A Lass in Scotland
by Christina Edwards '04
Each year, a number of Scripps students venture beyond the campus to stretch themselves—personally and intellectually—in one of the College’s many Off-Campus Study affiliated programs. This year, 118 students chose to study either abroad or in a domestic exchange program.
Scripps offers study opportunities in close to 100 locations, with most programs sponsored by American colleges and universities; Scripps sponsors the program in Heidelberg. Applicants must meet strict GPA requirements in regular studies and prerequisite foreign language courses, as well as demonstrate personal maturity. Most students find their study abroad experience dramatically challenges their perceptions, makes them better global citizens, and gives them more confidence.
Scripps senior Christa Edwards, in her first trip outside the United States, studied at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, January through August 2003. Here, in excerpts from her travel diary, she shares some of her experiences abroad.
I never thought I would be able to leave the U.S. because I thought traveling was something reserved for the very wealthy. When I started at Scripps, I knew about the Off-Campus Study programs, but I had never seriously considered participating until about a month and a half before the application deadlines. Fortunately, once I decide I want to do something, I get things done.
I applied to a school in Scotland for several reasons: I had to go someplace where I could be understood, as my foreign language studies were in Latin; I have Scottish heritage; and my dad used to read me stories about the Loch Ness Monster when I was wee. I was excited about the University of Edinburgh in particular because I wanted to attend a large university in a metropolitan area after years of being in the small community of Scripps College.
My flight was early morning on New Year’s Day, out of LAX. I spent the entire day trying to cram everything into my suitcase while still trying to keep it under 70 pounds. I saw the sunrise from the Amsterdam airport, which was my epiphany: I was on the ground, on my own, in a far-away country for the first time.
Living it up
After orientation, we moved into our university flats. I lived on the top floor of an eight-story building, and there were two sets of steps between each floor, all of which I climbed while hauling my 70-lb. suitcase and laptop.
I was in a self-catering flat, so I bought groceries and cooked my own food. I discovered that I am not a great cook and therefore ate lots of pasta, Weetabix, and digestives. The switches for lights and hot water in the bathrooms were on the outside walls, not the inside, and there were on/off switches for every electrical outlet. I discovered this when I tried to turn off the teakettle at a friend’s flat and found out later that I had turned off the fridge. To do laundry, I had to walk down 12 flights of stairs, go outside, walk around the block, and use a key to get into the laundry room; there were two washers and two dryers for 200 students.
My room was tiny. It had a freestanding wardrobe, woodchip wallpaper, and a mattress covered in plastic. Every time I laid down on it, the air would whoosh out. There was no Internet access in my flat, so I relegated my laptop to being a tinny-sounding stereo. There were two bathrooms, and at one point the floor in the bathroom for my side of the flat started sinking because of a leak. One day, I came home to find our toilet sitting in our hallway and a gaping hole in the floor of the bathroom where the toilet used to be. (It got fixed eventually.)
My flatmates were girls around my age: two from Ireland, two from England, and one from Sweden. They made fun of me for saying “candy” and “cookies” and “pants” (instead of “sweets” and “biscuits” and “trousers”). The “pants” thing became a problem because I always said it to mean trousers; “pants” does not mean trousers in Europe, it means underwear. When I asked someone if I should get some new pants, they looked at me like I was being either flirtatious or gross.
I took a linguistics course, a Scottish literature course, and a Scottish ethnology course (which was about Scotland’s cultural heritage, and included speakers on storytelling, celidhs, and piping). When I got my first essay back for my literature course (which was due the second week I was there), I was three points away from an A.
The number of class hours is less than that in most American institutions, but it is expected that students do a lot of independent research. I had class every weekday, but the maximum number of hours I had class on any given day was three.
The courses were sometimes disjointed due to different faculty lecturing each session. For example, most of the lectures in Scottish literature were on one specific topic, usually unrelated to the next and previous lecture, and there were six professors who alternated lectures (and rooms!). On Fridays our course merged with an English literature lecture about literary theory and criticism.
During the university’s three-and-a-half-week break, I was broke, so I couldn’t go anywhere. This gave me loads of time to study.
The valuable experiences I was having in Edinburgh kept me from doing a whirlwind tour of Europe. I did make it to Amsterdam, London, the Scottish Highlands, and the south of Ireland. I went to Amsterdam the first month I was abroad, and we stayed in a hostel that was only 90 euro for the whole week [approximately $73]. We slept in a 12-bed room, and the bathroom smelled so bad that we didn’t use it for three days. But we met a lot of cool people there from all over the world.
There were only five people on the two-day Highlands tour, including the driver, so we meandered a bit. I learned about the history of the Highlands; met some nice people; saw two castles, the George IV Bridge, and some “hairy coos” (cows); happened upon the filming of the third Harry Potter movie; and, of course, went to a whisky tasting.
Definitely the best part of being abroad was meeting new people and interacting in a new social environment. It was easy to talk to people, and there was always a place to meet up and something to do. It is also possible to walk from one end of the main part of Edinburgh to the other in a few hours, so it is very convenient for staying in touch with people. I developed a horrible habit of distributing my mobile phone number to everyone I met, which I later had to quash (some people are just too friendly). Football and rugby games were a huge deal, and there were a lot of fabulous festive gatherings surrounding them. I learned the most frequent answer to the age-old question of what is worn under the kilt: “Nothing is worn, everything works perfectly!” and another that cannot be printed. I also discovered that virtually every person in Scotland smokes. It’s like walking: everyone does it. My lungs are probably black from just living in Edinburgh.
I got a job at a coffee shop called Beanscene, thanks in part to my Motley work experience. I was excited about having income, as my dad had just begun to flip out about my debit account being overdrawn.
I gained more independence by going abroad, became more selfreliant in my studies, and certainly got a better idea of what I want and do not want out of life. The experience of being in Scotland for six months also made me realize how limited my view of the world had been previously. I tried to figure out a way to stay in the U.K., but my dad insisted that I come back home and finish school before I try to move out of the country. I thought I might be destitute when I got home, but, thankfully, I am just in a lot of debt.
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