It is hard to believe, but I have already reached the approximate halfway point of my time in Scotland. I know the last few blogs have been heavily dominated by trip recaps, so this week I thought I would focus on some different things.
Thus far, this semester has been a series of ups and downs, stress and relaxation, work and fun, sadness and excitement, just as I would have imagined it would be. According to many psychologists and travel experts, people tend to follow somewhat of a “W-shaped” curve when living abroad. When the trip begins, the person is said to be in the “Honeymoon Phase”; everything is new, exciting and interesting and you are eager to go out and try new things. As the days turn to weeks and reality begins to set in, there tends to be an emotional downward trend referred to as “The Distress Stage” as you begin to notice all of the subtle differences and miss the comfortable and familiar life you left behind. Eventually you reach a trough that is considered the true “Culture Sock” where you may feel depressed, homesick, and struggle with new challenges you may be facing such as grocery shopping and cooking. As the weeks turn to months, you get into a routine and “Re-integrate” yourself. However, during this integration there can be a reversion to negative feelings as you begin to feel stretched between two different cultures, not seeming to fit in to either one. The last stage of “Independence” finally comes as you are fully integrated to life in the foreign country, have made new friends and have come to learn and love and accept the idiosyncracies of the local culture and your daily routine.
This model by no means applies perfectly to everyone, it is a merely a general trend that most people, including myself, tend to follow. Going to school on the other side of the country as I do, I am very used to being away from home for extended periods of time. Just last year, I was home for only about 3 weeks the entire year, spending most of the year at school in Easton, PA and then traveling during winter break to Thailand and China, and then living in Durham, NC over the summer. I have been in an almost constant transition of cultures, some more dramatic and some very subtle, so coming to Scotland I felt very prepared.
I am by no means a perfectly elastic nor emotionally callused person, so of course there have been times that I have been homesick, missed friends and family, or felt left out of fun, memorable activities at school. However, I still think that I can confidently assert that I never really reached a true Culture Shock trough, or if I did, it was a very shallow one. The thing that I have had the most trouble with, and I have mentioned it before, is accepting that my experience abroad is my own; it is unique and independent of all of my friends’ and pre-conceived notions. It has been somewhat of a struggle for me, constantly comparing my time to the experience of those before me, and it is not until I stop, take a step back and really try and live in the moment that I have come to truly appreciate and love my time in Scotland.
It is the little every day things that hit me that seem to briefly stop time and put a grateful smile in my heart, from the sun popping out behind a cloud as I make the long walk back from campus through the Botanic Gardens, or seeing little kids laughing and playing in the fallen leaves, driving or riding a train through the dynamic and powerful countryside, an orange sunset as I walk back from the library, having someone say “Cheers, mate” as I hold open a door, seeing the majestic tower of the uni shrouded in a thick fog, sitting back in the booth of a pub on Ashton Lane just soaking in the atmosphere, overhearing two friends converse in thick, rapid Scots, getting a 1.50 small chips with extra salt and vinegar after a night out, seeing someone I met during Fresher’s Week or Orientation and catching up briefly on a walk to class, taking a weekend trip to the city center and just wandering through all of the shops and people watching, or simply just sitting in my room and thinking, “Wow, yes, I am in Scotland right now.”
I am proud of the little things I have come to learn, such as the fastest way through the Botanic Gardens is to take the path to the right, the fastest way to Scottish Literature at the Boyd Orr building is via Byres Road, but the fastest way to Anatomy in the East Quadrangle is to take Great Western Road to Hillhead, no matter how late you may be, if you cut across and walk on the grass in the quadrangles of the main campus, you will be plagued with bad luck and won’t graduate, Iceland has the cheapest bread, eggs, meats and cheese, but Tesco has the cheapest milk and produce, the best place to study in the library is the 6th floor if I don’t need to use my computer but the 10th floor if I do, it’s not a cell phone but a mobile, the only baseball hats are Yankees (blegh), it’s not soccer, it’s football and it’s not “Kel-tic” it’s “Sell-tic”, when crossing Byres/Great Western you can cut across both streets after the cars have stopped on Byres, city center is four stops from the Hillhead station on the Outer Circle and the subways stop running at 11, if you are about to walk into someone, go left, not right, it’s not an apartment or dorm, it’s a flat, classes don’t really start at the top of the hour, but five min after and end five min before, the best time to go to the gym is between 9-11 in the morning, it’s not “Scotch”, it’s just whiskey, if it is sunny, chances are it is still chilly, and 10% chance of precipitation means “it’s definitely gonna drizzle”.
And despite being very similar, westernized countries, there are of course the little differences that always remind me I’m not at home, like the fact there are no stop signs and pedestrians NEVER have the right-of-way, a car drives by and I think for a split second that and 5 year old is behind the wheel, it’s not cents, it’s PENCE and it’s not a buck, it’s a Quid, all the lemonade is carbonated, it’s encouraged for guys to wear tight jeans and flashy scarves, it’s not .com but .co.uk, and just because something is plugged in, it doesn’t mean there is electricity coming out of the outlet.
Throughout all of these little instances, all of the nights out, hours spent studying anatomy illustrations, miles walked to and from campus, grocery trips, and moments of meditation, I have come to honestly consider Scotland a second home. Glasgow is a truly beautiful, livable city and I am so glad to have the opportunity to do so, even if just for a matter of months.