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…
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.