First few days on campus (very long yet rewarding post)

Several more eventful days here in Edinburgh. Moving into my dorm, International Student orientation, trying to get my internet set up, getting my room set up, trying to adapt to the new social climate, the first day of classes, getting stuck in a lift…blech, so much going on.

So, on Friday morning some people from the University talked to us. While we were waiting in line for IDs and room keys, a girl fainted. She’s really skinny, and people speculated that she was malnourished. I didn’t like that speculating. Anyways, we packed, then went to lunch. Our key cards had expired, because the Butler people were silly and didn’t tell us that we were supposed to check out by noon. So we got our cards re-cut. Had lunch, then left. They sent all of us living in Pollock Halls (the dorms) on a bus over; it was a very short ride. Got out, and then went down to Holland House with the 10 or so other Butler students living there.

I got to my room, and removed all my stuff from my luggage. I then started figuring out how I could get internet in my room. I made all the necessary installations and settings changes, then went into town to use the internet. I went to the Public Library, where you can get on the internet for free. That place is amazing. A really old building, it has floors and stairs that are very noticeably eroded by the passage of centuries of feet. Remarkable. I’ve never seen anything like that before. Well, a lot of things here are new.

When the library closed before too long, I went to the internet cafe to do a bit more online. Then I went and bought a voltage converter at Poundsavers, because I had almost fried my speakers earlier in the day, forgetting about the voltage difference. I made dinner plans with a friend, for a local chinese restaurant because the dining hall wasn’t open yet. The food wasn’t bad, but the service was amusing. The woman who owned the place had a very stereotypical if understandable Chinese accent, and talked to us a lot. She said all the people working there were her children. Entertaining.

After dinner, my friends and I went to see each others’ rooms. I have the biggest, because I’m on a corner, although another friend, Erin, has the nicest, as she lives in the newest building. She got a booklet about sports in her room, so we read that a little, and I started nodding off. I went back to my room while the others explored. I got to sleep early, then woke up late the next day when Matt, one of the friends from the previous night, knocked on my door asking for the mobile number of one of the other two. I left to go into town, and ran into Natalie and Erin. We went out, and Natalie (third friend) went to look for open banks (she didn’t find any; it was Saturday), while Erin and I went in search of internet. The library was closed, so we went to the internet cafe again. I went to that place a lot, but on the way back that day, I saw that there were several other places with better prices. Oh well. I’ll use those in the future if I have to, but I’ll probably have it for free at the library, dorm microlab, or room most of the time.

Oh, while leaving the internet cafe, we almost got hit by a car. It’s not that I’m not getting used to the driving on the opposite side of the road, it was just a dangerous intersection, and we were crossing in an unconventional place. We survived, though. Oh, I got my grades at the internet cafe too. A in Logic, A in ES, A- in Judaism, and B+ in Ancient. I wrote a pretty short final paper for Ancient, that might be why it’s lower. But not bad overall.

We went to Tesco’s (cheap grocery store-ish place) and I got some hand moisturizer and hair ties. We met Natalie and headed back. Just outside the dorms, a guy we passed looked a lot like one of the members of Old Blind Dogs. We went to Natalie’s room, met her friendly neighbor from Manchester, and watched an episode of the Office (US version). So, in the dining hall, every food item is assigned 1 or 2 points, and you get 6 points to use throughout the meal. It’s fairly reasonable; you can get everything you need with that much, but it still grated harshly with me. Even worse, they don’t let you go back from the eating area to the food area, not at all, because they can’t know whether you’ve taken 6 points already or whatnot. Sunday night I got into a long discussion with an attendant about that, because I was thirsty and wanted some orange juice, but she wouldn’t let me get any. I was annoyed. And also, we don’t get lunch at the dining hall, at all. Apparently we’re supposed to get it ourselves in the city. Ew. That’s what meal plans are for, sillies, so you don’t have to get your own food elsewhere. Jeesh.

Anyways, after dinner on Saturday night we watched 3 more episodes of the Office, 2 episodes of Blackadder from my collection, and the pilot of Firefly, also from my collection. We departed, and back in my room I worked for a while on a simplified map of south Edinburgh (in order to learn the streets), and then called home. Then went to sleep.

On Sunday morning we had International Student Orientation. It was pretty boring itself. Then we had lunch. On the way down, they gave us two booklets, one of which listed all the societies (clubs). I enjoyed flipping through that, figuring out what I wanted to check out. At lunch, I met a girl from Greenfield who went to Deerfield Academy and knows Kyle Yager and Dana Albertson, and she also goes to King’s College in Halifax now and knew Zack O’Neil when he was there. Her name is Emily, haven’t seen her since. I also, of all fantastic coincidences, ran into someone from Amherst HS there, Jen Tyson, who goes to Smith majoring in neuroscience. We chatted for a minute, just the superficial stuff.

