Studying Abroad: (Suddenly) No Longer a Tourist

A boy, ~9 and dressed in a navy suit (a typical uniform, it seems, in Edinburgh,) gestured at me through the iron gate of his schoolyard.  Face pressed against the mesh between the slats, he asked if I could toss him a toy (presumably thrown) in the middle of the sidewalk.  I picked it up and delivered it over the fence, he thanked me in a perfect, adorable Scottish accent, and I continued back from class.  I stopped at a little market to buy a few snacks and a hairbrush (I thought I had forgotten my own and found it at the bottom of my suitcase this morning) and returned home with my groceries slung over my shoulder.  This was the first time I walked anywhere alone, without my orientation group and without Tom, our (truly wonderful) program director, and I felt as though I had truly melded into the busy streets disguised as a single drop in some bustling, foreign river.  Everyone brushed past me and I wandered upstream without beckoning a second glance or an extra thought.

The rest of the town traveled with similar Tesco bags and students with backpacks like mine waited at the bus stops.  Although I’ve only been in Scotland a week, I feel as though I’ve shed my touristic distinctness.  I don’t, however, move into my apartment until Saturday (with my Scottish and international flatmates—I secretly hope to resurrect the glamour of L’auberge Espagnole, which I watched in Professor Rolland’s French class freshman year.)  Perhaps my mindset is what’s most responsible, but despite my (so-far) short stay, I am suddenly and semi-inexplicably not here as just a visitor or as a stranger who simply rolls through before tackling the rest of some busy European itinerary, but as someone who is holding her nose and slowly submerging in this strange, beautiful, Scottish sea of history and rain and hills and greenery.

Daniel, one of my sponsees, sent me a message concerned that this whole experience wouldn’t be “immersive” enough, and I can understand an outsider’s concern.  After all, my time here so far has almost exclusively been spent amongst other Sagehens in a first-world, English-speaking country.  And I’m not sure I can articulate so soon how subtly and enormously life is different in Edinburgh; all I can offer so far are fleeting moments that have re-molded my foreign projection of what I once thought Scotland was like.

Lindsey and I took a stroll after dinner one evening, and happened to cross Tom on the sidewalk. Our little rendez-vous inexplicably blossomed into a short hike with him and his partner on Blackford Hill, where we learned about Scotland’s most common flowers, inventions they’ve inspired, and where we admired the city at sunset.  We also traveled en masse to Fife, about an hour north of Edinburgh, and hiked a two-mile hilly stretch parallel to the picturesque coast and the ocean.  Yesterday evening, the orientation group and I lounged in a common room downstairs, and 15 Scottish (and Russian, and British, and Latvian) students wandered in and we sipped apple cider and exchanged our secrets about school and love and, surprisingly, robotics.  A group of us stopped on The Royal Mile to split Scotland’s iconic deep-fried Mars bar, which tasted unlike anything I’ve ever had…we dripped grease onto the sidewalk.  Five minutes ago, a heron swooped from Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano literally nestled outside my window, and its wing swept upon the glass as it soared toward the North Sea.