In preparation for writing this post, I read back through the journal that I kept while abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland. I tried to write an entry every day, and was successful in that endeavor most of the time. It was important to me that I chronicle my time abroad. I had been warned that the semester would fly past, and that before I knew it I would be back home. Those warnings were not without merit; what was about 4 months flew by in what felt like just a few weeks. With that said, however, I feel confident that I made the most of my time in Edinburgh. To fully convey why my semester in Scotland meant so much to me, I first need to explain my family.
My mom grew up just outside of Edinburgh, in the Scottish countryside. My dad, who was born and raised in England, went to The University of Edinburgh to do a graduate degree in biology. They met in Edinburgh in 1979… skydiving! Throughout their years skydiving, my mom did about 1,500 jumps and my dad did just shy of 2,000. Our home was decorated with loads of photos from their years in the sport. The desire to try it myself was always in the back of my mind, whether that’s what my parents’ intention was or not. They always spoke so fondly of their skydiving years, the friends they made, and the crazy “there I was, about to die…” stories. I was predisposed from a young age to want to jump out of planes, and they have no one to blame for that but themselves.
When the search for a study abroad program began, I was all over the place. A part of me wanted to find a remote village in Thailand, another part wanted a large cosmopolitan center like Barcelona, but there was also a part that wanted to go to Britain and explore my heritage. I have dual citizenship with the United Kingdom. I’m the only Americanborn person on both sides of my family; only person in the family with an American accent; only person to never have lived in the UK. My parents moved to the US before I was born, and set up camp here for good. I didn’t realize until recently that it actually did bother me that I couldn’t relate to that side of my parents’ lives. When I found the IFSA-Butler University of Edinburgh Parliamentary Internship Program (quite a mouthful, I know), I was immediately sold. I study government at Franklin and Marshall College, so the opportunity to intern in the Scottish Parliament was an exciting one.
Before I could think about the insanity of what I was doing, I was in the air. 3,500ft up in the air.
The “Pros” list for Edinburgh was just getting longer and longer; it didn’t take long for me to commit to doing my abroad semester in Scotland with IFSA-Butler. Within moments of arriving in Edinburgh, I fell in love with the city. Not only does Edinburgh have personal meaning to me, but it’s a beautiful city in its own right too. The skyline is dominated by the Edinburgh Castle, a breathtaking example of 12th century fortress architecture. Sitting in the middle of the city is the untouched natural beauty of Arthur’s Seat, a place that I frequently visited during the semester. While hiking to the top with my parents when they visited, my dad told me a story of when he parachuted off the top. My mom rolled her eyes while telling her side of the story, which was her waiting at the bottom of Arthur’s Seat with a getaway car (because apparently base jumping in the middle of Edinburgh is frowned upon).
During IFSA Butler’s orientation we were encouraged to join clubs and societies at the University, as it is the best way to get involved and interact with Scottish students. Surprise surprise, I joined the skydiving club. I could almost feel my mother’s eyes roll through the phone when I told them. But really, what could they say to stop me?
First weekend going to the dropzone was such a rush. The anticipation of training coupled with the excitement of being with all new people made for a once-in-a-lifetime weekend. I joined the club not knowing anyone, and I was the only American. I absolutely loved it, it was so refreshing doing something new with new people. The morning of my first jump, my first solo jump, I really couldn’t believe it. To best convey what I was thinking during my first jump, I’m going to include an excerpt from my journal that I wrote after that weekend…
“The nerves had kicked in at this point, especially as we started walking over to the plane and started boarding. Up we went, only one way down now…. The whole exit is kind of a blur to be perfectly honest. Before I could think about the insanity of what I was doing, I was in the air. 3,500ft up in the air. I looked up to check my canopy and I had twists. A few kicks later and I was in the clear. Once I was sure that everything was okay, I let myself look around. And down. The view was stunning. Quite literally breathtaking. I couldn’t believe that I was actually skydiving. ME! Finally doing what I’ve been raised hearing about. I was in a state of bliss, or maybe it was shock. I’ve never felt an adrenaline rush like that one, I’m hooked.”
After landing as well as I could possibly be expected to on my first jump, I immediately texted my parents. They were proud, hesitant but excited. I had just jumped out of a plane and was on my way to do it again. Within the hour I went back up and did my second jump. The whole day was a high.
Throughout the next several weeks of my abroad experience, I spent a lot of time with the skydiving club. We became good friends, and I’m so grateful to have met such an exciting and genuine group of people. Joining the skydiving club, deciding to go abroad in Edinburgh, and finally allowing myself to admit that I actually do like haggis, were all parts of my journey of appreciating my heritage. My semester with IFSA-Butler in Edinburgh was a truly life-changing few months. I’m not-so-patiently awaiting my next trip to Scotland, but until then, I’ve found a skydiving place less than an hour away from my campus.
Kirsty Richard is a Government major at Franklin and Marshall College and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler’s University of Edinburgh Parliamentary Internship Program in Edinburgh, Scotland.