Entry 1: Leaving on a Jet Plane-written 9/11/09
From the moment before I got on the plane to class matriculation, my first week abroad has been nothing but a learning experience I will never forget! When my two travelling partners and I were waiting for our flight to board, I kept running the same mantra in my head: “I can’t believe we’re doing this, I can’t believe we’re doing this”. It was almost like a dream. One minute you’re in the comfort of your home watching a documentary on the History of Scotland on T.V. looking at the castles and landscape saying to yourself “I wish I could be there” and in the next sitting in an airport terminal with a group of strangers eagerly awaiting that intercom call “Flight 96 to Edinburgh now boarding”. It was almost too surreal for words and I had to take several minutes to myself to get adjusted to the situation I had gotten myself into.
The first hurdle we had to cross was when our terminal had been switched last minute on account of a flight for Madrid leaving later than expected. Luckily enough the directions at the airport were clear enough that we knew where to go and have time to spare to collect ourselves for the trip yet to come. Before we knew it the time had arrived. At 8:00 PM we were told that our flight was boarding. The three of us raced slowly got in line with the rest of the passengers for the flight and we headed down the short corridor towards the waiting plane. On board we took our seats and settled in for a long flight. We were expected to arrive in Edinburgh by 7:30 AM the next day. Before taking off we overheard another passenger behind us talking about the University and it turned out to be an abroad student from North Carolina named Andy. Who would imagine running into someone from a different state going to the same university abroad and sitting right in front of them? The coincidence was almost too strange but now we added a fourth person to our abroad group.
Before we knew it we were taxiing onto the runway and preparing for take-off. The plane picked up speed going faster and faster until the front angled diagonally and the massive structure lifted off the ground. From the window I saw lights and buildings getting smaller and smaller; less familiar and more distant than they were before. The flight staff then served dinner and turned on the in-flight entertainment; so as to create a sense of normalcy, as we travelled further north-east towards Labrador and then east where we would reach our final destination of Edinburgh. I was too tired and exhausted to eat my order of micro-waved chicken and rice; opting for some television to take my mind off of the journey ahead.
One of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do was to fall asleep on an airplane. For all the courtesy of the flight crew and capability of the pilot, it is of my opinion that the airlines have a vendetta against tall people. The” pillow” we were given felt like a bag of cotton stuffing and did as much good on my lower back as it did my head and it certainly did not help that I was anxious about arriving in Scotland and taking a first glimpse at the landscape of my new temporary home. In my half dreaming, half waking consciousness I turned to my one companion in order to make an attempt at conversation. I remember at one point asking if the light on the end of the wing was the rising sun; much to my embarrassment and both of our amusement. I then turned around, closed my eyes and attempted to go back to sleep. By the next time I’d wake, it would be daylight and we would be an hour and a half away from Edinburgh.
I groggily awoke from my uneasy sleep to the sight of clouds outside my window. It looked almost like we were flying on top of a white quilt that enveloped the plane. We had our breakfast and before I knew it we were 45 minutes away from the airport. As the minutes ticked away, we began to come closer to the Scottish coast. It was a spectacular site, the likes of which I could never imagine nor forget. Green fields checker boarded with oblong plowed fields; whose boundaries were loosely outlined with stone walls and the only sign of habitation a minuscule farm house. Getting closer to Edinburgh we saw evidence of suburbs and old neighborhoods made of builds built several centuries ago but still being used by the newest of a series of owners; and just when we thought it couldn’t get more spectacular, a rainbow overhead. It was a truly glorious welcome into this amazing country. By Sunday September 5th at 7:30 AM, I was in another country, over 3,000 miles away from home and quite tired. We made our way through customs and grabbed our bags. Under the weight of our luggage we slowly made our way to the meet and greet service Dundee had sent to meet study abroad students.
The bus wasn’t due to arrive until 10:30 am so we had roughly three hours to collect ourselves. I grabbed my toothbrush and toothpaste out of my carry-on and decided to “freshen up” the best way I can. While the rest of our party grabbed breakfast, caught some sleep or wrote their thoughts down to paper. Soon we were greeted by other study abroad students. One was Katie (a classmate of Andy’s) and Sydney; who turned out to be one of my “flat mates”, from Canada. For six individuals who had just gone through jet lag and culture shock (no Coke-Cola does not taste the same as it does in the United States), we were extremely talkative; sharing stories of who we were, what we are doing and where we were going. What we didn’t know was when we were leaving the airport.
