Edinburgh: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Well, it’s finally happened. The novelty has worn off. I’ve been keeping myself busy exploring the societies and working through my classwork, and I’ve settled into a routine. I haven’t gotten lost in weeks, I naturally look the other way when crossing the street, and I am getting used to the plethora of accents I come across. Thus I feel it is time for me to pronounce judgment on the city that will be my home for the next to months. So, without further ado…

The Good

1. The Learning Style. As I am STUDYING abroad rather than just vacationing, this is probably the most important aspect I need to comment upon. The learning style is very different here than at Cornell University, where I normally study. At Cornell, I could have three exams, five essays, and a project due in a single week. That’s more assignments than I have this entire semester! Instead of constant assessment the focus here is on self-study. I have a lot of readings and recommended resources to supplement my lectures. There’s also a lot less class time, and when I am in class there’s a lot of hands-on material. On Monday, I spent my day analyzing the lithics study collection to learn more about the categorization of stone tools. On Thursday, I got to analyze Greek pottery (yea, I TOUCHED ancient Greek vases… it was the highlight of my day). Today I looked at human remains to understand the effects of various pathogens on skeletons. There’s even a whole week dedicated to innovative learning in February where instead of classes there are trips and workshops. I’ve learned a lot more from those activities than I ever would from just a lecture.

2. The Atmosphere. Yes, I know, this is a broad category, but it HAS to be. This city has every type of atmosphere imaginable. I live in a quiet residential area adjacent to a park with views of a castle, cathedral, and Arthur’s seat. If I walk for 10 minutes, I am in a bustling shopping district. If I walk fifteen minutes, I’m on campus. There are clubs. There are pubs. Restaurants. Cafes. Plays. Anything and everything imaginable, it’s probably here.


Both of these views can be found within five minutes of my flat. Can you believe it’s the same place?


3. The Discounts. Nearly everyone has a student discount, though they’re called concessions rather than discounts. The cafes, street vendors, plays, historic sites, and pubs all range from 10% or more, and some of the grocery stores even have special student discount cards. This is nice for a student on a budget.

4. The weather. Yea, that’s right. I said it. The weather in Scotland is NICE. Yes, it rains. But it rains a lot less often than I expected, and it’s sunny at least three quarters of the time. The weather’s a lot milder and a lot less continental than I’m used to, as well, so there aren’t really extremes. (I may take this back come winter).

5. The societies. Societies are Edinburgh’s equivalent of clubs, and they are an absolutely fantastic way to get to know people. There are a ton of them, for anything from chocolate to whiskey to archaeology to Harry Potter. I have met so many people through them, and they even have trips. I am even going to ROME through them (more on that later).

The Bad:

1. The cobblestones. This is an old city, and because of that a lot of the streets are cobbled. All of George Square (where my classes are) is cobbled, even the sidewalks. As you can imagine, this gets rather treacherous for someone clumsy… and I am VERY clumsy. It also makes running a little bit difficult, as you have to be careful which streets you choose.

2. The supermarkets. Any and all Americans, brace yourselves. These are not the grocery stores you are looking for. The supermarkets here are small, they are limited, and they can be expensive. I often find myself going to two or three different ones to save money and get everything I need. They also don’t have carts, just small baskets, and nothing is ever in bulk. Want a gallon of milk or a dozen eggs? Good luck.

3. The streets. The names of streets change CONSTANTLY. This makes it extremely difficult to get anywhere without getting lost, especially if you don’t notice when the streets change. If you think Nicolson Street is the next street over, but you end up on Clerk Street, you’re still in the right place. Sound confusing? It is.

The Ugly:

1. My flat. Of all the wonderful architecture in this city, U of Edinburgh seems to choose the absolute worst sometimes:

.....yep. THAT.
…..yep. THAT.

Oh, P.S. That pie? With the treacle? Well, I’ll let you be the judge:

IMG_3791 IMG_3788




  1. musicompsci says:

    Get thee to the ASDA. It is on many bus routes, and it is a balm for the north american soul. They have everything, low prices, and you can buy your food in bulk. The stuff is better and cheaper than poundstretcher. I have only reluctantly entered sainsburys and tesco since I discovered ASDA.

  2. egn22 says:

    Oh, I have been outside the three mile radius. I should have stated that this was specific to the areas near Edinburgh University, where we only have “Tesco Express” and “Scotmid” and the like; you must admit it’s a bit unwieldy to get groceries three miles to your house, especially with eggs or frozen goods. The nearest Asda is 2.8 miles from my flat and the closest large supermarket is a rather expensive Waitrose, so I’m learning to cook a few things in a lot of ways rather than making the trek. All I meant by this was that it was one of those small things that was a bit of a shock, as the supermarkets back home are not typically very small at all.

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