Happy anniversary, Scotland.
Ten years ago today, my little 22 year old self stepped off the plane in Edinburgh for the very first time.
I’ll always remember that first day on Scottish soil. The jaw-dropping moment the airport shuttle crossed from Shandwick Place to Princes Street and Edinburgh Castle emerged into view. Leaving my huge bags at the Castle Rock hostel (I couldn’t move into halls until two days later), and wandering down the Mound to the now long-gone ‘easy’ Internet cafe on Rose Street, so I could email the fam back in Canada to let them know I was all right. Speaking to an American girl in the hostel who couldn’t get over the fact that Lays were called Walkers here, and where was she supposed to buy a towel if they didn’t have Target? (I often wonder what happened to that overly culture shocked girl…)
For those first two days, I wandered around the Old Town on my own, with wide eyes and a mixture of excitement and trepidation for the year ahead. I ate at the Baked Potato Shop on Cockburn Street and the Elephant House on George IV, and took a free walking tour, snapping pictures constantly. I was far too surprised at the lack of rain.
I moved into Mylne’s Court on the Royal Mile, smack dab in the middle of what we would later call ‘Scottish Disneyland’. Souvenir shops hawking ‘tartan tat’ and blasting ‘Flower of Scotland’ and bagpipe covers of eighties songs. My little corner room was tucked up a spiral staircase, overlooking a close that the occasional tour group would wander through (to be ambushed by a ‘jumper ooter’ during the festival).
I had been anxious about meeting new friends but they were not in short supply at Mylne’s Court, which was chock full of international post grads. My blog from that year records a distinct disappointment at the lack of Scottish people — there weren’t many to be found on my Masters’ course, either.
Much to my relief, I met many great, and in some cases lifelong, friends that year. We did all the tourist things Edinburgh has to offer. Climbed Arthur’s Seat, went to Samhuinn and rugby games, and celebrated Hogmanay. We travelled to Belfast and Durham and the Isle of Mull and Croatia. I tried my best to keep up with my course work — but must admit I never did read Ulysses all the way through. Later in that first year I spent most of the festival stuck in the library, writing my dissertation and cursing the hordes of tourists I had to fight my way through to get to George Square.
And though I feared it would be really awkward to date someone who lived in the same building, in case it didn’t work out, I also met my boyfriend. Lucky for me it did work out, and ten years later we’re still going strong : )
I finished my course in August 2009 and left the bubble of uni. I moved off the Royal Mile (to Stockbridge… at least the financial crash was a blessing for rental prices), got a job and worked alongside real Scottish people (finally!). I learned words like Scouser (someone from Liverpool), monkey nuts (peanuts in the shell…!) and adopted UK office lingo like ‘chasing up.’ I eventually developed the ability to understand the Glaswegian accent (well, most of the time).
I changed jobs and then changed careers, meeting more lovely people along the way. Last year I took the leap and went freelance, something I could never have done without the help of many amazing and generous ex-colleagues.
I’ve been in this country for some fairly monumental events. I voted in the Scottish Referendum and the Brexit vote. I’ve seen first hand how dramatically (and quietly) immigration policies have changed in this country — years before the Brexit vote. The post-study visa route that first allowed me to stay in the UK after my degree no longer exists. Earlier this year a dear kiwi friend had to leave the country after her sponsorship application was declined due to an oversubscribed quota. While Brexit and the Windrush scandal brought some attention to the topic, in my experience many Brits have been largely oblivious to these changes (if you do nothing else after reading this, please check out the Guardian’s report here).
Navigating these changes has been hard enough for me, a white, English speaking, middle class person from Canada. I can’t imagine what it’s like for those who come from a different background. I’m heartened that British attitudes towards immigrants seem to be changing, and I hope that this translates into more welcoming, pro-immigrant policies in the future — but given the current state of British politics, I won’t hold my breath.
I still miss Canada — the fall leaves changing, proper summer weather, slightly longer days in winter (believe it or not) — and all my friends and family back home. I’m still Canadian through and through: prone to unnecessary apologising, decent at ice skating, with an immense (and I’m sure obnoxious) sense of superiority about the way my homeland doesn’t shut down just because of a few snowflakes (ahem).
Over the years, I’ve picked up a mixed bag of local habits. I order my ‘fish supper’ with plenty of ‘salt and sauce.’ I’ll happily eat haggis (especially when accompanied by neeps and tatties), but have never quite warmed to whisky. I don’t drink endless cups of tea all day, though I’ve learned to tolerate instant coffee (in a pinch). I’ll never understand the appeal of mince pies, but after embarrassing myself at a work Christmas do, I now know the ‘proper’ way to crack a Christmas cracker (hint: you need a partner). I can manage to avoid completely embarrassing myself at a ceilidh, even though I still don’t know which dances are which (not even the Canadian Barn Dance).
These days I greet taxi drivers with an enthusiastic ‘hiya!’. But when it comes to friends and colleagues, I doubt there will come a day when cheek-kissing does not instantly fill me with dread (how many times? Which side first? There are just too many variables). I still prefer a hug or a handshake.
I will never get enough of the dramatic, rugged beauty of the Scottish Highlands and Islands. There’s still so much of this country that I haven’t seen. Now if I could just get over my fear of driving on the left hand side of the road…
Today in Edinburgh the weather is similar to that first day back in 2008. The sky is a brilliant blue, the sun is a bit lower in the sky, and there’s an autumn (not fall) crispness in the air. The streets are full of late season, post-festival tourists, newly arrived students and locals getting back to business as usual now that summer is over.
As I listen to the now familiar rumble of wheels on cobblestoned streets, I think how lucky I am to call this beautiful city home. To everyone who has made these last ten years so incredible — so full of friendship and new experiences, support and growth — thank you.