First week culture shock

From Blackwell’s to the Meadows, Edinburgh is quickly becoming familiar.

Popular locations in the city of Edinburgh include student bars and the Prince’s Street Gardens, which has a view of Edinburgh Castle. (Hannah Contreras / Daily Trojan)

My first few days at Edinburgh have been eventful. From lugging three massive suitcases up a five-floor walk up to adopting British slang like “massive” and “going Tesco” almost immediately, it’s been a journey and a half in less than three days. Edinburgh is an amazing student city, and the people are so kind. It truly feels like a wonderful place to live, even though I’ve had only a few days to settle in.

It’s been chaotic as I’ve tried to get myself set up here in Edinburgh, but I’ve managed to fit in visits to some truly stunning places in between IKEA runs and Poundsavers trips. Even though I’m a junior — or a third-year, as they call me here — it feels much like a repeat of freshman year back at USC, complete with the repeated refrain of, “Hi, my name is Hannah, I’m studying classics. What’s your name and what do you study?” Slightly different phrasing, but nearly the exact same interactions that I had my first semester on USC’s campus.

I’ve managed to find a small community with my flatmate and his friends, who I will now generously call my friends. They’re all British, and it’s both an interesting and disconcerting experience to be constantly surrounded by accents different from my own. It feels so foreign, yet rationally, I know that Edinburgh is my home for the year. Although I’ve been slightly ridiculed for my American accent, I’ve stood my ground and had to explain that Tallahassee is in Florida, not Texas, so they really shouldn’t be quizzing me on geography.

One of my favorite places I’ve been so far happens to be less than a five-minute walk from my flat and of course, it’s a bookstore. Blackwell’s is Edinburgh’s oldest bookstore, selling more than 250,000 titles since 1848. That’s older than USC. Everything in Edinburgh looks so old and stately that I feel like I’m walking around a movie set or Disneyland even when I’m simply running errands. Blackwell’s is a true book lover’s paradise, housing everything from fiction to classic literature to all the schoolbooks one could need. There’s no university bookstore like at USC; in Edinburgh, all your professors tell you to buy from Blackwell’s.

Edinburgh features many landmarks like The Meadows, Blackwell’s and McEwan Hall, where students socialize, relax and buy books. It makes a perfect location for a student studying abroad. (Hannah Contreras / Daily Trojan)

Another Edinburgh classic is The Meadows, a beautiful green space just outside some of the main university areas where students and townspeople congregate on sunny days. On Tuesday, the Edinburgh Wine Society hosted a social on The Meadows, where dozens of students gathered around bottles of wine and oven pizza to socialize and get to know other wine lovers. It was a novel experience for me, as it seems like an unthinkable activity at USC because of the drinking age in the United States. They even had real glasses, so it was a very classy — albeit grass-stained — event for all.

Edinburgh has a lot of green space, like the Prince’s Street Gardens, which are right near the train station and have a great view of Edinburgh Castle. Especially with the sun Edinburgh has been getting this past week, people took full advantage of these green spaces, with families and couples lying around enjoying the temperate weather.

The university itself has some old and beautiful buildings, like McEwan Hall, which housed the Principal’s Welcome this week. McEwan Hall was presented to the University in 1897 and features 15 beautiful mural panels that make up the dome. It sits proudly crowning Bristo Square, where thousands of Edinburgh students have trooped through this week for the Sports and Activities fairs.

Teviot Row House, one of the main student hangouts in Edinburgh, also faces Bristo Square. The student bars are cheap and plentiful, and Teviot functions as one of the main places to hang around and make new friends as Welcome Week continues. It’s the oldest purpose-built student union in the world, as it opened for student use in 1889. The architecture is reminiscent of Scottish buildings in the Renaissance, and its many winding staircases and rooms are always full of students. A particular treat comes in the form of The Library Bar, a very well-themed part of Teviot that’s filled with books in beautiful wooden and glass cabinets.

I think my future is bright at Edinburgh, as I’m now armed with a solid mind map of how to get around town and the knowledge that the best Indian takeaway is at Kebab Mahal. Although it’s been a wild ride getting used to things around here — and even though I know I’m nowhere near done — it’s nice to know that there’s always little pockets of brightness like books and greenery anywhere you go.

Hannah Contreras is a junior writing about her experiences abroad in Europe. Her column, “Notes from Abroad,” runs every other Friday.

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