Early September 2021, I packed my favorite clothes, photos, and books (on my TBR list), said goodbye to my cats (and my family) and moved halfway around the world. From Missouri, USA all the way to Scotland.
I’m attending the University of Stirling for a year-long postgraduate program in Publishing. With my program set to start at the end of September, I headed out a few weeks early to get my bearings and get settled before lectures and homework began. Of course, COVID is still a concern, so I’ve been taking precautions and following government regulations. I’m also fully vaccinated, wear a mask whenever I’m out, and was tested before and after my international flight (and was negative both times).
After a long travel day, I landed in Edinburgh, Scotland: hungry, tired, and overwhelmed. I managed to get an Uber to my Airbnb, where my super nice host helped me carry my bags up four flights of stairs. And thus began my first full week in the capitol of Scotland!
Edinburgh was a lot at first, especially for someone from the Mid-West. The more buses I got on, though, the easier things seemed. It was hard figuring things out on my own, but it also reminded me that I can do hard things. The beautiful city around me didn’t hurt, either.
Before I start talking about the amazing things I did, I want to be real: moving across the world on your own is hard. This wasn’t something I had fully prepared myself for. Of course, there’s the cultural differences, but I was also thrown by how the time-change would affect me. I felt disconnected from my friends and family back home as I adjusted to being so far ahead of them ( going to bed when their day is only half over is weird). While there is no language barrier, I was scared to speak for the first couple of weeks, knowing that my accent would immediately tell people things about me. I love being alone, but feelings of loneliness were strong and made me feel like I didn’t exist at times.
I tried to remind myself that there were no outside expectations on me, and I shouldn’t put them on myself. I’m thankful for the friends that reminded me that it was okay to take it easy, and that my feelings were valid and understandable. I did a lot while in Edinburgh, but there were also days where I just read in a park, walked the streets listening to Imagine Dragons, and sat in a coffee shop. The busy days and the slow days are equally important and I’m glad I let my emotions come and go without demanding more from myself.
After a week in Edinburgh, I boarded a train with my bags and made my way to Stirling. I’m so lucky that the first rainy day I experienced in Scotland was also the day I had to drag my two large suitcases all over town to check into my flat, and then back to where my flat actually was. By the time I made it into my room, I was soaking wet and thoroughly exhausted.
I’ve now been in Stirling for two weeks, which adds up to three full weeks in the UK! Time is flying by, and despite bouts of homesickness and missing my people back home, I’m starting to feel more settled. I’ve found a few favorite coffee shops just a short walk from my flat, I’ve figured out how to bus to and from my University campus, and I’m starting to make friends. I’m obsessed with vegan ham and cheese sandwiches from Greggs and I love Waterstones- these things make me an official UK resident, I believe.
Instead of writing about my individual days here in Scotland, here is a compilation of things I have seen, eaten, and enjoyed (not including the hours spent on TikTok or watching Season 3 of The Circle):
I have been vegan for three and a half years, suffering in the mid-west. In the UK, I am thriving. There are so many vegan options everywhere I look, with restaurants advertising “vegan!” in their shop windows and having many options on their menus by default. Even shopping in grocery stores is easier, with so many foods being labeled “suitable for vegans”, even if it isn’t a marketed vegan food. Not to mention the fresh bread, most of which is vegan simply because they know how to properly make bread here.
Of course, being a human with both an eating disorder and OCD, food is still hard and thoroughly stresses me out sometimes. Especially shopping at the grocery store and making my own meals at home- I’m comfortable with US brands, so not having them here has been a big adjustment. I’m slowly finding foods and meals that I can make and enjoy, though, so hopefully soon I’ll be okay in that department.
I am a brand new coffee connoisseur, and typically favor sweeter lattes over anything else. This has been an adjustment, and from my experience, shops here don’t typically put a lot of flavor in the drinks. I have had some great lattes, though, and there are coffee shops everywhere. So many beautiful views, good vibes, and great drinks.
Living in Stirling city center, I have tons of great coffee shops right outside my door. There’s nothing quite like sitting down with a warm cup to read a book or get some work done. A lot of the coffee shops also have great vegan sandwiches and sweets.
I love a good museum. In Edinburgh, I went to a couple art museums (Scottish National Gallery and Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art) which each had beautiful pieces.
My favorite museum, though, was the National Museum of Scotland. It was free and had so many things to look at and explore. I spent hours there and still didn’t see everything. It had four floors full of science, animals, and human history, designed in ways that people of all ages would enjoy. I would love to go back some day and look around more.
Maison de Moggy Cat Cafe
I was really missing my kitties back home, so I booked a morning at Maison de Moggy! They have ten friendly cats, lots of adorable cat furniture and toys, and an amazing food and drink list with loads of vegan options. I got the most amazing white hot chocolate and raspberry cake. The cats were, of course, adorable, and I loved petting them and watching them play.
Did you know that Edinburgh has a beach? Just a short twenty-minute bus ride from my Airbnb was Portobello Beach! I spent a few hours there one morning, walking along the water, reading my book, and taking in the amazing atmosphere. There were restaurants all along the shore, and lots of people were enjoying the morning. It was such a relaxing time, and I had one of the best meals ever at The Beach House.
There is a castle every 100 square miles in Scotland, so it’s no surprise that in three weeks, I visited two of them.
The Edinburgh Castle can be seen from all over the city, and I loved looking up and seeing it in the distance. It sits on top of a dormant volcano, and from inside, you have beautiful views of the entire city. It was fun exploring the buildings that make up the castle, and I even got to see the Crown Jewels.
Stirling Castle is just a fifteen minute walk from the door of my flat. It’s full of history and was so much fun to explore with my flatmate, Cathrine. While Edinburgh Castle is obviously a bigger deal, I honestly found Stirling Castle to be more beautiful once inside the gates. I’m dying to go back in a big fluffy princess dress to take more pictures.
Walking around Edinburgh
Edinburgh is one hilly city, which was not something I was prepared for. I was kind of miserable my first couple of days from walking around so much, but thankfully I adapted quickly. It’s so nice walking on the cobblestone streets, looking at the beautiful architecture. I loved Princess Street Gardens and went there multiple times to read. I spent several days in the two-story bookstore, Waterstones. I explored beautiful areas of the city like Dean Village and Victoria Street. Honestly, walking around was some of the most fun I had in the city.
Living in Stirling
Stirling is a much smaller city than Edinburgh. A lot of people who are from here complain about that, but honestly, it’s perfect. I’m sure I would get used to Edinburgh if I lived there, but for now, a smaller city outside the capitol of Scotland works for me. I’m all moved into my flat and have started making friends with others in my program! Another fun (and dangerous) thing is that I can actually eat McDonalds here.
Honestly, Stirling is a beautiful city. And don’t even get me started on my University campus.
Sometimes it still doesn’t feel real that I’m actually here, living in Scotland. I survived the complicated Visa process, I left my home country, I made big scary lifechanging decisions all on my own. I can do hard things.
I am so excited to start classes and study things that I’m passionate about. I can’t wait to meet new people and make amazing memories. I can’t wait to travel around the UK and Europe and broaden my horizons. I can’t wait to see what the future holds. My first three weeks in Scotland are over, but I’m just getting started!