I set off to Scotland on January 7 of 2020, ready for nearly five full months of adventure. I had heard amazing things about Edinburgh; though studying in the city where Harry Potter was written definitely was one of my primary motivations, I also had the opportunity to take great computer science classes for my major at the University of Edinburgh and explore a city full of history, beauty, and culture.
I started thinking about studying abroad in my freshmen year, and I attended information sessions on engineering study abroad programs sophomore year, but I really began planning my semester at the very beginning of my junior year. I met with multiple advisors, including ones from engineering and the study abroad office, and planned out the classes that I would take. A Penn study abroad officer walked me through the different programs I could look at based on my interests and academic requirements, and I chose to apply to the University of Edinburgh. I heard back in October, applied for housing, attended a send-off session in December, found a subletter for my spring housing, and said my good-byes to my friend. Once January rolled around, I packed my bags, hugged my family good-bye, and left for Scotland.
When I arrived in Edinburgh, I spent the first week absolutely stunned by the beauty of the city: cobblestone streets, castles everywhere I turned, remnants of volcanoes, rivers and canals, parks, and a beach nearby. The city seemed endless; I wasn’t sure that even in five months, I would really get to know my way around.
I attended the university’s international student orientation, met my flatmates, and startled to settle in before classes began. Over the next couple months, I had an amazing time. I soon began to get to know the city through walks with new friends, farmers’ markets on the weekends, and my runs, which I frequently used to explore different neighborhoods and areas in the city. I often stumbled upon some unexpected beauty, whether it was a park or a hidden street. My new friends and I went to jazz bars, gin and chocolate tastings, thrift shops, and were on a mission to try out all the amazing cafes in the city. Our dorm was located right in the middle of a city, so we rarely had to walk more than fifteen minutes to get anywhere. We also got the chance to take trips to different areas of Scotland, including St. Andrew’s, the Highlands, and the Isle of Skye. Outside of Scotland, I got to travel to Paris, Rome, Geneva, and London. I had planned various other trips around Europe throughout the semester as well. Many students in Edinburgh told me the best time in Edinburgh by far is in May, when the clouds and rain and wind finally subsede a bit, and the sun stays up until 10pm.
Unfortunately, the news of the gravity of COVID19 in Europe began to hit beginning in mid February, and it only grew from there. At first, the idea that I might have to cut my study abroad short didn’t even cross my mind. I felt like I was just getting started. Penn abroad began to email us, but they assured us that we were safe at the moment, and they were monitoring the situation closely. As it did for all of us, the situation worsened quickly, and within the span of a couple weeks, Penn’s provost had advised us to return home immediately as the United Kingdom had been raised to a level 3 country by the CDC. Of course, this was unsettling and unexpected. However, Penn worked with all students studying abroad to make the transition manageable; Penn provided compensation for my flight home and pledged to work with us to provide an option for us to continue our coursework from home remotely. My university abroad also soon made the switch to remote learning, so I was not at a disadvantage by no longer being at the university to complete my semester.
I wish I had the remainder of the semester as planned, but this is a really difficult and unprecedented time for all of us, and I am trying to be grateful for the time I did have in Scotland. Of course, health and safety come first, and I am glad Penn and the University of Edinburgh took the necessary steps to ensure safety of their students. I am now home safe with my family, studying for my exams remotely, which will take place in early May. Penn is also offering all students the option to take these courses pass/fail, which means that if we opt in to this, they will not count for a grade. This option, if taken, definitely takes some of the stress away from grades, especially for many students whose home environments aren’t ideal for learning right now.
I am hopeful that there will be many more travel experiences in my future, and I’m looking forward to using my flight credits one day to complete my study abroad experience when it is safe to do so. For now, I am keeping myself busy with passion projects, plenty of video calls, and quality time with my family.