How did you come to choose the program in which you are studying?
When I first decided that I wanted to go abroad, I had a list of priorities. The first was that I wanted to go somewhere where English was spoken because I am not fluent in any other languages. I also wanted to go somewhere different from my friends. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to go to Scotland because I am Scottish but did not know much about my heritage. I met with the study abroad office and they directed me to several programs in Scotland for which I would qualify. I was apprehensive at first because my program was run by a different university, but the ISAP office assured me it would not be an issue at all. I narrowed my decision down to Glasgow or Edinburgh. My mother informed my that our family was from Edinburgh so naturally I picked Edinburgh. In talking to my Grandpa about my trip this summer, it turns out we are from Glasgow (proves how much my family embraced the Scottish portion of my heritage). Needless to say I am still glad I ended up in Edinburgh.
What was your initial reaction to the country during your first week?
Before crossing the pond I had never left the country (or been west of Milwaukee for that matter) and I did not have any notion of what to expect overseas. I distinctly remember looking out my airplane window when we started flying into Scotland. I saw these hills everywhere. It was stellar. I had never seen hills so tall with nothing but grass growing on them. I was spoiled in my first week here because the university put us up in a hotel for a few nights before our dorm was ready. Our hotel overlooked Edinburgh Castle. Every morning when I woke up and looked out the window it was a constant reminder that I was not at Fordham anymore. I was located in one of the oldest parts of the city and it looked so ancient. There were buildings older than the United States as a country. The setup of the city was very different. Everything was smaller here. However, being a student from NYC helped significantly because Edinburgh had a city feel and I was accustomed to the etiquette associated with living in an urban environment. I think Fordham directly prepared me for the city environment.
Thus far my favorite experience has been playing for the shinty team (which I will get into greater detail in later) and exploring the many avenues of Scottish culture that Edinburgh offers. Within the city there are a vast series of museums that I have visited. There also exists a hill within the city limits that provides great scenic views of the region. In the weeks leading up to the trip I was learning about my Scottish heritage and had built up an anticipation of eventually "coming home." When I was standing on the hill looking at the Firth of Forth (like a bay in the U.S.) and the early beginnings of the highlands in the distance I felt for the first time that I had made it home. Such a feeling cannot be correctly articulated through words. I cannot wait until next month when I am in Glasgow exploring the same places my great-grandparents lived.
The most exhilarating thing I have experienced since departing JFK is Shinty. Shinty is Scotland's national sport but specifically has its roots in the Highlands. Shinty is a combination of several sports. The easiest way to describe it is hyper-aggressive field hockey. Ice hockey developed from shinty when Scottish immigrants went to Canada, and the sport "hurling" is a close cousin. I have not played organized sports since high school and really miss playing in competitive environments. The shinty team has allowed me to satisfy that desire. The guys on the team have been amazingly welcoming. It has been great because I am the only American on the team and it allows me to really immerse myself in Scottish culture. I probably get made fun of once a week for my "accent" (even though I am from Connecticut and everyone knows we don't have one) but it is all in good fun. The days we meet are easily the best days of the week.
Finally, do you have any words of advice for students beginning the study abroad process?
If I were to offer any sort of advice to a student starting the process, I would tell them to exit their comfort zone. The vast number of study abroad programs available allows someone to go anywhere they desire. I was initially nervous going abroad because I was the only Fordham student in Edinburgh. I learned just as much about myself as I have about Scotland. This may be the only time you will be able to spend a few months out of the United States. Do not confine yourself to the herd! Seek out your own highland pastures; you will be surprised with what you find.