There were walking tours of the campus at 2, and just beforehand I met a nice girl named Erica, from Hawaii. And yes, she knows Meri (though I gather not closely). She goes to Bowdoin, majoring in English and Art History, and is the most loyal member of a meditation group at her school. It was weird, I spent most of the rest of the day with her. We arranged to go to dinner at 5:30.

However, around 4:30 or 5, my next door neighbor moved in, and shortly thereafter invited me in for a beer. I accepted, not wanting to make a bad impression with my new neighbor, and also because I just wanted to meet him, and Scottish people in general. His name’s Ben, from the Isle of Islay (AYE-luh). He likes to hunt, drink, and play rugby. I don’t know if I really like him. It might just be confirmation bias, or something like that, but he and his friend Mike really were nothing like what I expected. They said most of the students at Edinburgh are English, not Scottish, and were mostly educated at public (to us, private) school. You have to understand, in the UK, apparently rugby is the sport played by people who go to prestigious public school, whereas football is the sport played by the less elite. These two guys actually LOOKED DOWN on football players! I was appalled. But I was also drunk and trying to be friendly. I have a very low tolerance, surely from not drinking much really ever. Erica came in around 5:30, and then we left around 6:30 or so. She had a much less negative impression of the fellows than I did. She, like a normal college student, likes her alcohol, and thought the two would be fun to party with, if not necessarily the most pleasant of company on a regular basis.

We met two Butler people for dinner, Emily, who lives on my hall, and Sarah, from Franklin & Marshall. They’re both very friendly, if very preppy. After dinner (and the confrontation with the dining hall lady), we went upstairs to the bar. I really didn’t want another drink, but the bartender gave them to us for free because we had just gotten there, so I figured it’d be rude to decline. And awkward to not have a drink with my new friends. So I got a half-pint of Guinness (though apparently no one gets half-pints there), which was not as good as the Guinness I’d had before. I liked better the “girly drink” that Sarah and Emily had, called a Snakebite. It was sweet, almost sickly so. I liked it; you couldn’t really taste the alcohol. That’s the best kind, from my perspective. We went back to Holland house and saw everyone’s room, then they went off to watch Under the Tuscan Sun in Sarah’s room in the new dorm (that Erin lives in too), Chancellor’s Court. I stayed in.

I was productive though. I rearranged and cleaned up my room, made it pretty, put up stuff on the walls. I made a pretty name sign for my door, and started a pen & ink drawing on a piece of cardboard that had been part of packaging for something. Skipped the party in the Student Union building; it was 3 quid for entry, and I didn’t feel like going out anyway.

Monday morning, I got up, showered, went to breakfast. Went to the Microlab, which is very close by and free internet. I then went in to George square (where my classes are) and tried to get into the International Students’ Lounge for some free tea, but it was closed. I saw an Italian girl whom I met at International Students’ Orientation. Her English isn’t very good; I hope she does okay in her classes. I went over to the Uni Library, and hung out in the computer lab (more free internet) until close to class time. Well, half an hour before. I went over to David Hume Tower (DHT), where my classes are, and scoped out where they all were. Oh, the power was out, so there were no lights, but I was impressed by the architecture; a big building and just about every room I saw had some natural light. But even though the electricity was off, one of the three lifts was working. I unthinkingly used it to check out where my classes were, and it worked fine. However, when it came to time to actually go to class, I got in it again (along with 12 other people), and it died on the 4th floor or so. So yeah, it was really crowded, and we were stuck there, in the dim light, for about 10 minutes. Luckily, there were about 4 other people from my class there, so when we finally did get out, the lecturer readily accepted the excuse. In the elevator, some people were being really loud, and I was just being calm and waiting. There were two or three other North Americans in the lift, one in my class.

The class was good, not at all scary, just pretty much like a class I’d have in the US. An hour of lecture, then an hour of tutorial (discussion). It was about how Descartes is considered NOT to be a good basis for environmentalism. Okay…. After class, I talked to Bethany on the way home. I was bored, so I went up to visit Erica. she was doing nothing, so we went and hung out with Emily. My goodness, they seem preppy to me. popped collar, that sweater with the diamondy pattern down the front…lots of popped collars here. Lots of scarves too, of various sorts. Lots of long coats, and on women skirts and tights with boots. I approve, I suppose. Anyway, we talked, then went to dinner. We met another random American, and she and I lost Erica and Emily. We sat with some random Scottish students, and then they left, then she left, and I went and sat with Erin and Natalie and Matt. And two other girls, Laura from South Carolina (the girl who fainted), and Megan, from Scripps College in SoCal.

Leaving dinner, I called Liz Finlayson, a friend of a friend who studies here. She said a local pub was having all-drinks-for-a-quid night, and invited me along. When I got back to my room, I realized I really didn’t want to go drinking, so I texted her back saying I’d be staying in. I played some computer games, and watched Ocean’s 11 and Catch Me If You Can on my computer. While I was watching the movies, I worked on the pen and ink drawing I started the day before. It’s really nice so far; I’m really proud of it.

