots just as much as it surprises Americans! (The difference is that the Scots are polite enough to keep their opinions about my job prospects to themselves.)

This is me:

And this is what I actually look like most of the time:

The moment I boarded that plane, British Airways flight 184, I left my entire life behind. I left my friends and family. I left my cat. I left my school and my hometown. I left Philly cheesesteaks, water ice, 24-hour grocery stores, customary units of measurement, strip malls, and all things Extra-Large.

Although My Grand Adventure has already provided me with dozens of firsts (first Tesco run, first Poetry Slam, first time I almost got killed by a bike, first time I’ve ever been called ‘wee’), this isn’t my first trip to Edinburgh. On May 25th, 2011, I graduated from high school. That evening, I flew to Edinburgh to visit my brother, David, who had just finished his year abroad there. Even then, I knew that I wanted to study abroad in college. But I had never dreamed that when that time finally came, I would end up in Scotland.

“I want to go somewhere warm,” I emphasized, when my parents asked me about my plans. I researched schools in New Zealand and Australia. I googled, “good writing programs in the south of France.” I’ve waged a bitter battle against cold all my life. You’d think that with almost exclusively Scandinavian heritage and a Canadian mother, I would have been blessed with a tolerance for cold—but instead, I was cursed with anemia and poor circulation.

Have I mentioned that it’s also just a little bit windy in Edinburgh?wind

And indeed, the moment I stepped off the plane, I donned a jacket to combat the summer chill. But surprisingly, I didn’t mind so much. I was reunited with my brother and we explored High Street, Arthur’s Seat, tea-shops and bookstores and wynds so narrow you could barely squeeze through. It rained four times in one day and was sunny just as often. The roaring winds at the summit of Edinburgh Castle blew one of my earrings right out of my ear, and I watched it tumble into the streets below. I was cold, yes, but I had fallen in love with the city, and I knew that I had to come back.

First impressions of a city are important. They can also be terrifying:highlander

Two years later, I really did come back to Edinburgh, and I still can’t quite believe that I’m here. (The superstitious part of me worried those whole two years that my year in Edinburgh would somehow get cancelled—because local legend has it that if you spit on the Heart of Midlothian, you will come back to the city one day—and I forgot to spit on it!!!)

Exactly a week ago, I was 30,000 feet in the air over Scotland, and we were nearing our destination. It was a little after 5AM, but still dark. I hadn’t slept for a moment. Instead I stared fixedly out the window, anxiously waiting for the first glimpse of my new home. As we prepared to land, the wing of the plane tilted downwards, exposing a dark sliver of land, and the horizon beyond. In that moment, dawn broke. Through the tiny airplane window I saw pink and blue clouds, yellow rays of sunlight and twinkling lights on the dark earth. After 15 hours of travel and 8 hours of darkness on a cramped and airless plane, a glimpse of the sun felt like a miracle. I had arrived. It was dawn over Scotland, and I was coming home.

Up Next: Fresher’s Flu and Friendly Faces



  1. Mary Jane Hill says:

    Rebecca, wonderful entry! I, too, have always suffered from anemia and poor circulation. Yet for the past two years, I have always been too hot! I am your 1st cousin, once removed, if you didn’t already know. I went to Oban, Scotland with two of my sisters, and loved it! Best wishes for your grand adventure to be great!

  2. Hrmng says:

    You are a very good writer; looking forward to the next entry. It is 57 years since I visited Edinburgh, but your words brought back the feeling of those days.

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