Give me but one hour of Scotland, Let me see it ere I die.
~William Edmondstoune Aytoun
In my sophomore year of college, I studied abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland at the University of Edinburgh. I think studying abroad is one of the best programs you can take advantage in college and the greatest chance you can have for a richer education than you'll get from any of your classes. I would also recommend, if possible, taking a year-long study-abroad rather than a semester-long as truly getting to know and appreciate a place, its people, and its culture takes, well really, as long as you can afford. It took me the first semester to fully acclimate and adjust and the second semester was when I really could enjoy myself and the city of Edinburgh. Also, in study abroad, there is the temptation to stay within the safe group of other students from your home country, which in my opinion, is one of the worst ways to meet new people and truly immerse yourself in a different culture and society.
I arrived in Scotland a month before my program actually started, so once orientation rolled around and other the other American kids flew, I was already acquainted and comfortable with the city. It really turned me off that all most of the other kids were interested in was hitting the bars in loud, American flocks. I only saw a few of them again after orientation, including a tight knit group who, although very lovely, hadn't made any local friends and were amazed at the things I had done and the places I had visited in the amount of time since I had last seen them. Ultimately it depends on your personal comfort level and sense of independence, but in my opinion, the more you can get away from study abroad programs that are chaperoned or provide you with absolutely everything you will ever need for your time abroad, the greater appreciation you will have for your host country and your own resourcefulness.
So with that being said, the reason I chose to study abroad in Scotland was because of an undying passion I had throughout my childhood for all things Scottish. I frequented Celtic festivals, listened to Scottish music, and even tried to learn how to play the bagpipes when I was about 13 or so (but since the chanter piece sadly sounded like a goose in a blender no matter how I played it, I never got very far). Going to Scotland was my dream. And yet, as how it is often when I travel, I had little to no expectations. I really did not know what it would be like, despite reading all the guidebooks. I didn't know anyone there, the housing unit I was staying at initially was only a blip on a Google map to me, and all I was sure of was that this was the most exciting move of my life so far. And Scotland was amazing. If I had had any hopes for it, they would have been all fulfilled. Of course, there were hard times learning how to live in a new country and it certainly wasn't all fun and easy. But it is a country I often now get homesick for, as strange as that sounds. My stay in Scotland and the travels that stemmed from it led me down a path of independent adventure and gave me the deep urge to explore every other part of the world that calls to me (and those that don't).
I wisely kept a blog about my travels during that year (though unwisely got lazy at the end and neglected a few countries). So to give context of where this current blog is coming from, I will be reaching into the archives of my old one and re-presenting many of my stories about the places I have been and the experiences that helped me grow into the person I am now.
As we progress along the intercultural journey, we become self-reflective about habits of heart and mind and the ways these are expressed in daily life. We develop strategies for encountering change, unfamiliarity and ambiguity in creative ways. We begin to realize that what is taken, as ”common sense” is really ”cultural sense”. Our life becomes richer and deeper for having encountered differences.
~H. Ned Seeyle