While the first days of studying abroad can be exhausting, it's well worth it
February 18, 2016
The steamy heater was a steady whir in the background as I stared up at the bunk bed overhead, while yelling and footsteps echoed around the hallway and made its way into our little room. I was awake for too long thinking about everything I have been able to do in Scotland so far, and how my time traveling around this country has felt so much longer than just the two weeks it has actually been.
Deciding to commit to the International Traveling Classroom program was easy for me. When you know you want to travel, deciding to just go and do it is the best and simplest part, and those early days when I was accepted was the best feeling; a combination of elation over not having to park on campus for a whole semester, and the feeling of disbelief about the opportunity I have to see so much of Europe.
That first day I flew out it still hadn’t hit me that I was actually leaving- leaving behind my family, and especially the comfort of having a routine. The first few days in Scotland, or more specifically in Dalkeith and Dalketith Palace, where we would be staying with other students from Wisconsin universities around the state, passed by in the kind of fog I can only imagine new parents go through. Or maybe I’m being overly dramatic and that’s what staying up for almost two days, plus having a touch of jet lag feels like. Either way, it was not enjoyable. Two plane rides from MSP to Edinburgh and my eyes barely closed as they were too busy being lured to look out the window and at the views, and glued to the screen in front of me.
Eventually I did recover from those first few days of being a well-fed zombie and plunged head first into group travel life and this new world of Scotland. It turned out that most of the information and facts I learned in Scotland were all new to me, as it seems that here in the States we often forget that Scotland even exists. One of my favorite stories came from the very first tour of Edinburgh we took as a group with a graduate from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls, and a current graduate student of the University of Edinburgh. We stood on the green space of the quad while he told us of the ‘entrepreneurs’ Burke and Hare who used tunnels underneath the quad to smuggle dug-up bodies from nearby graveyards into the medical labs for the purpose of studying the bodies’ anatomy. Burke and Hare couldn’t escape notice when they drew attention to themselves as they began to steal more and more newly-dead bodies. However, the people of Edinburgh were not dying fast enough for Burke and Hare who soon began to take matters directly into their own hands and became murderers on a mission to procure more and more bodies in the name of medical advancement. I’m pretty sure my mind was made up at this point that I would love to go to a school that could boast of such a history. North Hall is pretty old, but pretty mundane when compared to smuggling dead bodies in the dark of the night.
Those last few days I was in Edinburgh, the castle over my right shoulder and the National Gallery on my left, I think that’s when it finally hit me about where I was. I couldn’t decide if that meant I was taking this experience for granted, or if I couldn’t yet believe that my dreams were finally coming into fruition. Either way; there is nothing quite like that moment when you are someplace you have been working so hard to get to and taking in every sight, sound, and smell you can. I would equate it to that first time you read that great book or that very first taste of ice cream, you’ll never get that same feeling again no matter how many times you repeat the experience.
Lauren Simenson is a student at UW-River Falls.