Sense of Direction in Edinburgh

Megan McClory is a History, Anthropology and East Asian Studies student with a minor in English at Brandeis University and studied abroad with IFSA Butler at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in 2016. Megan is an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler’s Work-to-Study Program. 

You wave goodbye to your family, dragging your suitcase behind you and your stomach is already alight with butterflies. The fluttering creatures go weightless at take-off and maybe drop a bit at landing, but they don’t really disappear for a few of days. Moving to a new country—a new continent—incites all sorts of feelings, from excitement to giddiness, probably even mild terror. At least, that’s what I felt and saw on the faces of my fellow student travelers (that and dark circles under their eyes by the end of the first day). It’s a lot to take in all at once, between the cocktail of emotions, the lack of sleep on the plane, and the cobblestones under your feet that scream Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

About 60 of us came to Scotland with IFSA- Butler and I don't think a single one of us weren't conscious of the butterflies.
About 60 of us came to Scotland with IFSA-Butler and I don’t think a single one of us could ignore the butterflies.

However, that’s why it’s important to settle in and orient yourself as soon as possible. I loved the orientation that IFSA-Butler provided at a hotel in Edinburgh and I loved the bond that it formed between all of the students. But what I appreciated most was that those three days allowed me time to acclimate to this new environment before dealing with the cycle of meet and greets that is Welcome Week at the University.

Now, it didn’t help me get over jetlag—just accept it now that you’re going to be tired the first few days—but the exploring and touring that exhausted me also me gave me a solid foundation for navigating the city. Because of all that exploration, Edinburgh no longer feels completely alien to me. I look out the window and accept the 19th century sandstone row houses as a matter of course. That’s not to say I don’t still marvel at its beauty, but I don’t automatically compare it to the steel and glass of Chicago architecture, either.

I had only been in Edinburgh for a couple of days but the map I was building in my head already had a blueprint sketched out; it gave me a boost of confidence.

Most importantly, arriving for IFSA-Butler orientation before the start of classes allowed me time to develop a sense of direction. I can wander around the city and not feel figuratively and literally lost. It took me a while to realize how important this little thing was, but once I was able to point someone else in the right direction, I felt those butterflies go to rest for the first time in days.

Go exploring. Don't be afraid to take that random staircase that seems to go nowhere. Even if you end up turning around, you're still getting a feel for the area and building your own map.
Go exploring. Don’t be afraid to take that random staircase that seems to go nowhere. Even if you end up turning around, you’re still getting a feel for the area and building your own mental map.

IFSA-Butler students at the University of Edinburgh moved in a day early, so when my flat mates started arriving Saturday, I had already unpacked and tried to make myself at home, attempting to mask the fact that familiar was thousands of miles and an ocean away.

Then my flat mate arrived, having come to Edinburgh from Japan that morning. She had dragged her two suitcases up the stairs and wrestled the door open, tired, lost and quite hungry given that it was well past dinnertime in both Japan and Scotland.

Busy as I was, I had been about to head out to grab food as she walked in the door. After she had dropped her things off in her room, we decided to go together. She paused at every turn, wondering where to go from there, but I was able to put one foot in front of the other, unhesitatingly.  I didn’t even pull out my phone for Google Maps (although I found out rather quickly that Google Maps works quite a bit differently here than in Chicago). I knew exactly where I was going: a small pizza place, the first thing one passed when walking from our dorm to Prince’s Street, the main shopping area of Edinburgh.

Frankly, Edinburgh's streets don't make any sense. They are a winding maze that go up, down or absolutely nowhere. However, as long as you know which direction the castle is, you can eventually make your way where you need to be.
Frankly, Edinburgh’s streets don’t make any sense. They are a winding maze that go up, down or absolutely nowhere. However, as long as you know which direction the castle is, you can eventually make your way where you need to be.

At first, it wasn’t that big of a deal. The restaurant was only a five or ten minute walk away and I had no idea if the food would actually be any good at that point, but as we were walking, my new flat mate kept asking questions; how to get here and there, what is the orientation schedule like for tomorrow, what is the dorm like, you know, little things that are important the first few days studying abroad. And I was able to answer nearly all of them. I had only been in Edinburgh for a couple of days but the map I was building in my head already had a blueprint sketched out; it gave me a boost of confidence. It wasn’t a very detailed map, not by any means, but it meant that this city was no longer completely foreign and if I can make my way from point A to point B today, then I can do that for the rest of the semester.

 

 

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