Step out of your comfort zone. Be Present.
While abroad, I learned how important it is to live by experiencing – the importance of taking advantage of open time, doing something new every day, and overall taking advantage of where you are and this opportunity in life. While living in Edinburgh, my goal was to take every chance I got to experience something new and something I wouldn’t normally be able to do – Scottish Ceilidh dance? Sign me up. Day trip to Aberdeen? Absolutely. Going on the IFSA co-curricular trips? How do you not say yes?!
While studying abroad, if there are opportunities that gives you a chance to explore whether it’s on your own, through the school, or through your program – take it! Some of my favorite memories are from these adventures throughout Scotland including a student tour to the Dunnottar Castle, my solo train trip to the Glenfinnan Viaduct (Harry Potter Bridge), and the weekend IFSA trip to the Isle of Skye.
Experience where you are.
Living in Scotland, I knew I wanted to learn as much as I could about Scottish culture and what it was truly like to live in Scotland. Therefore, I was extremely excited when it came to the co-curricular/homestay excursions with IFSA. Whether it was hiking the Old Man of Storr, rock scrambling in the Argyll Forest, or staying with a Scottish host family for a weekend in a quaint little town, I tried to soak up every second because I knew how unique this experience was in my life.
Not only was it important for me to explore Scotland as my host country by taking those trips, but it was also essential for me to explore and immerse myself in my home town of Edinburgh. It was, and still is, amazing to me how much there was to see and do right there in my backyard. While living in Edinburgh, my favorite place(s) to go was what I called ‘my loop’. Starting at my flat, this loop consisted of walking past the Elephant House, that led to Victoria Street, then to Grassmarket Street (every Saturday there was an actual market here), up the stairs to the castle, down the Royal Mile which led me back right to where I lived: Robertson’s Close. One of my other favorite parts of Edinburgh was all of the live Celtic music in all of the pubs and generally in the city. Edinburgh is a beautiful, medieval, and magical town where every corner looks like it came straight out of a storybook. I woke up every morning truly happy and motivated because I was excited for where the day was going to take me.
With that said, I think it is also important for students going abroad to know not to just use where you are living as a launch pad to travel to other countries. Don’t get me wrong, if there is a long break and you have a chance to go to Ireland or stay with a friend and their family in Germany, do it. It’s important to have that happy medium and overall balance of exploring other cultures, but also immersing yourself in your own abroad home location.
Do Something New Everyday
It doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be something. It is easy to get into a routine when abroad and forget where you are, so I urge you to avoid that temptation. Even if it’s something small like exploring a new part of town, studying in the Meadows (a park in Edinburgh), trying a new café, or befriending a local (in my case, the security guard at Tesco…Hi Assan!) – never stop exploring. I stumbled upon one of my favorite book shops, Armchair Books, by simply being curious of what was down the street from Grassmarket. I tried to be as present as possible and experience as much as I could. Even on those days when I was tired from school, I tried to do something small such as cooking something different for dinner or going for a run in the city because you have to take advantage of your location and all that it offers.
Lastly, once again, take advantage of where you are and this opportunity in life.
Being able to study abroad is truly an opportunity of a lifetime. When else in your life are you going to be able to live in a country half way across the world and immerse yourself in another culture? It is essential to take every opportunity you can to make the most of this chance – be involved as much as you can. While abroad at the University of Edinburgh, I went to many events ranging from Scottish Ceilidh dances, weekly Jazz Nights, a pro rugby match, all the way to a school-wide snowball fight! Being involved is how you meet other people and become a part of a community instead of just a visitor to one.
Looking back at my time abroad, I am extremely proud of myself of how I used my time. I was truly happy while studying at the University of Edinburgh with IFSA – I would do anything to be there for just one more day to listen to live Celtic music with the amazing people I met, in the magical and unique city of Edinburgh I was lucky enough to call home.
In the end, the best thing that I could recommend to a fellow student abroad is to sit back, take a couple of seconds, think to yourself and have that “Wow. I’m living in Scotland.” moment. It is within those moments that you are able to truly appreciate this once in a lifetime opportunity, be present, and make the most of your time abroad.
Julia Johnson is a Digital Communications Arts Major at Oregon State University and studied abroad with IFSA at the University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2018.