Tales from abroad: Adjusting to Scotland

I awoke from a halfhearted slumber to the rattle and crunch of our 757’s landing gear. I peered out the window, greeted by the clementine sun and misty Scottish landscape. Down below us airport workers carrying bags and tending to equipment shielded themselves from the early morning rainfall. “You’d better get used to this weather,” my seat neighbor said in his unmistakable Scottish twang. My first taste of Scotland was underwhelming.

We taxied to our gate, greeted by the bubbly banter of our University of Edinburgh program coordinators. Aside from some nearly incoherent English bouncing from person to person around the airport, I might’ve believed we were in the states. I’d always been told this would be transformative and that each day studying abroad would be more exciting than the next. I’d just have to wait and see.

After a two-day orientation, my program thrust me into city life, expecting me to fend for myself in a city I did not know. It was at this moment that my resentment for the different, the strange, and the Scottish began. I walked into my flat’s kitchen, met by a stove and fridge dwarfed by American standards. I bickered with myself, undoubtedly startling my new roommates with my expletive-ridden outbursts.

Every disjointed ramble by a Scottish local had me wanting to sprint into a wall or grab their face while shouting, “learn to speak!” I felt like a disgruntled old man shouting at the neighborhood children to quiet down. I went through waves of angry fits about tiny things, like the oddly shaped European power outlets. Then spells of homesickness arrived with long nights wandering my hometown on Google Earth. I spent hours in my bed perusing snapchat, scavenging for anything that would give me the feeling I was back home, even if just for a moment. Anything different tortured me and regret overwhelmed me. The wet cobbles with impossible traction, the Scottish voices narrating ads, or the trend of male short-shorts and heinously pale thighs in the gym. I genuinely began believing that the U.K. was the U.S. just slightly worse.

For the first time in my life I felt like a vagabond. The art of embracing a new culture proved nearly impossible, but then one day, out of the blue, it snapped. I realized, while conducting my daily brood about how worthless the American dollar is in the U.K., that I was being a jerk. This self-awareness was invigorating. “Tone it down, what you are doing is absolutely nuts!” I thought to myself. How many people get to travel to Scotland with a bunch of friends, essentially be on vacation, and enjoy the luxuries of European culture? Hardly anybody. My parents are old now and will never be able to do what I am doing. These realizations were essential to my present happiness.

I pondered the age of the slick cobbles pressed against my feet, no longer my enemies, but newfound comrades. I wondered about the different men who had walked my route as I went to class, and I enjoyed the rich history of my new city. It became clear, as simple as it sounds, that the key to success abroad is to leave your comfort zone. I felt blessed to cook on my new baby stove and to have to battle my flatmates for space in my hilariously small refrigerator. Scottish speech may be incoherent, but learning to understand it is an art form I looked forward to mastering.

When I return to the U.S. and awake from my half-hearted slumber, back on American soil, with workers down below me bustling about, I’ll be met by the bubbly banter of all the ones I love and missed, and I’ll be a better man. My lesson to those reading, while seemingly intuitive, is to open up your heart to the strange and the different. In other words: don’t be a jerk. In a city you don’t know, where the new meets the old, you’ll be happy where your journey takes you.

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