Hi Everyone!

This is my first blog post so I thought it would be best if I gave a brief introduction and background on myself. My name is Sarah and I was born and raised in Texas (a state in the United States if anyone needs clarification). After graduating from high school, I decided to go off to Los Angeles, California where I started university at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). My major is Electrical Engineering and when I graduate in 2022 (fingers crossed!) I plane to work as a software engineer and then maybe go back to school and get a Ph.D. in Computer Science.

“Why Edinburgh? And why during a global pandemic?” are two of the most common questions I get after introducing myself here. I choose Edinburgh because it was one of the three options I had for going abroad as an Electrical Engineering major. Caltech doesn’t have many exchange programs and the Electrical Engineering graduation requirements are quite rigorous. Also, I have always wanted to study in the UK and friends of mine who’ve studied at Edinburgh before me have always loved it. As a third year, I did have the option to defer to the fall of 2021. I choose not to take it once it became clear that Caltech would be 100% remote for the fall of 2020. Being cooped up in my childhood home in Texas for a way longer period than I had anticipated, I desperately needed a change of scenery and escaping to Edinburgh offered that.

Obviously, the study abroad experience at Edinburgh is very different this year than previous years. Since I was arriving from the United States, I was required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. So instead of departing for Scotland September 12 to arrive just in time for Welcome Week, I ended my Google summer internship a week early and went to through 5 airports on Friday August 28 and arrived in Edinburgh the morning of Saturday, August 29. When I arrived at Kincaids Court (the university accommodation I was set to stay at this semester), I had my quarantine food packs waiting for me (the white paper bags on my desk in the picture below). These food packs were the main spectacle for me during my 14 days of self-isolation. The security guards would come around 11am – 12pm and drop off the meals for the day and it was a game to guess what sort of sandwich or salad be for lunch or dinner. Breakfast was pretty much the same everyday (juice box, croissant, oat bar, apple). Lunch and dinner were salad/sandwich, potato chips (or crisps as the British call it), Mars bar (though it was quite a welcome surprise when I received a Twix or a Kit Kat), apple, and a juice box. One of my classmates actually made a blog of our experience that you can watch on YouTube: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0WYXC_p7Z4).

Picture of my room when I first arrived

Once the other Caltech students and I were finished with our 14-day isolation. We planned a full day out around Edinburgh! Amy (one of the Caltech exchange students) and I did a morning sightseeing jog can be found here: https://greatruns.com/location/edinburgh-uk/. We then went to the Grassmarket Farmers Market and got breakfast there. We then got groceries and did some shopping for cookware at Pound Savers. We met up with some of the other Caltech exchange students for brunch at the Edinburgh Larder (food was very tasty). We then marched toward Princes Street to do some shopping. My main find was at Primark where jumpers were like £6! After shopping we walked around the Princes Street gardens before heading back to towards Old Town. I then got a tour of the Edinburgh University’s George Square campus from one of the Electrical Engineering students that studied at Caltech last year. Later that evening, the Caltech exchanges and I rallied our last bits of energy and went to the Three Sisters to get a Scottish pub experience.

The next day was also a little jam packed. I went on a Sandeman free walking tour in the morning (would highly recommend), the tour gave me good historical context about Edinburgh as well as the sources of Harry Potter inspiration! I also had bought tickets to the castle. I think a good bit of the castle was closed because of the coronavirus restrictions but the bird’s-eye views of Edinburgh from the top of the castle were spectacular. I then went to dinner at Chop House on Market Street with my cousin (who had flown up from Bristol to visit me) and the steak at Chop House was just simply amazing. We finished up our steak dinner with dessert at Coro the Chocolate Café with a scrumptious cheesecake.

Me in front of the Edinburgh Castle

Well I think it was fair to say after quarantine I went a little crazy with sightseeing. But I love how close everything in the city is and you can really just go from one tourist attraction to another. I wouldn’t recommend anyone do what I did that weekend after quarantine because I was absolutely exhausted afterwards—maybe space if over three to four days.

So in my next blog post I’ll probably try to talk a little about Welcome Week and the how the first week of classes went for me. Stay tuned!

-Sarah