It was September 2001. I was 27 years old and travelling off of the North American continent for the first time in my life. No, that’s not true. I had just been to Hawaii a few months prior. But I digress… It was my first time using a passport at least. I can’t recall if I got a stamp when I transferred in Amsterdam, but I do remember grinning from ear-to-ear when I got a stamp in my passport the first time I arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland. …I digress further…
I remember being so excited—giddy, really—as I walked out of customs at the Edinburgh airport. This was to be an adventure of a lifetime!
My eyes scanned the area just past baggage claim. I had signed up for a meet and greet scheme offered by the university. The letter I carried with me very clearly said that I would be met outside of baggage claim by a university representative who would escort me to my new flat.
But there wasn’t anyone there. Instead, I saw a booth that had a general sign regarding study abroad students. So I walked over there and asked about the meet and greet. But they didn’t know what I was talking about. Instead, they pointed me to a payphone.
Luckily, I’d entered the country with a bit of sterling, so quickly broke a note for some coins then went to make a call.
Now, this wasn’t a proper payphone. No, it looked funny and certainly didn’t operate like any payphone I’d ever used. And the phone numbers I had were not working. So I had to ask someone how to dial. (Country codes, city codes, and a funny + sign were very confusing to this small town American girl!)
I finally got someone on the phone and was told that students attending [Edinburgh] Napier University were to make their own way to the main campus building. Which meant I needed to either figure out the bus system (again, small town girl with no real public transportation experiences) or take a taxi. (The woman on the phone said this expense would be reimbursed, but I failed to get a receipt.)
I get in the taxi and tell the driver where I want to go. He dropped me and my bags at the curb and drove off. I walked to the door to find it locked. But this is definitely the right address and there is even a sign on the door telling me I’ve come to the right place.
By now, I am tired, I am hungry, I am nearly 6,000 miles from home, and I’m in a foreign country with no clue what to do. So I started to cry. Then I told myself I was being silly, regained my composure, and started down the road with my two, very large bags. (Yay! for wheeled luggage!)
On my way, I stopped a woman to ask for directions. She pointed me to where I’d just left and I started to cry again. She then remembered that there was another entrance on the far side and walked me over there. (About two blocks away, if you wondered.) As we rounded the corner I saw several people milling around. Yes, this was the place!
Once inside, I gathered the keys to my flat when I ran into another American student—who had just collected keys to her flat, which was right across from me. So we shared a taxi to our new homes. (And we chatted: It seems that all of the international students were promised someone would meet them at the airport, so at least I wasn’t alone!)
Finally, I walked into my flat on Morrison Circus. And I found it mostly bare. There was no bedding. No crockery. No cutlery. Just a spattering of inexpensive furniture. All of those items were meant to be included for international students. But it wasn’t there. I made a quick trip across the hall and learned that my taxi-mate’s flat was fully stocked. So it was just me going without! (My three flat-mates, whom I’d not yet met, didn’t arrive for a couple more days.)
So I made a call to the university’s housing office on the payphone around the corner. (I’m a pro at these funny, foreign machines by now, you know!) But, oops! They forgot to drop off my ‘international kit’. But they would bring it by the next afternoon. Which meant I had 24 hours before I’d have dishes or a blanket (or, rather, a duvet)!
I unpacked a few things then found my way to a little shop on Dalry Road to get some dinner. Of course, I had to pick carefully because I couldn’t cook and didn’t have utensils. So I ended up with a lunch-portion of macaroni salad (chosen because it came with a little plastic fork), a pack of ready-salted crisps (because I’d never heard of ‘prawn cocktail’ flavour before), a pack of shortbread, and a bottle of water.
Then I went back to my flat where I cried wondering just what the hell I’d gotten myself into. What I’d thought would be an exciting and fun trip for a redneck hick-chick who was anything but worldly was one mishap after the next.
But have no fear! By the end of week two, I knew that my heart had finally found where it belonged. I was home in my beloved Scotland.
(If you wondered: I didn’t meet Paul until several months later. And I met him in a tourist shop on the Royal Mile. After all, I needed a souvenir, right?)