From Foreigner to (Semi) Local

Two months ago when I first arrived in Edinburgh, I created a personal blog to update my parents and friends on my study abroad experience. My first post was about the little differences that overwhelmed and preoccupied me, making my first few days here hectic and stressful. This included the bathroom faucets. I remember standing in the bathroom the first night I arrived – tired, hungry, annoyed – trying to work the faucets on my new shower. It was such a little thing, and totally innocuous in the grand scheme of things, but my failure to turn on the shower I so desperately wanted was the final straw. I was frustrated, angry, and sure I would never be able to adjust. All I wanted to do was get on the next flight back home!

Of course, it is entirely normal for every study abroad student to experience culture shock and homesickness. I was lucky enough to go to an English speaking country, so at least I did not have to adjust to a new language (although the heavy Scottish accent can take some effort to decipher), and the United Kingdom is quite similar to America in many regards. However, the things I took for granted, like my knowledge of shower faucets, were the things that made my first few weeks a struggle. Everything from the acronyms of the university to the pronunciation of street names was new, and my repeated errors embarrassed and frustrated me.

I quickly resigned myself to feeling like a foreigner for the duration of my stay in Edinburgh. My accent alone marked me, and often I would go out of my way to avoid revealing it. For example, I always tried to use the automatic checkout machines in the grocery store because I did not want to talk to the person at the register. Grocery shopping is something locals do, and I wanted to be identified as one of them, something my accent immediately ruined. I know that I was being silly, but it was important to me to fit in as much as I possibly could.

This past week, my cousin and friend have both visited me in Edinburgh. I have been their tour guide, showing them everything I think is worth seeing, and trying some new experiences that I have been planning on doing for awhile. The ease in which I have adopted the role of tour guide has startled me. A few months ago, I was the stranger here. Now, I am navigating the streets without consulting a map and repeating the history of famous landmarks with the pride of a Scot.

Once again, it is the little things that remind me how far I have come. The odd street names are no longer a mystery to me, but they can confuse my American visitors. Many streets in Edinburgh are called a ‘close.’ For example, I live on Robertson’s Close. In a text to my cousin, I told her that we were going to tour Mary King’s Close, and she was incredibly confused. She kept asking what we were actually doing, and if the attraction was closed. I could not understand what the problem was, but when I showed my friend the texts, she immediately understood where my cousin’s confusion was coming from. My cousin had automatically interpreted ‘close’ in the only way she understood – as a verb rather than a street name. But I could not see that distinction, because I was so used to using ‘close’ to describe a street here in Edinburgh.

Another problem for my American visitors has been the Scottish accents. While they love listening to the Scots, occasionally they cannot understand everything that is being said. My cousin and friend have complained about being unable to comprehend tour guides, and have often asked me what someone has just said. The accent was a small stumbling block for me at the beginning as well. Many times I would simply nod at a person and give an unconvincing laugh because I could not decipher what they were saying. To be fair, I do that often in America, but here it was another reminder of how foreign I was. Now, however, most accents are not a problem for me, and I can happily interpret the Scots to my visitors!

This past week has shown me how easy it was for me to adjust and fall in love with Edinburgh. Two months ago I was despairing, sure I would never be able to assimilate completely. Of course, I am nowhere near calling myself an official resident of Scotland (I would also have to get an actual visa, and that process does not appeal to me in any way), but I am also no longer lost and confused in a new city, or ashamed of being foreign. I am proud to live in Edinburgh as a semi-local, and I am proud to be an American in the United Kingdom.

Some days are still hectic and stressful, and some things are still confusing and astounding to me. (Scottish cuisine is one of the latter. Deep fried pizzas, black pudding, haggis – who thought these were good ideas?!) But overall, I have assimilated into the life and culture of Edinburgh. Now when I post in my personal blog, I can tell my readers about the wonders of this city, and hopefully never again regale them with tales of the bathroom faucet.

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