Rather than heading back to Oberlin this spring, I am venturing much further away: to Edinburgh, Scotland! Well, technically I’m already here, since my study abroad program started on January 10th. Having now been in Edinburgh for almost two weeks, I thought I would share some of my initial thoughts about what studying abroad has been like.
For many people, studying abroad is a privilege and a life-changing part of their college experience (as I hope it will be for me!). Most people study abroad in the spring of their junior year to get a break from their home college and to come back refreshed for their final year of college. Like a lot of people in my year at Oberlin, however, I’m in a bit of a unique situation: because of Oberlin’s response to COVID, I’ve already been off-campus during my first spring semester and second spring semester. If I’m being honest, these long stretches of time away from Oberlin dampened my excitement about studying abroad. I don’t really feel like I need a break from Oberlin—if anything, I feel like I haven’t had the chance to spend enough time there even though my last year will be my final year.
Another thing that has made my study abroad experience more unique—and challenging—than it would be otherwise is the fact that Oberlin’s fall semester ended in late January this year rather than mid-December like usual. This meant that my reading and finals period at Oberlin overlapped with my first week of spring semester classes here in Edinburgh. While I chose this study abroad program knowing that this overlap would unfortunately occur, it was still very, very stressful to juggle moving to a new country, starting classes at a new school with different class and assignment structures, and finishing finals for Oberlin. However, now that I’ve (somewhat miraculously) finished finals, I feel like I can actually start enjoying my time abroad.
And so far, it’s been a lot of fun! The main reason I chose Edinburgh is the sheer amount of history the city has, and I’ve been able to explore a little bit of that history both in my classes and wandering around the city. For example, this past weekend I went to the National Museum of Scotland and saw firsthand some Pictish stones. Since we had just talked about these stones in two of my history classes earlier that week, it was really fascinating to see them in person and understand the context behind them because of what I had learned in class. I also took a day trip with one of my friends to a small town about 30 minutes outside of the city by train--it was spectacularly beautiful, and I also really enjoyed learning about the history of that town (which apparently was the site of one of Scotland’s most infamous witch trials!). While I am still dealing with the culture shock of living in another country—even one in which the dominant language is English and has many similarities to the United States—I am starting to settle into life here in Edinburgh.
Finally, in many ways studying abroad in a new place is like starting college all over again. Figuring out where my classes are, how to connect to the internet, how to use the library for research, where to buy essentials like toothpaste, and more are all things I now take for granted at Oberlin. They are also all things that I’ve had to figure out how to do here at Edinburgh these past two weeks. While I’m grateful that I get to live in this beautiful historical city and study at a university that is quite different from Oberlin for five-ish months, being here has also made me think a lot more about the process of becoming comfortable at Oberlin as a person and student. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve fully reached that point yet at Oberlin, or really even that there is one point at which you can feel fully comfortable and ‘yourself’ in a place you’re only at for four years; for me, at least, it’s really more of an ever-evolving process. But I will say that being here at Edinburgh—in this new city, school, and country where most things are wildly unfamiliar—has made me more fully appreciate how I have found a part of home at Oberlin, and it makes me more excited to go back to that home for my final year after being away at Edinburgh.