I am now two weeks into semester two at Edinburgh University. Two of my roommates have left, to be replaced by two very friendly second-semester exchange students from America. In societies, at home, and through my exchange program (Cornell-Brown-Penn) I have been encountering students who are in the same position that I faced just a few months ago: brand new to the city, trying to find their way around without getting lost, and getting used to the new system. Seeing them has made me realize how much I have learned. A lot of things that I hear people struggling with are now familiar and almost natural to me. Some of these are particular to my situation, but many are things which everyone who comes here will encounter.
1. Navigating the city. There are two huge problems with this. The first is that Old Town does not have much of a city plan to speak of. Roads merge and diverge and wind about one another, which can become disorienting.
The second problem is worse. The roads change names frequently – sometimes every few blocks. For example, there is a main road that runs from right near campus to Princes Street. Depending on where on this road you are, it can be called South Clerk Street, Nicolson Street, South Bridge, or North Bridge, and many other names. Sometimes these make sense, and are based on the fact that they are going over bridges or past well-known buildings. But it can get incredibly confusing, and if you are trying to find your way somewhere and you’re even a block off you may miss your turn because the street name is different. This is something that I’ve learned to deal with primarily by walking the streets, and I’ve found that my sense of direction has improved greatly (those who know me will know how dreadful it is), but you may want to have a map or a phone with GPS to avoid getting lost too often like I did at first.
2. Grocery shopping. I have discussed this before, so I won’t go into much detail, but a lot of people have asked me where I go grocery shopping because they are having difficulties finding a place. With this, there are two main options. You can either do what I do, which is to settle for the smaller grocery stores nearby (Tesco Metro, Sainsbury Local, Scotmid Co-op, etc) or you can take a bus to the outskirts of the city, where there are much larger grocery stores such as ASDA.
3. The educational bureaucracy. The educational system here is definitely different from in the states. You’re probably going to have less class time, as much or more reading, and fewer assignments. But one thing that was never told to me is that you will also be dealing with more people. A lot of my courses have multiple lecturers, up to 6 or 8. Each course has a course secretary, a course organizer, and tutors (TA’s). Everything is handed in anonymously, and I found out just this past week that your final exams are not only anonymous, they are also sent out to a third party to avoid any possibility of bias (Note: I still don’t have last semester’s marks). I have made mistakes as I have gotten familiar with the system, and I think the most important thing for anyone confronting this for the first time is to just read through everything. Make yourself a check list if that will help, but read through the procedures and make sure that you familiarise yourself with everything you have to do and everyone you may encounter.
4. Accommodations. This is more specific to me, but there is a lesson to be learned from it. My flat has a beautiful location adjacent to a park in a quiet area of town. I love that it doesn’t really feel like a city here, and that when I open my windows on nice days I can see kids playing and joggers and “knights” and slack-liners. My flatmates old and new are good and friendly people, and I absolutely adore having my own kitchen.
That being said, I’ve had a lot of difficulties here. We have lights with “motion sensors” that sadly don’t always work and have turned off when I’m pulling bread from the oven or cutting vegetables. Each room has a space heater, but the kitchen/dining/common room is too large to be heated. The building is not properly insulated, which doesn’t help, and the bathrooms don’t have any heat at all. I’m not sure if the dryers are working yet, but they weren’t. Right now I don’t have hot water. I’ll be going to the RA office to report this tonight (they’re only open from 6:30-7:30pm) but because it’s Friday nothing will be done about this until at least Monday.
Now I know some of these problems are specific to Warrender Park, and some of them are unavoidable and could happen to anyone in any flat, but if you plan on coming here try to really look into your living situation before you apply. I probably wouldn’t have chosen to live off-campus just because I like having roommates with whom I have something in common, but that’s an option. You can also look at the Facebook pages which most accommodations have – people usually report problems on there. Me? I’ve been making do with what I have. I bring a small desk lamp into the kitchen sometimes, when I want to work in there without having to gesture wildly to turn on the lights every few minutes. I have three blankets now to combat the cold, and the first thing I do in the morning is put on warm socks.
All that being said, there are some good things to get used to! There are pubs everywhere, even in the university, which is nice whether you want a drink or you just want a cozy place for a bite to eat and a long conversation with friends. The societies are great, and because there is less class time and fewer assignments the work in general is (at least for me, coming from a school with a ton of work and class time) a lot less stressful. It is very easy to get out of Edinburgh, too, which has been a novelty for me coming from Ithaca. The people here are so friendly and there is so much to do in the city that, despite any problems you may have, you’re probably not going to want to leave!