I was depressed last night, too. I think it’s mostly because I don’t have as stable a social situation as I do at home. I don’t really have any friends here, just acquaintances who I’ve spent time with. I don’t think enough of any of them to spend more time with though, that’s the thing. Feel like we don’t have enough in common, either. The one group I feel is sort of lame and I don’t think they’re that cool, the other is too preppy and focused on drinking. Drinking is such a big thing here. I mean, it is at home too, but there I have established friends, so it’s different. Also, coming into the environment there, I had the social sanctuary of Blackstone to go to if I wanted to get away from the drinking culture; here I don’t have anything like that. I think once I get involved with some societies I’ll have more meaningful social contact, but I’m pretty lonely until then.

Why is it that so many people are so obsessed with drinking, and I don’t like it? Surely neither way is better than the other, but still, frequently it seems like it’s not okay to not drink. I mean, it’s unusual. Especially in Europe, it seems pretty uncommon. But I just don’t like the stuff, not how it tastes, not how it feels, not how it affects my budget. And yet, there’s this pressure to do it anyway, because it’s what other people (who I like except for this) expect and want you to do.

Welcome to culture shock, version 2.0

ANYWAYS, today, I had to get up early to meet with my Director of Studies (DoS; they like abbreviating and pronouncing the abbreviation of things here), who’s somewhat like an academic adviser. The meeting was very short, and since then I’ve been here in the library on the internet via wireless on my laptop. I really need to get on getting in touch with the people about fixing my room’s internet. I want to see if my computer-savvy Scottish acquaintance can do anything though. I suppose I need to get in touch with him.

I have class today at 4, and maybe at 2 as well, although I doubt it. Oh, sometime yesterday I figured out when various concerts I want to go to are, and when various societies I want to look into meet. Stuff to do. I’m still kinda down, but feeling better than last night. Ooh, tonight’s the folk music society. That’s where I’m hoping to fit in, although I’m not going to pretend like drinking won’t be involved with that. In regards to drinking, I think I just need to figure out how to hang out with people who are drinking without doing so myself. Once I get that, I should be fine. It’s the lack of social contact and the pressure to drink that are getting me down. Ooh, articulation catharsis. Wonderful. I’m hoping to get up another map and some pictures soon. Enjoy. Pat on the back to all of you who got to the end of this long post.

7 Replies to “First few days on campus (very long yet rewarding post)”

  1. Hi Alex,
    “Articulation catharsis”!! Great phrase. I never heard it before, but it describes a phenomenon with which I am familiar also.

    Sounds like you are steering a good course through a difficult adjustment time. Can’t wait to hear about the Folk Music society.

    Like ol’Laertes said, “To thine own self… etc.” Maybe he was on to something. But as social creatures that can be difficult when those around us have different preferences and norms than we in our true self do. Figuring out how to resolve and make peace between our own desires/ preferences/ identity and those of our social milieu, our fellow people – there is a thorny issue for a lifetime of study. Sounds like you have some gambits to try.

    I love your blog!!! And I love you!


  2. You know that your scottish neighbour was talking about Soccer right ?
    Football in Europe is soccer here in the US. Nobody plays NFL football over there… 😉

  3. Of course football is soccer. I think it’s really interesting that most of the major sports in the US aren’t really done anywhere else. Baseball, American Football, NASCAR…not really present elsewhere as far as I can tell.

  4. Hi, Alex. Nick here. I really enjoyed hearing all the details of your life. I think you’re onto the best reaction to drinking; if you don’t like it but you don’t want to be excluded from social situations where drinking is involved, just order something non-alcoholic. Congratulations on another set of fine grades at Conn. Today I wrote a story about how WFCR has canceled “Thistle and Shamrock” and “Valley Folk” because of low listenership. Did you hear that last weekend it was 70 degrees here, an alltime record for January?
    Hope to hear more from you soon.

  5. Hi Alex,
    I’m enjoying reading your blog – it’s really interesting seeing Britain, (and Mum & Dad in Manchester!) from a fresh perspective. I went to Uni in Staffordshire, (England) and I agree, most students were absolutely MAD for drinking alcohol, (unhealthily so). Despite what some sheep-minded folk may think, ‘real’ men do drink ‘halves’, and soft drinks, and ‘shandy’.
    Try a ‘fresh orange and soda, no ice’: A ‘britvic’ orange from a little bottle, topped up with soda water, although also good with lemonade instead. And if you ask for no ice, you get more drink in the glass, (£££)
    Also, try a lager shandy or bitter shandy, (fairly common over here.) A half in a pint glass, topped up with lemonade.
    If the worst comes to the worst, tell people you’re on anti-biotics! (and it’s the sort that you can’t have alcohol with.)
    Hope you find some like minded people soon, I’m sure there are some, they just need finding.
    Jen x

  6. I am sure you will meet some like-minded folks soon. As for drinking, Paul and your dad both inherited a gene from a very distant ancestor in Asia which makes them allergic to alcohol. This might make an interesting reason to advance on why you do not want to imbibe, lest it kick in.

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