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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Colby chapter.


Greetings from across the Atlantic! I’m studying the University of Edinburgh for the semester. This is a very, very different environment than Colby College. My tiny liberal arts school in Maine is nothing like the massive University that I find myself in for this term, but I have absolutely no regrets. At the time of writing this, I am almost exactly halfway through my time abroad. I figured I’d reflect a bit on my thoughts and feelings thus far, both for my sake and others. Hopefully, I have some nuggets of wisdom, but if I don’t, I’ll include a silly little Scottish joke at the end. Happy reading! 

My Application Process

I applied through IFSA to be here, which, in my opinion, was well worth it. I had some courses I’d like to take but nothing I absolutely had to. I also am on medication that I knew would require some logistical planning and have a plethora of anxiety disorders that made me hesitant to explore an entirely new continent. My insecurity and general anxieties about all of this made the idea of extra support and coordinated activities through a company like IFSA worth the slight premium you pay. One of the advantages to being at a school as small as Colby is that you have a ton of options with where you study, and having IFSA to help mediate alongside Colby proved to be very helpful. I applied on February 7, 2023 and received my acceptance from IFSA on February 27 of the same year. I received confirmation from the University directly on March 9. Everyone’s timelines will look different, but regardless of how you apply, I recommend getting it squared away sooner rather than later. The process of actually selecting and getting admitted to individual courses was time- and energy-intensive, so ensuring I’d take courses that interested me was vitally important. This is especially important if you require specific classes (which I did not). If you know for certain that you need to take certain classes, make sure you get your application in and that the University accepts your prerequisites before you commit to going abroad. Edinburgh rejected me from a course I desperately wanted to take, but I had the time and support to pivot and wound up with a course load I (mostly) loved. I’ll break down what I’m taking a bit more later on. 

Living in another country

I will preface this section by saying that I’m studying in an English-speaking country. As such, it’s fairly easy for me to get around. I have on several occasions been confronted with accents I cannot decipher, but generally speaking, there is little to no language barrier. I’ve noticed a couple of differences, though, that are worth mentioning. 

  • Even though I don’t drive, the cars driving on the opposite side of the road relative to the US is strange. I take extra care when I look to cross the street because it’s not instinctual to look in the direction of oncoming traffic. 
  • Plumbing in general seems to be iffy, especially in the older flats. I’m in on-campus housing, so I can’t speak to that on a super generalizable level, but it seems to be a trend. 
  • You will grow to miss ice in water. It’s a rarity. 
  • Food from the grocery store is pretty cheap, but food at restaurants tends to be not so cheap.
  • There are certain words/phrases that you will not know, but will likely pick up pretty quickly (always ask if you don’t know, but I recommend starting with google to ensure you don’t out yourself as an uninformed tourist). 
  • There are many stereotypes about Americans and you’re bound to fit some, which is fine.


Academics are a good deal different from the States. The writing style is slightly different and the grading style is massively different. I’m enrolled in three courses: Scottish Studies (20 credits), Professional Issues (10 credits), and Cognitive Science (20 credits). The credit load is proportional to the amount of work/time the course demands. Scottish Studies and Cognitive Science are both first-year courses and Professional Issues is a third-year course. I was also enrolled in Introduction to Theoretical Computer Science (10 credits) but withdrew after it became increasingly apparent that while there were no listed prerequisites, there was a substantial foundation in discrete mathematics that was necessary to understand the material. I do not have such a foundation, so I worked with IFSA, Colby, and the University of Edinburgh to figure out the best course of action. For me, that meant withdrawing. We’re working on updating the prerequisites for future years so students studying abroad aren’t in the same situation, but unfortunately a mismatch in expected knowledge and actual knowledge is a hazard of going to a new University for the year. 

The grading is a lot harsher than in the US but the expectations are altered accordingly. In general, add 20 to the score (percent) and you’ll get the corresponding grade (letter) that you would expect at an American university. For example, a 70%+ is an A, 80-89% is a B, so on and so forth. That was a bit of a shock as someone with an unhealthy tendency to equate grades with self worth, but I’ve gotten used to it. 

Coming from a small liberal arts school, I was underwhelmed by the amount of support offered by lecturers and tutors, but that’s not totally surprising given the scale of the university I’m attending. The lectures take place in relatively large lecture halls where attendance is pretty much optional, the seminars take place in mid-sized classrooms where attendance is required, and tutorials take place in smaller classrooms where attendance is mandatory. Every course has some combination of those three over the course of the week, plus labs for the STEM courses. It’s a different structure than I’m used to, but it’s not awful.


I’ve stuck local in my travels, which I highly recommend. I’ve been all around Scotland, both to touristy locations and more local spots, which has given me a pretty rich window into Scottish life. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all way to travel while abroad. I tend to get a good deal of travel anxiety, so sticking with day- or weekend-long trips is best for me. I also don’t have any breaks in the term where I could take some massive treks across Europe. I’m not discontent with this, though; it was my intent going in to do Scotland well and save other traveling for a future European adventure. I have a friend studying abroad in Paris, so I will make an effort to go out to see her, but otherwise, I’m sticking close to my homebase. At first, this felt like a waste of my time abroad, but I think it’s the best way to still see new places and enjoy myself without overwhelming myself or sacrificing my academic experience. 


Recently, I’ve been increasingly homesick. It’s manageable, and I know I’ll miss being here when I return, but I’m a homebody at heart. I miss my friends and family, familiar settings, and the routine I’d grown accustomed to at home. I don’t feel overwhelmed or distracted by wanting to be home, but as we approach the holiday season and the days get shorter, I have a strong desire to be in a familiar setting. I make sure to regularly call my family and friends; that seems to be the most helpful tactic for combating homesickness. I’ve also made arrangements with my counselor at Colby to meet virtually and chat. Homesickness, from what I can tell, is just a little wave you have to ride over the course of the semester.

Alexandra is a junior at Colby College (abroad in Edinburgh for Fall 2023) who loves guitar, dogs, and volleyball. She's an intended Computational Psychology major with minors in English and Philosophy. She's from Connecticut and absolutely loves the winter, so she's very happy to be in Maine!