This post will delve into the academic parts of my experience in Scotland. I am taking three courses here, which is the equivalent of five classes in the United States. This is because the classes in the U.K. are in more depth and have a very focused scope when compared to the U.S.
I am taking two honors courses, one of them in named “Edinburgh in Fiction/Fiction in Edinburgh.” We will be reading some of the major literature about/based in Edinburgh from about the 1700s to the present. As of now I have read Sir Walter Scott’s Heart of Midlothian and James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. I knew this class would be a privilege to be a part of because I get the opportunity to learn about my adoptive city throughout the semester, instead of all in the first weekend. I am always discovering how much of a literary city Edinburgh is. There are little breadcrumbs everywhere relating to writers like Robert Burns or Sir Walter Scott, (like a little plaque quoting a few lines of poetry I saw on Cowgate Street, just a few hundred yards from my flat). The Scottish love their writers, and honor them well within the city. There are dozens of hole-in-the-wall bookshops nuzzled along most of the rain-washed streets. Each one beckons travelers to come in, have a look around, open the dusty old editions and give the pages a tickle.
The second honors course I am in is called “Roman Propaganda: The Archeological and Artistic Evidence.” This one is every Classics major’s dream. I have to read a lot for this class, pouring for hours over books about the Ara Pacis and Augustus’ Imperial influence on Rome. We study a lot of coinage in this class, as well as portraits, and anything pertaining to a Roman’s self-image. “Propaganda” is especially an interesting lens to view the ancient world through, because most people picture Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia when they think “propaganda.” My professor is an elderly English lady who has clearly studied Classics her whole life and knows more than I could ever hope to learn. I love listening to her voice and watching the old coins they found buried in time flash across the projector.
My third class is titled “The Bible in Literature.” This was a last-minute class I was forced to add, though I was sure I read somewhere that there was no minimum amount of courses I had to take while studying at Edinburgh. Despite this, I think I made a good choice in this course. It is a “first year” level course, so it is, in theory, easier than my two honor classes. We are studying biblical themes in literature, which is very broad in scope. Since I joined late, I am still getting caught up in what we are currently working on.
All that I have read for my Fiction class so far has remarked and reiterated the kindness of the Scottish people. I agree. I was wandering around some of the buildings on my campus a few weeks ago and came to a bike-path sort of walking road. I saw the brightest green up ahead of me. There were grey-concrete lanes cutting up the flat grassy park. I saw a nice looking elderly man coming my way from the direction of the park, and I plucked up the courage to speak to him. “What park is this?” He had a newspaper-boy cap on and black, wooly gloves. He carried a worn leather briefcase, looking like a professor you’d love to have. He turned to face where he had come from, and in a soft, soothing, weathered voice, he spoke to me: “This is called the Meadows…” (I suddenly realized where I was, since I had seen “the Meadows” on a map before). The man went on to tell me where another well-known park was further down, which I forgot the name of. We parted ways and he bade farewell with an old Scottish phrase you’d hear a lot in a café or on the street: “Cheers!” (It is an informal way of saying thank you).
People in Edinburgh are nice. I don’t feel unsafe (which was a major anxiety I have, especially when I travel alone). Of course I still keep an arm over my bag, and don’t stupidly and obviously walk with my phone or wallet in plain sight. I am starting, slowly, to feel at home, to recognize things, to walk without fear or weariness. I am grasping how much of a privilege it is to study in a different country, to experience education by means of an institution that differs so much from my own. It is important, and I am glad I am investing in it. I am also so grateful and thankful to all the people who made it possible for me. Cheers!