An American Girl in Scotland
I spent some of my last days in America preparing for Vassar’s freshman orientation as well as getting ready for my own “Fresher’s Week” in Edinburgh. That’s right – after days upon days of conflict coaching, leadership training, and house team bonding, I was off to become the very person that I was training to help. If that sounds confusing, imagine actually living through it. This twilight zone of a week began with me sobbing continuously to my Vassar friends, practically begging them to lock me in the basement of Blodgett so that maybe I could just stay at the school I love so dearly. Don’t get me wrong: I am thrilled to be abroad, but leaving Vassar after house team training was like leaving a middle school slumber party—I simply didn’t want to go. After pulling myself together, packing two suitcases until dangerously full, and boarding a plane to the UK alongside my mother, I was ready to start my adventure. My transition between Jewett and Hermit’s Croft (it sounds so Scottish, doesn’t it?) was spent in a comfortable hotel room in the center of Edinburgh, playing tourist with my mom. In between buying school supplies, we toured castles, ate pub food, and listened to ghost tours in “haunted” cemeteries. Finally, my mom returned to real life, and my real life in Scotland began.
The first day without my mom (I’m an adult, I promise) was scary at first. It was Freshers’ Week at University of Edinburgh, and the questions swimming through my head included, “What do people do here? Are my social skills going to work in Scotland? Will they think I’m a loser from some unknown location in the States, or will they think I’m a really cool American?” I started off well by going to the grocery store and looking completely lost. I wandered the aisles, wondering why everything seemed smaller in size—the milk cartons, the bags of flour, even the apples were all miniature. Even though I didn’t quite know how to instantly become a natural UK grocery shopper, my trip ended pretty well, despite the fact that I could not—and still can’t—find tofu anywhere. In fact, I had to explain to the store employees what tofu is, and they led me to the cheese section, which didn’t quite have what I was looking for. They wished me luck in finding my tofu, deemed me a “unique lady,” and off I went, groceries in hand.
As soon as I returned to my flat (a suite with five singles, a kitchen, and two bathrooms), I heard a friendly “helloooo!” and in skipped two lovely Scottish women to clean our kitchen and bathrooms. Yes, you heard me—University of Edinburgh has housekeeping in the dorms. With Scottish accents so thick that I could barely make out some of their words, the women chatted to me about Edinburgh, the weather, and how messy the boys across the hall were, all the while mopping, dusting, and scrubbing. After spending two years dealing with the dinginess of the Joss kitchen, I have to admit that I was both shocked and overjoyed.
Later that evening, I found myself at a freshers’ flat party. I was the sole junior in a room full of just-turned-18-year-olds. This wasn’t exactly the type of party that I’m used to, especially after becoming a committed Vassar queer lady party attendee. Nevertheless, I chatted with some meek freshmen, tried to understand their British slang, and left after 45 minutes. I followed my flatmate, Caroline—a wonderful Londoner—to an improv show wonderfully similar to “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”, where the cast tried many times to imitate a southern accent (something I know only too well, coming from rural Virginia). Before the show, I had tried to order a cup of tea from the theater café; it was in this moment that I learned how to correctly order tea in Scotland. I asked what types of tea they had (how American of me). The man laughed, and informed me that if I just asked for “tea,” I automatically meant English Breakfast, and if I wanted anything else, I needed to specify. I failed to explain how in the States, there wasn’t a go-to type of tea to order, and ended up asking for a glass of water to calm my foreign nerves.
The improv show had ended, and after Caroline and I left, she realized that she really needed to use the “loo.” Unfortunately, our flat is a good ten-to-fifteen-minute walk from the theater, so naturally, we ran home. We literally skipped, galloped, and jogged through the cobblestone alleyways and quiet nighttime streets of ancient Edinburgh—Caroline muttering about how badly she needed the loo, me laughing, and every passerby awkwardly eyeing. It was in that moment that I realized how happy I was to be somewhere completely new, different, and breathtaking. I was surrounded by lovely, friendly people within an old and beautiful city. Everything that lay ahead was for me to discover. As we ran home, I foresaw all of the things that I would learn and all of the adventures that I would have, and I smiled.