To sum up many of the things I have learned here, I’ve compiled a list (in no particular order of importance):
Yes, I already knew how to use an ATM machine. What I didn’t know until my time abroad is how much money I can spend without realizing it. I haven’t shopped much at all since I’ve been here in terms of clothes, but the little things up; groceries, dinner out, taking a taxi or the occasional weekend trip, of course. Because it’s so much easier to use cash here, I’ve had to make far too many trips to the ATM than comfortable. Back home, I’d use my debit card most of the time, so changing to cash was an adjustment. I have a feeling, however, that once I’m home I’ll stick to cash so that I can really monitor my spending!
2) Walk when you can
Because my accommodation is the furthest from town (a little over a mile), I really got a lot of walking in. At first, it seemed a nuisance to have to make the trek everyday into town for class or a simple trip to the store for everyday necessities. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that a walk was the only way I’d learn the paths and inner-workings of St Andrews. Of course, when that northern wind begins blowing, a week-long bus pass is the way to go. Or of course, if you happen to be in London, take the tube since there is so much packed into one city!
3) Balance old and new
Being so far from home, I learned that I had to find the familiar for comfort, but also make new things familiar to make my new home, home. For example, I’m sure you remember my countless mentions of Starbucks in previous posts. Starbucks was and is a habit that began at home. Despite it being a chain, that part doesn’t matter; it’s simply having a place around that is also located back home. In a way, it sort of connected my two very different worlds together. Of course, I had to find things that I could make familiar to me. Taste, a local coffee shop that in size, is smaller than my flat, became a new place to go and feel warm. Also, Northpoint (where I’m actually writing this very post) became a friendly place to go for food. The point is, make sure to have both worlds on your side by being involved with both; take an interest in maintaing a relationship with home and simultaneously taking an interest in a new relationship.
Speaking of home, I learned how important it is to Skype, use Viber and Facebook for communicating with loved ones from home. For all the highs and lows, the only constants in my time abroad were loved ones. For all that was good, I wanted to share with those from home; for all that was difficult, I needed advice from those I could trust and be open with. Skype was my saving grace so many times while I was here.
While on the topic of relationships, being abroad forced me to engage. What I mean is, anything and anyone that came around, I learned to simply engage and commit. The way I see it, any person you come across or any situation you happen upon, it’s best to run with it because more than likely, those people and opportunities may be once-in-a-lifetime things. I think that’s what has made my experiences so memorable. I have every intention of maintaining a few friendships that began here as well. And I have been inspired forever from my experiences here.
I could be bias here, as I am an avid writer, but I would recommend that anyone traveling write down his/her experiences. Memories will be made of course, but writing them down is a nice documentation of all the details; it makes those memories more concrete. And, if you happen to set up a blog, others can live out your experiences with you, no matter where they are in the world in relation to you.
6) Lose sleep
Although my first month here was a month of stolen sleep, looking back on the nights spent out were well worth it. Some of my best memories have been the nights that turned into morning out on the town and outside of bed. Besides, you never know the personality of a town until you see it at night. The stars come out, the street lights come on and the seriousness under the sun cools off to the memories made under the moon. It’s worth it to lose a bit of sleep now and then while abroad. Besides, it extends your time!
It may sound like a cliché, but as simple as it sounds, enjoy. If anything, simply just be and let be and enjoy every minute that you have abroad. It may only happen once, so worries of everyday life can wait until you’re back home. I’ve forced myself to relax and adapt, which, as a usually anxious individual, is a big step for me.
These are only seven things I’ve learned in Scotland, but they’re invaluable lessons to me.