It has been a little over a week since I packed up my belongings, wrote my final blog post from Scotland, and dragged my two suitcases across Edinburgh at 3:30 am to get to the bus stop for the airport shuttle. It was very surreal, rushing from my dorm as the sunlight was beginning to creep up on Arthur’s Seat, the mountain that for five months had provided an extraordinary view out of my dorm window. The streets were relatively empty, with the exception of a few taxis. This was not the Edinburgh I was used to seeing, and it wasn’t the last sight I had wanted of this incredible city. I rushed past my favorite bookshop, wishing that I had more time to stop and look at it. Of all my memories of my last few days in Edinburgh, that one has stood out the most. I made it to the airport on time and took my first flight to Paris. I flew from Paris to Atlanta on Air France, a 9-hour flight that provided great opportunities for in-flight movies and even arcade games that could be played using the included controller. Atlanta, perhaps due to its size, didn’t feel like home. It wasn’t until I got back to Nashville and met up with my family that it truly felt like being back in the US.
Being back took less adjustment than I had predicted. For the most part, it felt as if I had never gone away at all. Very little has changed. The thing that has taken the most adjustment would be the landscapes. I wasn’t used to seeing so many trees, as most of the hills in Scotland are bare. The hills here are also much smaller and don’t have the same potential for hiking experiences as the enormous “hills” of Scotland. The landscapes are probably what I am going to miss the most about Scotland. I have also found that I miss the ability to walk or take trains to most locations. Where I live, driving is necessary to get even to a neighbor’s house, and nearby Nashville doesn’t have a train system. While missing public transportation, I’ve been reminded of how nice driving can be. Even my hour-long commute into Nashville to do research this summer is somewhat enjoyable. I think each method of transportation has different benefits, and I think I would miss aspects of each in its absence.
The final thing I wanted to note about my return to the States regards tolerance. While in Scotland, I enjoyed the benefits of feeling free to be myself without fear of being judged. For the most part, these were the same benefits that I enjoy attending Vanderbilt in Nashville. However, an hour’s drive away from Nashville takes you into a very different world. In the brief time that I’ve spent out in public in my home town, I’ve re-experienced that old feeling of needing to hide my identity. I didn’t feel comfortable meeting old friends of mine who must have found out about my sexual orientation through social media. I may be reading too much into this, but none of my friends from my hometown have spoken to me since I came out a few months ago. I think my time in Scotland made me overly confident in my ability to face discrimination. It’s easy to do when that discrimination is coming from politicians across the Atlantic from you. It’s much harder when it’s coming from your neighbors. But I see now that life can be different, that people can be kind and accepting. I know there are accepting people even in my rural area (my family, for instance). I look forward to and will hopefully help bring about the day when I can be myself as much in my hometown as I was in Scotland.
This past semester was not something I had been looking forward to. I had never been out of the country before, so spending five months away from home seemed like a poor decision. However, I am now very glad that I made that decision. It might have messed up some of my academic plans, and it might have used up money that could have been put toward graduate school, but it was more than worth every cost. There’s something almost magical about Edinburgh, and I feel as if I have just spent five months in a fantasy land. I also struggle to believe that I actually visited France and Italy, especially Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. I want to return to Europe someday, and particularly Edinburgh, with my family, the one main aspect that was missing. I might be biased in saying this, but I highly recommend a study abroad in Scotland over all other places on the planet.