I wasn’t nervous about studying abroad until I landed in Edinburgh, Scotland and realized that I had to figure out how to make the hour and a half journey north east to Dundee, where I would be spending the next four and a half months. I had no car and no one I knew that could pick me up. I had thought ahead and purchased train tickets online, but I had no idea where the station was and where it would drop us off in Dundee.
Thankfully, everyone at the airport was very kind in helping me find my way. I made it to Dundee, finally, and started to settle in. I found my accommodations located on the edge of campus. There are six of us in the flat, which consists of six bedrooms – each with their own bathroom – and the common area which is a living room and a full kitchen.
My five flat mates are fellow exchange students and come from Hong Kong, the Netherlands, the U.S. and Canada. For the first few weeks of the semester we had a ton of activities held by the school specifically for exchange students in order to introduce us to not only each other, but to Scottish culture as well. Because we were all together so much, we formed a pretty solid, very diverse group of people from places like France, Australia and Denmark.
Just a couple weeks after we arrived, we all celebrated Australia day. This set the tone for the semester and soon we were celebrating groundhog day for the U.S. and Canada, and then, Waitangi day, Maltese night, French and Hong Kong night. For these celebrations, we cook food from our respective countries and decorate our flats with our nation’s colors and symbols. This tradition has been one of my favorites because it’s been an amazing way to experience and learn about other cultures, all without leaving Dundee. The tradition has held up over the semester, and next week we will be celebrating King’s day, which is a national holiday of the Netherlands.
And while I didn’t have to leave Dundee to experience these things, if I wanted to it would be quite easy. Public transportation in Scotland is amazing (though the Scots will tell you otherwise). Compared to the U.S. where public transportation is mostly limited to bigger cities, it’s all over the place in the UK, and pretty reliable.
Since I have a car at home and have never had to rely on public transportation, there was a definite learning curve. Buses don’t stop at every stop, there’s a button you press if you want to get off. And trains don’t run before 6 a.m. so don’t book an 8 a.m. flight unless you want to stay overnight in the airport (seven hours in international arrivals – fun times), or pay £100+ for a taxi ($125+).
But there are also some really awesome upsides of public transportation. For one, you’ll most likely never get lost when headed somewhere on a bus (unless your bus driver is new), and certainly not on a train. Public transport is not super expensive, and you can find some pretty good deals as long as you’re willing to be flexible. I was able to get a bus to London from Dundee for £15 round trip (it was a ten hour ride overnight, but it got me where I needed to go and with the money I saved I was able to do more things in London).
It’s also really empowering when you understand public transport and are able to travel with ease from one destination to another. I find this especially true when it comes to the London underground. I’ve been to London a handful of times since coming to Dundee, and one of my favorite things about London is using the tube. I love knowing that I can get anywhere in the city with ease. I also love knowing that my train will be on time, the underground is one of the most reliable and punctual subways I’ve been on.
I’ve been very lucky and have been able to do quite a bit of traveling outside of Scotland while here on exchange. “Spring break” at Dundee is known as “Easter break” and instead of getting one week off, you get nearly three weeks off. I spent those three weeks traveling with my parents to Dublin, Amsterdam, Paris and London before heading back to bonnie Scotland.
But my favorite travels have been within my host country. Scotland has rich history which is often overshadowed by English or Union history. Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful and historic places I’ve ever been. The streets in the center of Edinburgh are still made of cobblestone, and the buildings are all made of stone as well. They’ve preserved the history of Old Town, not allowing industrialization to detract from the beauty of the Royal Mile and the streets surrounding it. There is even history below the streets of Edinburgh. You can tour the secret ‘city’ which is located in vaults underneath South Bridge. These vaults are said to be one of the most haunted places in the UK.
Scotland is also home to a lot of amazing wildlife and landscapes. I’ve traveled to the Isle of May where I was able to see puffins and seals. My trip to the highlands was filled with farm after farm of thousands of sheep. I even saw the occasional highland cow. Unfortunately, I have yet to encounter Scotland’s national animal, the Unicorn.
By far, my favorite place in Scotland has to be St. Andrews. It’s located just 30 minutes south of Dundee, making it the perfect day trip. There are ruins, the castle, and the Old Course (the world’s first golf course). But it is also filled with cute shops and cafes. There are multiple beaches to hang out at when it’s not raining. It’s a sleepy town, making it the perfect place to relax after exams or a long week of travel.
My time here is coming to an end. Tomorrow is the first day of exams at Dundee, and soon after we’ll all be heading home. Studying abroad has allowed me to meet some really amazing people. People who I have met, I will be calling my friends for long after we leave here. People who have been able to open my mind to perspectives on life and the world that I wouldn’t be able to get from within the States. I highly encourage anyone who can or wants to study abroad to please do so. I have learned so much about myself and about the world during my three months here. It has truly been a once in a lifetime experience, one which has definitely helped to change me for the better. I will be forever grateful to the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met.
Jenna English can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org