Somehow, this is only my fourth day in Scotland, but it feels like I’ve been here for a long time, even though the days have flown by. I arrived Tuesday morning expecting it to be at least drizzling, if not pouring rain. It is raining in the United Kingdom, after all, and it rains here constantly if everything I had ever heard is correct. Apparently it is not true, because four days later, I have yet to see a single drop of water fall from the sky (besides off the sides of buildings). Having now said that, it’s going to immediately start pouring rain in the next five minutes.
When I got here and had dragged myself through immigration and customs, I realized that I had not told my bank that I would be abroad, as I had been reminded to do every day for the previous two weeks, so I would not be able to use it to get any money. At least not then. Fortunately, I had two ten-pound notes given as a last-minute gift by a friend, which was enough to get a bus into the city from the airport, and then to get a taxi to my flat. I could have walked, I now realize, from where the bus dropped me off, but it’s a twenty minute walk, and I had about one hundred pounds of luggage. Plus, I got to ride in one of the famous black cabs, which was well worth the few pounds it cost.
I was pleasantly surprised by my apartment, and even more so by the flatmates I’ve gotten to know over the past few days. All of them are international students, but only one is from the United States, so it’s quite a varied group. It’s been an adventure trying to furnish a flat for the first time, and a couple days ago I went grocery shopping by myself for myself for the first time. I don’t think I did very well, but I’ve managed not to starve yet, so I consider it a success, even if my room still looks a little low on decoration.
At Vassar there’s orientation week, but at UK universities there’s Fresher’s Week. It’s basically a week-long party with at least twenty different events held each day to choose from. At night there are concerts and pub crawls and ceilidhs, a type of social where Scottish dancing is performed and there’s singing of traditional songs. They are the social event and a must-do while in Scotland. Needless to say, sleeping is not a priority except to recover from the night before and to be ready to get up in the morning and do it all again. It doesn’t help that Edinburgh is a “walking city” – people rarely take buses or cabs, one simply walks everywhere. I’ve ended up walking at least four or five miles each day, just in the old town where the university is.
The scenery, however, is the consolation prize.
Edinburgh works hard to make sure that the city maintains its character, and it succeeds brilliantly. Most of the bigger buildings look they could fit in at Hogwarts, and the rest look like they never left the eighteenth century. There are shops and pubs on the ground floor—what we Americans call the first floor—and above there are flats, all in stone buildings that seem to be the same yet different from each other. Basically, the whole city is utterly and delightfully charming. Fortunately the city is relatively flat, or the more than a mile walk from my flat to the campus would be exhausting.
During my brief time here, I have gotten to know a few Scots. Enough to know that they are quite nice and chipper, and also that while we may both be speaking English, it doesn’t mean that I understand even half of what they’re saying. Sometimes it seems like I only catch every other word, but it feels rude to ask them to repeat themselves when they are, in fact, speaking English. Instead I just nod and smile and pretend I have a clue what they’re talking about. Chances are, they’re probably talking about the referendum on Scottish independence happening next Thursday. “Yes” and “No” signs are everyone, showing the divided opinions of Scots. It’s a decision so close no one is willing to say how the vote will go; instead they argue over what minority group will be the deciding factor.
Really the main thing that my time so far has taught me is that many Scots like to drink, they’re friendly, and they would really like not to talk about the referendum anymore, thank you very much. Also that people actually do wear kilts, it’s not just something you see in movies. I was walking down the street and a man casually strolled past deep in conversation with the person next to him, wearing a kilt and the traditional jacket that goes with it. It was surreal, sort of how I imagine it would be to be walking in Paris and see a mime in a beret. And it perfectly sums up Scotland, delightful but just a touch odd.