My travels are taking me farther and farther back in time.
My first stop in Boston was already quite the culture shock from hip, innovation-centric California, from which I base my reference point (refer to this previous blog post). Then came a week’s visit to London, a metropolitan hub whose recent modernization left only a few tidbits of archaiety standing, such as the London Bridge, Westminster Palace, Big Ben, and a surprisingly expansive array of free-admission museum exhibits. Then came the kicker: a 12th century stone fortress towering over the cobblestoned city I shall be calling home for the next semester. Welcome to ye olde Edinburgh, Scotland.
I know that Pomona is a special place, but never have I felt more special than with my parade of 14 fellow Sagehens collectively intrigued by Scotland’s famous (infamous?) mystery minced meats and fluoride-flavored soda – I mean, haggis and Irn Bru. We played well the role of Confused Foreigners as we navigated Edinburgh’s multilayered streets (on which, by the way, the cars drive on the wrong side) and jovial yet heavily Scottish-accented English.
But mostly I felt special because few other international students had yet arrived, since Pomona planned our own 10-day orientation of Edinburgh, in addition to our 7-day orientation for university (known as Freshers’ Week), a week earlier than the majority of incoming students. Best of all, we were given the sweetest program director, Sandra, to lead us around town every day like our own mother duckling, even taking us into her own quaint home just south of the city for an evening.
Our unique itinerary included an open-top bus tour of the entire city, a day trip to the lovely town and site of Linlithgow Castle, and a sequence of classes about everything Scottish, from its (mis)representation in film to the best pubs in Edinburgh’s Old Town. All were presented to us by (soon-to-be-PhD graduate) Dr. Adrienne Miller, who studied abroad in Edinburgh herself as a college undergraduate and now lives and breathes Scottish history and society. She will also be the professor of our special Pomona core class, which we are all taking for credit throughout the semester, ensuring that we understand and recognize our cultural immersion experience beyond bagpipes and tartan-patterned everything.
My favorite part of the city so far? Definitely its entirety, particularly as viewed from Arthur’s Seat. Edinburgh is home to two dead volcanoes: the Edinburgh Castle sits upon one, and Arthur’s Seat sits upon the other. Arthur’s Seat is a magnificent viewpoint that allows a breathtaking 360-degree panorama view of the Edinburgh area, is accessible by a quick (albeit nearly vertical and therefore literally breathtaking) hike whose trailhead sits conveniently a few blocks from my university housing. From the top, one can see both the intricate layout of the city’s streets and beautiful seaside ports, as well as another major county called Fife that lays just across the water. Although my flatmate has me beat, having hiked up “the hill” everyday since he’s arrived, I’ve ventured up top already five times since my arrival – an achievement of which I am unashamedly proud and hoping to further as my semester here continues. I suspect that Arthur’s Seat will not cease being my favorite vantage point of the United Kingdom anytime soon.
Yet to say that I have experienced even the tip of the iceberg would be a terrible lie. The University of Edinburgh is home to a flourishing international community, and while I am excited to learn more about Scotland and its culture, I am also eager to discover the riveting stories and humorous cultural differences that my fellow international classmates will bring. I adore my flat (I think the equivalent American term would be suite?) and my flatmates (suitemates?), who hail from two different regions of Scotland, from Slovakia, and from Austria. I also adore the flat across from me, whose lovely residents hail from Northern England, Canada, France, New Zealand, and also California. I am diving headfirst into my experience abroad, and I look forward to sharing with you the striking (and the mundane) culture shocks that are sure to occupy my swirling, amazed mind over the next few months. Cheers!