Sarah Mack, UK-Scotland, University of Edinburgh (Literature)

cimg89871. What were you totally freaked out about before going that turned out to be no big deal?

The cold.  I’m from San Diego, going to college in Santa Barbara, my family doesn’t ski or snowboard or even go looking for cold in any sense of the word.  I had no idea how to survive a “real” winter, and Scotland in particular is famous for its cold weather—even in the summer, it’s rainy and not exactly what a Californian would call “warm” or even “pleasant.” But it wasn’t so bad.  I mean, yes, it was absolutely beyond freezing at times, and Britain had a particularly bad winter the year I was in Edinburgh (airports closed, roads were impassable, and Edinburgh’s city center got eight inches of snow.  The Minister of Transport resigned only halfway through December.), but the cold wasn’t unmanageable.  I figured out how to wear four or five layers of clothing without looking like a fashion disaster.  I realized that soccer socks are thicker than regular knee-high socks, and even in the tightest of skinny jeans I could wear two or three pairs, plus Under Armor and a pair of tights.  (To be fair, I only had to wear that many clothes two or three times.)  I learned through experience the pros versus cons of having fingerless gloves—you can’t take your hands from your coat pockets for more than a few minutes at a time, but you’re a whole lot more dexterous than the rest of the world when you do.  I learned as I went, and it did get easier after a while, just as everything I had to get used to while in Edinburgh eventually go easier.

2. What do you wish you had done to better prepare before going abroad?

I wish I had looked into the places I would go while there a little better.  A lot of what I did was find cheap flights online or looking at a map and going, “That looks cool/out-of-the-way/like fun.  I’ll go there.”  It would have been nice to read a bit of travel writing about different places I might want to go.

3. What’s something you did for the first time while abroad that you’ll continue to do now that you’re home?

I want to keep traveling, and keep trying new foods.  I get antsy if I don’t go anywhere for a while—I haven’t been anywhere yet this quarter and I’m about to climb the walls.  But I realized while I was abroad that I’ve seen so much of Europe now, but I haven’t actually seen much of California yet.

4. What’s the most annoying thing about everyday life in your host country?

The lack of sunshine.  It drove me absolutely batty sometimes, and I’m sure I drove others mental as well.  Even when the sun comes out in the winter, it’s not warm.  I couldn’t feel it.  I once stood in a puddle of sunshine (in early- or mid-November during the afternoon) for twenty minutes before I could detect even a hint of warmth on my cheek.

5. What local food and drink do you miss most now that you’re back?

The incredible caliber of Indian food–and yes, we’ve got a fair amount of it out here, and certainly Mexican food in California blows Scottish Mexican food out of the water, but even the cheapest, least-appealing Indian food in Britain completely trumps all but the fanciest Indian restaurants out here.

6. What food and drink from home did you miss most while abroad?

Eggo Waffles.  I know it sounds random and rather weird, but everyone has that one thing they never knew they would miss.  Oh, gosh, and I desperately missed the pre-made Betty Crocker icing for cakes.  We had to make all the icing ourselves by carefully dripping water into powdered sugar.  The first time I did it, I ended up using the entire box because I used too much water.

7. What standard local fashion styles would elicit strange looks in California?

There isn’t too much in terms of massively drastic fashion differences between California and Edinburgh.  Everyone tends to dress nicer in general.  Holes, even the tiny ones you think no one will notice, are a huge no-no.  Hoodies mark you as an American—the Brits don’t wear them in public.  Neither do they wear sweatpants (“jogging bottoms”) in public. Another subtle difference I noticed was the length of girls’ shorts.  They’re longer than we’re used to.  There are no bums hanging out of the bottoms, ever, but to compensate there’s quite a bit more cleavage.

8. What’s something you witnessed while abroad that would never happen in California?

Guy Fawkes Night.  (“Remember, remember the fifth of November, the gunpowder, treason, and plot.  I know of no reason why the fifth of November should ever be forgot.”)  There aren’t any parades, or barbeques, since it’s at the beginning of November and at that point it’s cold in Edinburgh.  But once it gets dark everyone goes outside, all bundled up against the frigid wind and cold, to party and set off fireworks. It is a bit of a safety hazard, to be fair.  There are always signs set up all over the city warning people not to mess with fireworks when they’ve been drinking.

9. What’s the coolest place you visited while abroad?

It’s a toss-up between the Scottish highlands and Romania.  I saw a fair amount of Western Europe, but to be honest I didn’t find it particularly exciting.  Eastern Europe has a bad rap, and it’s not as developed as Paris, Munich, London, or Rome, but Eastern Europe is the place to go.  It has forests and mountains and fortresses and some of the most gorgeous art and architecture you’ll ever see.  Everyone is so friendly, regardless of whether or not they speak English.  I traveled a lot, but I didn’t meet such a huge concentration of friendly, helpful people anywhere else. You see some odd things that would probably never happen in a more western country, too—but it’s not out of the ordinary there.  Once while walking around Sighisoara, in Transylvania, I saw a man driving a donkey cart in the bike lane, and there was the front half of a car in the back of the cart.  Just the front half, from the driver’s and passenger seats on.

10. Where do you want to go next?

Everywhere!  Mostly I want to go back to Edinburgh (to live), but to visit I’d love to go to Northern Africa.  And I’d really love to go back to Eastern Europe, and I’ve been thinking South American would be quite an adventure, as well.

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