Monday, May 16, 2016

The lovely Dean Village in Edinburgh

The lovely Dean Village in Edinburgh

By Marcus Smith*

            As my study abroad experience is coming to a close, I often find myself scrolling through my camera roll remembering all of the beautiful places that I have had the opportunity to visit. I use social media to post pictures and keep friends and family up to date, and also as a way for me to document the memories I made here. When coming abroad, I was excited to meet new people, try new foods, and experience life in a different country. I will also unashamedly admit that I was looking forward to the scenic backgrounds that would make up my new Instagram photos (and not going to lie, I am now convinced that if political science doesn’t work out I can pursue a career as either a professional model or photographer). I am usually not one to be constantly taking photos, but I knew that I would definitely have to take pictures here and thus created my first Facebook album since middle school. Somehow I managed to add almost 500 photos of me stumbling around Europe, and it is important to note that my time here has been so much more than just posing candidly in front of famous landmarks. There have been countless experiences that have not been caught on camera, but here are 4 main things that my social media does not tell you about my study abroad.

1.) The academics

            The academics here were very engaging and have truly been the core part of my study abroad experience. The University of Edinburgh is consistently ranked as one of the world’s top universities, and the classes really pushed me to think critically. I began taking classes in my major here, and it was also such a unique experience to take politics classes with students from all over the world, as there were always stimulating conversations about policy and social issues and everyone had different perspectives to contribute. I was the only American student in all of my discussion sections, and often found myself explaining my ideologies to my classmates. It is not until you have to explain your views that you have held your whole life that you are forced to confront some hypocrisies that you previously ignored. I have had my views challenged on multiple occasions, and probed my classmates’ beliefs as well. Overall, my classes have made me much more open-minded and have truly given me a more globalized perspective on social policy.

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle

2.) My day-to-day life

            When living in a different country for 5 months, not every day is a new daring adventure. I did spend a lot of my time exploring Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland and Europe, but there were also days where I did absolutely nothing, and entire days that I spent in the library. One of the most rewarding things about study abroad is getting to re-create your whole lifestyle, from the people you hang out with, to the things you do, to the places you eat. You are allowed to build your new normal, and there is something extremely liberating about that. While I do not post my daily activities (because who likes when people do that?) such as eating at my favourite restaurant, meeting friends at our favourite pub, or walking through the bustling city centre every day on my way to class, being able to adapt and thrive in a new environment is something that I am very proud of.

3.) There were times when things got ugly

Studying abroad has without a doubt given me the highest of highs that I have ever experienced, but those highs were naturally accompanied by lows as well. There were times I felt lonely, bored, stressed, and lost (both literally and figuratively). There were also times while traveling where things got dicey, such as being lost in a sketchy part of London at night and attempting to get through Barcelona’s train station with a language barrier. I wouldn’t trade these feelings or experiences for anything though, as they have been moments of true learning and growth.

Victoria Street in Edinburgh

Victoria Street in Edinburgh

4.) My heart belongs in Edinburgh

     Most of my photos are from other cities and countries that I have visited, and I realized that I have not given Edinburgh proper recognition for its stunning beauty. After living here for 5 months, I now find casually walking by a castle, bagpipes as street music, and even driving on the left side of the road as being completely normal. I have taken for granted the elaborate architecture, interesting people, and vibrant culture, as I now feel like I can call Edinburgh home.

So overall, while my social media pictures are very pretty and I have stepped my caption game up (I like to think at least), they only represent a fraction of the experiences I have had abroad. Part of what has been so refreshing about Europe is that there is limited Wi-Fi. This has forced me to abandon my reliance on my phone, and in return has allowed me to truly relish in the moment and feel unplugged, something I have not felt in a while.

(P.S. writing this post made me really sad that I leave in 5 days)

*Marcus Smith is a sophomore studying political science as well as ethics and public policy at the University of Iowa.. The Bolingbrook, Illinois, native is spending his semester on the Institute for Study Abroad at Butler University program in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Student blog entries posted to this International Accents page may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UI Study Abroad and International Programs.  The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.