When I first started college at Northeastern University in Boston, the one thing I was certain of was that I wanted to study abroad. I didn’t know when or where it would be, but I knew that the experience of being immersed in student culture in a foreign place was one I could not pass on. Fast forward to my fourth year of university, and here I am at the University of Edinburgh. Why Edinburgh? Well, I live in one of the oldest cities in the United States, but ‘old’ in Boston cannot really compare to the thousands of years of history etched across the cobblestone streets of Edinburgh. The University of Edinburgh, the sixth oldest university in the English speaking world, seemed like the perfect place to experience something completely different to what I was accustomed to – and I was right. Soon after arriving, I was quickly introduced to the following staples of Scottish culture: pints of cider with blackcurrent, ‘cheers’ as an appropriate response to just about everything, and beans on toast. With those crucial introductions out of the way, I was able to get out to take advantage of some rare Scottish sunshine. I am still in awe of how beautiful the city is; I stop to take pictures of every winding staircase and vaguely castle-like building I see, and I have used the word ‘quaint’ more often in the three weeks I have been here than I have in my entire life. What strikes me most about Edinburgh is that it is a vibrant city with restaurants, shops, and nightlife, with the added layer of rich cultural history, all set against an almost otherworldly natural backdrop. It seems like there is pretty much something for anybody here. If stopping to take pictures every few minutes did not automatically label me as a visitor, nearly being hit by a bus multiple times due to looking the wrong way before crossing the street has. The large “Look Right/Look Left” markings painted on the main streets here must be specifically intended for tourists from America. Thankfully, I was able to get accustomed to these basic differences during Freshers’ Week before classes started.
While first year students here arrive at university and jump into a week packed with – for lack of a better description – various forms of organized drinking, the higher legal drinking age in the States means that our ‘Welcome Week’ activities are limited to ice breakers and team building games. Having now experienced both, I can confidently say the former is a much better introduction to university life. As a fourth year student living with mostly freshers, it has been interesting observing my flat mates navigating the first few weeks of university. One would think that in that dynamic I would be a somewhat wise, older figure, but being the only one in the flat who microwaves all of her meals disqualifies me from that kind of status. With that said, I have nothing but good things to say about my time thus far in a student flat (plus, having professional cleaners in twice a week is an added perk on this side of the pond).
Despite going to a large university, most of my classes have not been larger than thirty students. Here, I find myself in large lecture halls and attending companion weekly tutorials for each of my courses. However, the most surprising difference I have observed since arriving here has nothing to do with classes or culture; it’s the difference in me. At home, I am used to my routine, my regular activities, and my circle of friends; starting from scratch has opened me up in an exciting way. Being pulled from the comfort zone of my life in Boston has given me the freedom to try new things – like writing for The Student – without hesitation. So with most of the semester still ahead of me, I say a big ‘cheers’ to Edinburgh.