I always imagined studying in Scotland would be a step outside of my comfort zone, but I’ve been dropped on the other side of the Atlantic with my comfort nowhere in sight.
There’s a powerful charm in the oldness here. In just the first week, I’ve walked past the birthplace of Arthur Conan Doyle, stumbled upon the residence of then-medical student Charles Darwin, and sipped on coffee in the same shop where J.K. Rowling penned Harry Potter. When wandering around the city, it’s impossible to miss the gigantic, looming 12th-century Edinburgh Castle that was once a strategic military fortress.
In everyday living, the history comes with a price. For a millennial like me, it’s a subtle shock to not have the 21st-century comforts that I’ve come to know so well. It means fumbling around with old locks and doors that don’t quite work anymore and walking five flights of stairs up to my flat because there is no elevator. It means that when I purchased my railcard, I watched someone print out my photo, cut it out, and paste it onto a physical card instead of uploading an electronic photo like one might see in the States.
Edinburgh isn’t totally stuck in the past, though. Cobblestone alleys and centuries old pubs line the Old Town, but just across the main bridge lies a humongous outdoor mall sprawling from the state-of-the-art rail system. The city is a majestic fusion of modernity and antiquity.
Centuries old or not, it’s all new to me now. When I wake up in the morning, I expect to be back home in a couple days, but then I’m struck with the surreal realization that this is my life now.
There’s value in randomness – as an nineteen-year-old Indian American, what I saw as a whiskey-laden and sheep-filled country the size of South Carolina seemed like the last place I would find myself relating to. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I chose it; I never realized my complacency in normalcy until I found myself taking in new experiences with every breath.
Like a tourist, I’m enchanted with the novelty of it all, but I’m lucky enough to have the time to explore the nuances of a place that are so often overlooked by the rest of the world. In an attempt to redraw the mental caricature I have so far of Scotland, for the next five weeks, I will be studying Scottish history, culture and politics – entrenched in questions of Scottish national identity, regional policy problems and broader issues in political economy (yes, Brexit). Then, I’ll be spending the rest of my time working in public service to the Scottish people as a research aide in the Scottish Parliament.
I’m tremendously excited – excited at the new, but also excited for the new to become the old.