We’re not so different, you and me: An introduction to Edinburgh


photo by Kara Killinger Photo credit: Kara Killinger

So, I’m here! I made it! And Edinburgh, Scotland — surprise, surprise — is different from San Antonio. Here they say “sitting in or take away?” instead of “for here or to go?” Oatmeal is porridge. Bandaids are plasters. 18-year-olds can drink, so you see sights like a small freshman girl moving into her flat with cute pink bedding, fun posters and a huge box of vodka bottles. You know, the usual.

When you look up in Edinburgh, you see 200-year-old buildings, brown against a gray sky, and when you look down you see a cobblestone sidewalk littered with flattened cigarettes. Edinburgh is a place of contradictions. It’s not uncommon for anyone and everyone to smoke on public sidewalks, and I’ve seen multiple 13-year-olds doing it. Yet sustainability is also big: Buses are a convenient and popular way to get around. There is a bike lane on every street. Plastic bags cost extra, so you bring your own reusable ones. You can get 25 to 50 pence off at pretty much any coffee shop if you use a reusable cup.

This juxtaposition of caring for the planet but not caring for your own lungs is a tad jarring.

But hey, sameness is here, too. Cultures overlap. The portion sizes at restaurants are still very big. Coffee is just as, maybe even more popular here: There is a coffee shop around practically every corner, and I can’t wait to explore all of them and find which one fits my vibe the most. Scottish people roll Rs, but their pronunciations and idioms do not generally resemble Scottish Twitter. And Scottish accents — to me, anyway — seem more similar to American accents than English ones do.

Even being new here feels somewhat familiar. I’m writing this now in the kitchen of my flat, but for a couple of days before I moved in, I had program orientation. This was when a bunch of students — all set to study abroad at the University of Edinburgh through Arcadia’s study abroad program — lived in a hotel. We sat in a room for a few hours a day listening to talks about Scottish academics, laws and even film. When our program leaders were done talking at about 2 p.m. each day, they let us loose in Edinburgh.

The whole thing felt like Trinity New Student Orientation all over again, from the newness of the city, to the excitement of trying new things, to the pressure of pretending to be a less shy version of myself.

Something that struck me during orientation, though, was that the same passions are shared by many, many people. On the evening of day two, I found myself in a small group of kids who barely knew each other — some from Houston, others from Nashville, Minneapolis, Boulder. Yet we all agreed that Thai would be the best way to go for dinner; we all shared sips of a fancy beer one of us ordered and agreed it was amazing; we stood in a line at Tesco’s squinting and rubbing our chins as we wondered first which bottle of wine to purchase, and subsequently, how to evenly split the cost.

We finished out the night back in our hotel, doing what Trinity kids might have done. Sitting on the beds. Pouring relatively cheap wine into mugs. Singing along to important songs such as Snail Mail’s “Thinning,” Beyonce’s “Halo,” Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” and of course, Vanessa Carleton’s absolute bop “One Thousand Miles.” It didn’t really matter that all of us were from vastly different schools in vastly different states. Vanessa Carlton can make her way downtown in any city in the world.

Thinking about this in bed the night after hanging with those new friends made me hopeful that it’ll be like that here in Edinburgh. Though I’ll encounter certain cultural differences, I will tend to have more in common with people than I expect.

I’ll report back in two weeks and let you know how it goes.