Then the time came as our school representative greeted us and took us to the bus that would in turn take us to Dundee. The airport at Edinburgh acted as a sort of “decompression room”, where we were not allowed in or out and we collectively imagined what the outside world would look like once we left the front doors. Then it hit me; “I don’t think we’re in New York anymore”. To a casual observer, Scotland may not appear strange; the people mainly speak English, live in homes complete with indoor plumbing, heating and electricity and have televisions, radios and computers. However once you get passed the surface, you realize there are very distinct and recognizable examples of how people talk and behave. The first thing I noticed was the way people drove. I know that although this may sound stereotypical and almost cliche’, the fact that people drove on the opposite side of the road from the way Americans drive the first visually recognizable difference after walking out of the airport. Once we were all seated on the bus I got an audio queue that we were in a completely different country; namely the thick Scottish brogue our bus driver spoke in. Traveling through the countryside he would point out “Coos” and “Hooses” (Cows and Houses) that would pass our windows, we all turned towards each other quizzically and muttered at the same time “I don’t know what he’s saying”. Despite these differences, there was enough similarities in the lush green Scottish countryside to remind me of home. The rolling hills and expansive farmland was not too different than that which surrounded me in New Paltz and in this I found comfort until we made it to the campus at Dundee.
Dundee is fourth largest city in Scotland with a population of over 140,000 inhabitants. Dundee has also shared the title of “The Sunniest City in Scotland” and “The City of Discovery” as many advances in the fields of science and biomedicine have been made there. The city is also known for its ship building industry and thriving port located on the River Tay; on the northeastern coast of Scotland, just below the Kingdom of Fife. One of the more famous contributions Dundee has made to the history of Science and shipbuilding is the ship RSS Discovery; which carried Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his expedition of arctic adventurers to the Antarctic during the 1901 “British National Antarctic Expedition”. The ship is now berthed in Dundee where it now resides as a museum and tourist attraction.
Another tourist attraction; and probably the most defining feature of the city, is “The Law Hil”. This “hill” is in reality a basalt plug of an extinct volcano and measures approximately 571 feet. This hill has a long history of settlement dating back to the Iron Age Pictish tribes, to Roman settlers. In 1992, a monument dedicated to the fallen heroes of World Wars I and II was constructed at the peak of and can be prominently seen from the University of Dundee Campus.
Founded in 1881, the University of Dundee is best known for its schools of Medecine, Law and Dentistry; however the main campus at the city’s west end also houses the Duncan of Jordanstone school of Art and Design and thus has a flourishing Art and Life Sciences Program.
The Dorm (or “Flat”) where I would be living in (Belmont Flats), is located in the northwestern part of campus off of Old Hawkhill, which is near the Student Union (a three story multipurpose night club and event center created for the students), the Library and Chaplaincy center. The flats vary on amenities based on price and location; Belmont being on the center of campus was one of the best flats to choose as it had six separate bedrooms with a personal bathroom (including sink, toilet and shower) and internet. There is also a common room complete with working kitchen and living space. Our bus stopped at the “Sanctuary Building”, where we picked up the keys to our rooms. Each key chain comes equipped with a plastic “fob” or scanner key that lets you into the lobby of the residence, a flat key; which opens the main door to the flat you are staying in, a room key that is used to access and lock your bedroom, and a cub board key that opens your own personal cub board in the kitchen. The key chain also has a small purple token that can be used to get a discount on the local bus (or “trolley”) that takes you to the supermarket in the center of town. The helpful university staff helped us with our bags and we got on the elevator; who greeted us with the sterness of Super-Nanny “Doors Opening, Doors Closing, Fifth Floor”. I had no idea elevators talked until now!
Sydney and I finally reached our flat on the top floor of Belmont Flats and began the long process of settling in. we first wandered around the kitchen and common room like puppies being brought into a new home (and looking at all of the weird electrical sockets). Then we opened the doors to our rooms and marveled at the view! I could see the Dundee Law from mine and a beautiful panorama of the city and Sydney’s opened towards campus and the rising sun. Having our own bathrooms was also a novelty; especially for Jen and I for even in SUNY New Paltz as nice as the dorms and rooms may be, bathrooms and showers are a shared affair; both of us found it strange to finally have one to ourselves. As I put my clothes away and my bedding down, I sat up on my bed admiring the view of the setting sun as it went over a somewhat cloudy sky and hearing the ambient noise of people going about their lives as normal. Unbeknown-st to them of the amazing journey Jen, Laura, Andy and I had all just taken. I shut my eyes slightly to let the moment sink in and opened them once more, saying to myself: “I think I’m going to like being an American in Scotland”.
Epilogue to Day 1:
Since moving into our flat, Sydney and I were joined by three more girls: Julie (from Chicago), Cho (from China) and Lauren (from Scotland). Our flat was recently rounded out by the arrival of a study abroad student from the Netherlands. Jen (living in Seabraes Flats with similar accommodations) has several roommates from Scotland, France and Germany. Laura (who lives in Tay Mills with Andy whom we met on the plane) rooms with a girl from Lithuania and several other flat mates from the UK. Katie (also living in Belmont Flats) has roommates from Scotland, the UK and Ireland. Finally we met another student from the United States; Ashley who lives in the flat next to ours. This will certainly be a VERY international experience!