Olivia in Scotland: Strangers Like Me

Greetings from Edinburgh!

After a week and two days, it’s still difficult to believe that I’m actually here. Even from what I’ve seen so far, this city and this country are as lovely or lovelier than I heard them described. Where else can you get views like this?

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From my day trip to the Borders area where we stopped by the beautiful village of Peebles!

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Hiking up Arthur’s Seat, the big hill in the middle of Edinburgh.

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This is a little of what it looks like from the top of Arthur’s Seat!

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I took this from inside The Elephant House, which is, for the Harry Potter fans, the coffeeshop where J.K. Rowling wrote a lot of the first book!

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I love how cozy all of the streets look here. Many houses have flowers in their window boxes or front gardens. 

I’ve only really done one major tourist attraction in the city so far (Arthur’s Seat). Thankfully, I’ve got the rest of the semester to see the sights. So much of this past week has been about gathering basic necessities, enrolling in courses, meeting new people, trying to get over my jet lag, and generally getting settled. If you’re a student thinking of going abroad, make sure to be gracious with yourself; don’t feel like you have to see every sight of your new city all at once in the very beginning while you’re still exhausted!

I think often what is most striking about a new place is not what is different from one’s home, but what is unexpectedly the same. I’ve seen a lot of similarities over the past week so I’m just going to list some off:

  • The natural scenery. When my taxi took me from the airport through the surrounding countryside to the city center, I was surprised how much the landscape reminded me of Virginia. I have lived in Virginia all my life, and the hills here actually look quite a lot like those of western Virginia, or of somewhere like Albemarle county. I thought the same thing on my day trip to the Borders area on Saturday when I hiked through the Cardrona forest in Tweed Valley Forest Park.
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While it’s certainly not exactly like home, to me, it felt like I was in Virginia but with more coniferous trees. 

  • The number of Americans. There are more American visiting students in Edinburgh than students visiting from any other country! Even outside of the university students, I have met many other American adults living in the city as well. I actually feel like I’ve talked to more Americans than Scots in my time here so far. This didn’t even happen on purpose; there’s just so many of them!
  • Political talk. Scotland and the US are both in political turmoil right now what with the upcoming presidential election in America and the fierce desire of many Scots for independence from the UK. My personal tutor (the equivalent of an academic advisor here) told me that he hasn’t seen the political situation this volatile here since the 70s. Both countries seem to be at a crossroads, so you’ll hear a lot of people talking about politics. All of the Scottish people here want to know what the Americans think about America’s political situation right now, so in turn, I ask them about their perspective on their own. It’s definitely led to a few interesting conversations.
  • The music. They mostly play American music on the radio in the shops and pubs here. For me, this was most striking when I attended  Christian faith events. In the church services I went to, as well as the worship session with Christian Union (a student organization here), we sang some of the exact same worship songs I sing in my church at home. While I definitely heard some unfamiliar Christian songs as well, it did feel nice to have some that I knew well.

All that being said, there are also a lot of differences from the life I am used to. I’ve never lived in a city before, so I’m still getting used to all of the walking (thankfully, Edinburgh is a very walkable city). There are more people here from other countries and regions than I’ve encountered in one place before. Unexpectedly, I’ve learned quite a bit about cultures other than Scottish culture just in the past week. I became friends with one student from Louisiana who explained the difference between Cajun and Creole culture and told me all about the city of New Orleans. I also became friends with several people of Korean origin and have eaten Korean food more than once since arriving here! I am learning that living in a city means encountering a variety of cultures, and I am loving it.

One difference between American and British culture I have fully embraced: when British people drink tea, they usually eat biscuits (cookies) with it instead of just drinking the beverage on its own. I knew this about the culture already because I have a boyfriend back home who is half English, so when I arrived, I decided to go all out with it. Tea biscuits were one of my first purchases here, and I’ve taken to drinking no less than two cups of tea per day with them. I’ve been an avid tea lover for a long time, so I feel rather like I’m able to fully be my true tea-drinking self here!

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To close this post, I’ll share a little of what the most special aspect of this trip has been to me so far. I thought that it would take me a while to make friends in Edinburgh, especially friends who would really care about me. To my surprise, I’ve made good friends incredibly quickly. This is entirely due to the Christian community here. I’ve found that having one thing in common with other people—particularly having faith in common—can bond you together with them very quickly, whatever your other differences might be. I’ve certainly talked to people who are different from me in this area as well and I value those conversations very higly, but it has been very sweet to see how faith creates a family. I can’t wait to see more of this as my trip goes on.

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Part of my Edinburgh family!

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Because family is also crazy and sometimes they paint your face.

Welcome week was great; now on to classes!

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