10 reflections on being an International student in Edinburgh

It’s not just bagpipes you can hear from your kitchen!


There are a lot of things you’re told about studying away from home, and a few you aren’t. Once you’re at uni, however, it all comes to hit you smack on the forehead. It did for me. Culture shocks, education systems, going out. As an international student coming from India, my experience may have been a little different from yours, but here’s what it’s like studying in Edinburgh as an international student. It’s both good and not so good, trust me.

1. It’s like living in a movie

Edinburgh is known to be an incredibly beautiful city. When I came here on holiday six years ago, I loved it. And now I get to see it every day. This year, I live a 15-minute walk away from Central campus, and yet I choose to take the longer route via the Royal Mile because I can’t get enough of it. The architecture, the bagpipes, the many, many pubs you pass by make the city seem more mysterious. As do the ghosts (which totally exist).

2. UK private school culture is weird

Once you’re in Edinburgh, you’ll hear a lot about private schools and state schools. It confused me a lot at first, to be honest. Private schools, also known as independent schools, are those that charge fees instead of being funded by the government. This is where you’ll find a lot of students come from, and chances are, they all know each other even before day one of Welcome Week. While it can be a bit jarring, you’ll find your own people soon.

3. The freedom of walking is unreal 

Where I come from, it’s near impossible for me to get anywhere without a vehicle, whether a car, bike, auto rickshaw, or taxi. So it goes without saying that one of my favourite things about being in Edinburgh is the fact that I can walk everywhere. Five, 1o, 30 minutes? No issue. If not to look around at the city, which, like I said, I’m completely in love with, then to improve my stamina. No, really, when I first got here last year, I had to stop to catch my breath so many times while walking uphill. Now, my walking speed’s increased to the point where my parents tell me to slow down. Uno reverse, am I right?

4. There will definitely be a culture shock

This can be different for everyone, depending on where you’re from. For me, the biggest shock was just how early people tend to eat dinner. Speaking of which, why are there so many names? Tea, supper, dinner? What am I meant to use and when? Back to my point, 6:30pm was too early for me to eat when I got here. Now, however, it works perfectly. Another thing is the two taps in the bathroom. Why? Why why why why why? When I wake up, I simply want to brush my teeth, not play Russian roulette with hot and cold water.

5. The education system can really differ

The UK university system, especially for the humanities, is based on a lot of essay writing. Coursework is very student led, with only about three contact hours per course each week. Most, if not all of your work is based on research, be it from assigned textbooks or any other readings. While I did the IB Diploma Programme, this may be difficult for those who were educated in the Indian school system, where a lot more focus is given to rote learning rather than in-depth understanding of concepts.

6. Dealing with homesickness is going to be a thing

Obviously, you’re miles and miles away from home. You most likely don’t know anyone in the city. You’re in a strange place, having to do everything on your own. My parents had me trained in cooking, doing my own laundry, and cleaning up since I was pretty young. My dad insists on doing the laundry himself, but that’s a different story. It took me a while to get used to, but eventually I found my own footing. This time around, I’m so, so happy to be back in Edinburgh. I had an actual countdown.

7. Christmas!

Christmastime in Edinburgh is stunning. In India, Christmas isn’t as big of a deal as it is here, so the Christmas trees, the streetlights, and of course, the Christmas Market are absolutely worth it. I went ice-skating for the first time last year, and while I was really, really horrible at it, I had the best time (mostly due to the company I had). While a lot of international students choose to go home for winter break, I’d recommend spending at least one in Edinburgh, because it’s unmissable.

8. The weather 

I’d read and heard that UK weather is unpredictable. Being in Edinburgh has taught me that the weather here is predictable only in its unpredictability. I generally look at the weather app before leaving home, see it’s only cloudy, just to end up soaked from the rain five minutes away from Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre. There’s nothing like hundreds of wet teenagers sitting in the confines of a sweltering lecture theatre at noon on a Friday. It really isn’t that bad though, unless it’s raining constantly, or is windy, or is cold. You get used to it.

9. The prices of things are scary

When I first moved to Edinburgh, the cost of literally everything terrified me. I find myself comparing the cost of things here to that at home and decided whether to buy things based on how much they cost in INR. I’m improving though, so the occasional overpriced oat cappuccino is fine.

10. There are so many clubs and societies

One of my favourite things about being an international student is the societies catering to almost every background. There are also other schemes to help international students, such as Global Buddies and the Tandem Language Café, and I’d definitely recommend them to those of you struggling to find your footing. Beyond this, there are hobby societies, sports clubs, and academic societies as well. While my first year saw me join only two, this year I’ve vowed to be more participative. It helps when you’re able to be a part of a community that feels like home.

There are so many other things I’ve experienced as an international student, but these stood out the most to me. Every new experience will end up being important. It’s okay if you feel lost for a while, you’re going to find your place no matter what. Good luck and try to get used to all the sirens you’ll hear. There are many. Really.

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