I’ve been back in the United States for just over three weeks, and it’s been five days since I arrived at Georgetown, which is a substantial enough time to cement the idea in my head that I’m back stateside for good. At least, it is in theory. I traveled so much during my semester, though, that I feel like I’m just on an extended vacation and will soon fly back to Edinburgh Airport and stand in the same customs line I stood in so many times in the past few months.
In reality, though, I might never return to Edinburgh. I certainly hope that I will, and I would actually be quite sad if I never had the opportunity to visit Scotland again. But, I don’t even know what classes I’m taking this semester, let alone what I’ll be doing months or years from now.
If I never get to go back, though, I can say with confidence that I’m completely satisfied with my experience in this amazing country. Of course, it probably doesn’t seem like it if you’re one of the dozens of people who’ve asked me, “How was Scotland?”, because the only satisfying answer that I’ve been able to give in the approximately 2.5 seconds that they want is that it was great. And, in a word, it was great. But it was also beautiful, historical, quirky, and fascinating. I met amazing people—Scottish, English, and American alike—and had wonderfully fun and educational experiences both at home and in the myriad of countries I visited.
To be sure, the US and the UK are not incredibly distinct countries, and many things about their cultures are similar, if not the same. They both speak English, they both sell Ben & Jerry’s in grocery stores, and they both have Starbucks. But, since being back in both California and Georgetown, I’ve realized that there’s just something about being in a Scottish city, surrounded by Scottish people, that feels entirely different than either of these places. I don’t know if I can explain it, but I think I’ll sum it up with the fact that, on the twelve pubs of Christmas crawl I went on on my last day in Edinburgh, every place was packed with people wearing Christmas sweaters (what Americans would wear to ugly Christmas sweater parties, but what are legitimate outfit choices in Scotland) and cheerfully chatting with friends and coworkers over pints of seasonal beer.
Although I haven’t had reverse culture shock upon returning to the US—apart from actually having to do homework and not getting to travel every weekend—I am experiencing a similar phenomenon to when I arrived in Scotland and everything struck me as different than America. Except now, everything seems different than the UK. I still haven’t retrained myself to look the proper way when crossing the street, and I’m continually surprised by how small Georgetown’s campus is, as my opinion of long walking distances has significantly changed. The food is much better here, as vegetables are readily available at restaurants and not everything is fried—granted, there is also no haggis, which is somewhat of a disappointment. I also keep being surprised to find outlets (yes, if any British people are reading this, they are called outlets and not sockets) whenever I need to charge my laptop or phone, or that I don’t have to sign every single time I charge something. A few words have also stuck with me—I was somewhat embarrassed to accidentally call it a bin liner instead of a trash bag the other day. Perhaps the most striking thing, though, especially at Georgetown, is just how American everyone looks: everyone wears the North Face jackets and other such clothing that I was told are a dead giveaway.
While I can’t say that I don’t miss Scotland, or that I’m sad to be back in the US, I can say for absolute certain that studying abroad was one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made. In addition to the memories I’ll have forever, I really do feel like I’ve grown as a person. As I’ve told a few people, if I can fly to the Czech Republic at 7 am and navigate the subway system by myself, I can do almost anything. That level of independence and confidence that everything will work out—that stressing about my 50-minute layover in Frankfurt, an airport notorious for being difficult to navigate, will help absolutely nothing and I should not stress until it’s necessary (which it almost never was)—is perhaps one of the greatest souvenirs I brought back with me. That, and the five-foot Scottish flag I’m planning on hanging up in my apartment living room to remind me of one of the greatest semesters of my life.