It is a testament of how busy I have been adjusting to and enjoying life in Scotland that this is only the third blog post I have written so far. But wow, do I have a lot to talk about now! From living in a self-catered flat (read: cook for yourself) and trying not to get blown away by the wind to conversations about British English versus American and hour long debates about movies, life here has been swell. But, everything is not perfectly peachy either, and if anyone is wondering why I’m suddenly talking/ typing in such a strange fashion, it’s been because I’ve been holed up in my room too long, binge-banging Heroes and House on Netflix. Not so great.
Yes, first I thought I’d leave out the not-so-great parts and only talk about how awesome Edinburgh and studying abroad is, but then I realized that doing so would be a big fat lie and false advertisement. I mean, I would rather read a more honest blog that warned me about potential disappointments and difficulties than read dozens that only detail the best of the experience, leaving me unprepared. It’s the same social media debate: people only show what they want you to see, how happy they are, blah blah. So here’s to the hope that I can present a more balanced picture.
Did you know that some people come to study abroad with their own friends from college? I thought it was a fairly silly thing to do but right now it makes a lot of sense to me: it’s a little difficult to make new friends here. I admit, this is the toughest thing to admit or talk about. This might also not be true for everyone, it’s not a 100% true for me either, but it is hard and from what I’ve seen, heard, and read, it isn’t a 100% untrue for everyone either.
While participating during a 24-hour magazine event during the University’s “Innovative Learning Week,” I edited an article written by a full-time domestic student where she explored the pressures of having a social life and dealing with the feeling of not having enough friends. I guess it just gets tougher if you’re an introvert, don’t drink, and decided to study abroad during the middle of the third year at a huge university where pretty much everyone already has their set friend groups and people/ places to hang out with – rules out most possibilities of finding students (domestic, international, or visiting) to socialize with.
The other struggles are minor, mild culture-shock almost. For instance, Emma and I visited The Elephant House (one of the cafés where J.K. Rowling wrote the HP books) and were completely taken aback by how upfront and almost rude the staff there were. We’d been warned about that during the Arcadia orientation, the difference between earning through tips and salaries, but it is still something I feel repeatedly, even if slightly, shocked about.
Classroom culture is a little baffling, too. First, being a third year “honours” student, I only have three classes per week, one for each of the three courses I take (we can’t take more, apparently). That means lots and lots of free time, especially if I compare that to my insane schedule back in Wooster. Then, of course, there’s the classroom environment itself. The literature honours seminars are brilliant, such great quality of discussion that sometimes I am left staring in awe, but there is also a marked difference between the way students act within the classroom. I tried hard not to make comparisons and be judgmental but you tend to notice if your fellow classmates are reading off of laptops for presentations, not doing homework, or openly checking Facebook and laughing out loud at jokes when someone else is presenting. I understand that participation, regular assignments, formal presentations etc. are not grading criteria here but I did grow up in a fairly British educational system (did my Cambridge GCE A-levels) so I had some trouble adjusting to this initially.
The toughest part with schoolwork however, comes from communication gaps and the lack of information. Now this might just be happening with me and my classes, but often it seems like vital pieces of information related to the course, like essay guidelines and exam details, are not relayed to the students effectively enough and so we’re all left walking in the dark, bumping into each other. Sometimes, we laugh about it but sometimes it gets rather frustrating.
But wait, as promised, it really is NOT doom and gloom here. I sincerely love being in Edinburgh. For starters. It’s the joy of being able to live in a thriving, accessible big city again. I love Wooster, my college, but often I feel claustrophobic and trapped there because of how small the town is. I can walk downtown in ten minutes but it looks like I’ve barely left campus – there’s hardly any interesting stuff to do there. We have the pretty public library, but the college has two bigger prettier ones, and there are a bunch of food places but I’m not a millionaire and I don’t eat steak either. The only reasons I visit downtown Wooster is if I have an unusually strong craving for Lemonberry or to visit Booker, the Wooster Book Company cat.
Edinburgh, on the other hand, and even Scotland in general, is a great place to live in, especially for someone like me who doesn’t own their own vehicle. Back in Wooster, I find myself almost handicapped without a car and public transport because I can never get out of town even if I really want or need to. Here, though, just taking a five minute walk from my flat is a treat to the eyes. The town center is so close and so…happening! I could even decide to go to Glasgow or Aberdeen on a whim and still be able to get on a train without having to pay an arm and a leg for it. I love that. And of course, the over-abundance of South Asian (and international) take out places does not hurt either; the nearest Indian restaurant to Wooster is an hour long drive away.
As for the remaining perks of studying abroad and doing the Arcadia program, I’ve so far experienced the wonderfulness of a fantastic homestay in Southport, a short but delightful trip to Oxford, and a visit from my best friend from London. This Saturday, I leave for the birthplace of the Beatles, right after finishing my first full-fledged lit. paper of the semester, and then there’s lots of touring around the Highlands and England to come, once April brings Spring Break forth.
But time is making fools of us again, said Professor Dumbledore once, and as I check the date on my calendar, realizing not only that I’ve been in Edinburgh for more than 2 months but that it’s 6 am here, I concur. Time is, indeed, making fools of us. Next post with details on my Liverpool adventures!