After a year spent in “soft-lockdown” at home in Atlanta, and as Caltech students prepared to finally return to campus, I was aboard an eight hour flight towards Edinburgh, Scotland. Since my junior year plans were interrupted by the virus who shall not be named, I’m spending my first term of senior year studying abroad through the Caltech - Edinburgh University International Exchange program. I’ve only been here just over a week yet have been exposed to so many new people, perspectives, foods, and classes.
“A view of the city from Arthur’s Seat”
Lots of Buses and Bagpipes
The campus of Edinburgh University is a city campus, which means that accomodation and school buildings are scattered around and integrated into the city. As a Georgia suburbia girl, I’m still getting used to the high energy and movement of living in a city. I, along with the another Caltech abroad student, am living in university accommodation in a twelve person flat with other international and local Edinburgh students. They’re all lovely people with unique backgrounds, life stories, and accents. We’ve already shared many dinners in the common room discussing which words are pronounced differently in our home towns and how bizarre many of them find American health care costs and gun laws (or lack-thereof). Being able to hear the life experiences of my flat mates from a variety of different countries has allowed me to expand my own perspective about the world and see the world through a different pair of eyes.
With Great Clubs Come Great Colds
“Friends and I reveling in the iconic red phonebooths after a night out”
I’ve even had the privilege of sharing new life experiences with them as we’ve adventured out in the lively and rainy city together. The first week of the term at Edinburgh is called fresher’s week, which is a week of social and academic events where incoming students get to learn about university resources, meet other new students, and party at the hundreds of nearby pubs and clubs. I got to share some memories with my new-found friends during this week until we all came down with a cold they call the “fresher’s flu”. At that point, we spent the nights in together with movies and lots of tissues. We eventually mustered up the energy to hike a nearby historical, extinct volcano called “Arthur’s seat” together as is local tradition for the start of classes. While the start of classes is usually something I dread, I’ve been really appreciating having in-class discussions about conservation and attending in-person biology field trips after too many terms on zoom university. As my first week of senior year classes comes to a close today, I can tell the themes of this term are going to include newness, learning, and growing.
Starting college can be a big transition. You’re moving to a new place, starting a new school and classes, and faced with making new friends in an unfamiliar environment. And, of course, there’s that whole “becoming an adult” thing. But, you’re also leaving a lot behind. Every new beginning means that an old chapter must come to an end. Leaving behind our friends at home may seem difficult, especially if they’re going to be a long distance away from you during the school year. Something I made sure to do was to spend a lot of time with them during the summer after high school. Of course, going to college doesn’t mean you’ll never see your friends again, or that you will no longer be friends with them. Good friendships will last if you put effort into them. It may seem hard initially. Coming into Caltech, it’s a sharp adjustment and many are caught up in the excitement of Orientation, Rotation, and starting classes. It may be hard to remember to check your phone frequently and to make time for phone calls and such. Rest assured that if you have other friends going to college, they’re probably going to go through similar things you will. In this transition period, it can feel like you’re going to immediately lose touch with people that mean a lot to you.
Let’s face it: the US loves being just a little different from everyone else. The obvious example? Units of measurement. As an international student from Canada, even I have no clue what’s going on half the time when my friends talk to me and use these weird nonsensical units. And I’ve literally lived on the border between Canada and the States for all my life. After a year here, I’ve finally got a sense of how the two systems of measurement compare and how you can more easily get your bearings with these weird units.
When the announcement was first made that fall term was going to be online, I started talking to friends and looking for places to live. We were debating locations around the country: California, Florida, New York, etc.. there were plenty of options. Then it suddenly hit me, what is stopping us from going to Hawaii, covid numbers were better and a two week quarentine would ensure that numbers stayed down… I proposed this to my friend and we agreed it would be an amazing experience, but we didn’t want to get out hopes up. A month or so later we still haven’t decided where to live, Hawaii seemed too far and too difficult to plan. But we couldn’t get the idea out of our heads. We spent some time looking into plane tickets, places to stay, etc… and it actually didn’t seem so impossible after all. A couple weeks later and we were arriving here on the big island!