Learning the differences


Photo credit: Kara Killinger

I’ve been studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland for almost two months, and all the while I’ve been observing many little differences between the culture here and the culture at home in San Antonio. Here’s what I’ve noticed about life across the pond.

Words Words Words

Some phrases belonging to the Scottish — and often shared by the whole United Kingdom and Ireland — are nothing short of delightful. I’m a big fan of how liberally people use “lovely,” “quite” and “as well.” There’s something extremely charming about “wherabouts” used in place of “where” such as in the phrase, “Wherabouts are you from?” And there are a couple of absurd replacements that I adore: for instance, in Scotland, what we would call dish soap is “washing-up liquid.”

By far my favorite word here is the cute and versatile “Cheers!” Cheers can mean thank you, you’re welcome, have a good day or hello, and people will say to it me when I hold the door open for them or pay for groceries or leave a restaurant. If I were a truly assimilated American, I would say “Cheers!” back in these situations, but I am not one of those, so instead I just nod.

Words can also be a source of confusion. My biggest adjustment has been the university/college/school debacle — to me, the three are pretty much interchangeable, but to Scottish people they are not. “College” here refers to a two-year school where one goes to take certain classes in preparation for university — what we might call a junior college. “School” doesn’t either: Scottish people only use “school” to describe primary or high school. Oh, and middle school doesn’t exist in Scotland: high school starts when students are twelve years old.


A couple of weeks ago I went to copy editing training for the University of Edinburgh’s student newspaper. In retrospect, this was maybe a bad idea because I’ll be out of town most Sundays when the paper gets produced, but I digress. One of the tips the head of copy editing told us was, “Remember, no Americanisms” — as in, don’t write “favorite” where you should write “favourite,” or “organize” instead of “organise.” Pretty standard editing practice for a Scottish paper, but it also reminded me of how much influence America has on the rest of the world. I mean, no one ever has to remind the Trinitonian’s copy editors that there is no “u” in “color.”

America also has influence politically. University of Edinburgh students care — sometimes very passionately — about events like Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. They write articles about United States politics and talk about Trump at parties. I find this interesting since I can barely remember the names of the four main political parties here in Scotland. I asked one British girl why she thought Scottish people care about the United States so much; she said she believes the world follows our example. “If the United States Supreme Court makes a decision,” she said, “everywhere else might follow that precedent.”

I don’t think I fully realized the extent to which the world watches America until I came to Scotland.

Miss Independent

Abroad in Scotland, I have more freedom than I have ever had in my life. For the first time since high school, I have my own room, and for the first time since ever, I have my own kitchen where I cook for myself on a daily basis.

Cooking has been an adventure of throwing vegetables in a frying pan and hoping for the best. I also almost set off the fire alarm once because I accidentally burnt eggs. Don’t worry: I quickly solved the problem by opening both windows and flailing my arms around a lot to disperse the smoke. All’s well that ends well.

The more I do it though, the more cooking becomes a calming experience. I learn things. I put music on. I brew many cups of tea.

Another aspect of Edinburgh that adds to my sense of independence is how walkable the city is. I can get wherever I need to go on foot. My nearest grocery store is a three-minute walk away, my nearest vegan donut store is a thirty-second walk, and it takes me fifteen minutes or so to get to campus. Having my own two feet as my primary source of transportation allows me to be more spontaneous than I would ever be in America. I can be walking along, see a used bookshop and decide to pop in — the trouble of finding a parking space is not a factor.

The trouble of making time for friends is often not even a factor. My free time is less limited here, and I feel no obligation to try and fill it all with socializing. If I need a study buddy or a friend to walk home with in the dark, I can hit up the Facebook group message, but no one will feel abandoned if I choose not to.

I think for a while at Trinity, I forgot how much I genuinely enjoy spending time alone. I’m hoping to bring that lesson back to Texas with me when January rolls around.