What I wish I’d known before moving to Edinburgh…

… by Leda / from Massachusetts, USA / studying Sociology / 4th Year (UG)


There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to leaving home and going off to university. Whether it’s what to pack or how you’ll get on making friends, there are countless questions left unanswered. And when you’ve never even visited the country you’re moving to? Well, that adds an even longer list of unknowns to the pile.

When I decided to go to the University of Edinburgh for my undergraduate degree, I was really taking a leap of faith. Being an American who had never even been to Scotland before, my decision made the transition to university more scary.

While there’s a seemingly never-ending list of things that I wish I knew before setting off for university, here’s just a select few pieces of advice for incoming freshers:

  • I wish I knew that living in halls could be as isolating as it was social

Living in halls, especially being in self-catered at Pollock Halls where it felt like there was a social every night, seemed like the perfect opportunity to make friends. And it was – it’s where I met some of my best friends who I still have today. But sometimes you can still end up feeling alone, even when you’re surrounded by hundreds of other students. When you hear groups of girls giggling in the hallways on their way to a night out, you wonder why you don’t have an exciting night planned.

It can be easy to isolate your friendships to those in close proximity to you, but I found that while I do have a fairly small (but strong) group of friends from my first year halls, some of the best friendships I ever established were through societies.

  • I wish I knew that the most unassuming society I joined would be the one I loved the most

When I first started university I had a pretty firm idea of which societies I wanted to join, and which I would dedicate most time to. Because I ran cross country in high school, I thought I would spend most of my time with the running club, participating in races every weekend. As it turns out, I only have time to run races about once per month! Alternatively, the Female Voice Choir, as only a once weekly commitment, seemed like it would just be a casual society I’d go to. Once I made a last minute decision to run for Fresher’s rep however, I became more involved in the society and actually made some of my best friends.

If you asked me back in that first month if I thought I would be Vice President of the choir in my final year, I would have been sceptical. Remember that the societies you join won’t always be what you think they are!

  • I wish I knew that disappointing grades would happen, and it would take a while to get used to the British marking system

In America, a 60% mark is almost seen as a failure. It was hard to adjust to the much tougher British marking system when I got here and it was even more difficult to realize that I would have to work so hard to achieve a first class mark. My high school in the US was very competitive, but I had always heard stories of students in American universities finding their first year to be a breeze. At Edinburgh, no matter what you study, that’s absolutely not the case. I wish I had known that disappointing marks are just another learning experience, and I wish I had spent less time moping about them.

While first and second year marks “don’t count” (towards your final degree grade), I found that buckling down and taking these grades seriously made it easier to transition to the intensive third-year studying mindset.

  • I wish I knew that maintaining friendships can become more difficult after moving out of halls

Living outside university accommodation opens up so many possibilities (not to mention responsibilities). From cooking and cleaning to hosting dinner parties, you start to feel more like an “adult” once you move out of halls. You’re living with people of your own choosing, and you’ll likely no longer be sharing a building with just students. With your friends spread out all over the city, it can become harder to maintain friendships. You become proactive in seeing your friends – whether that’s catching up over a coffee or planning a Netflix and wine night.

  • I wish I knew that the city I chose to study in would be as important as the university itself

I know that going to a university with a stellar programme for my degree was incredibly significant in making a final decision, but I think it’s also important to note the impact that the city of Edinburgh has had on my life. I really didn’t know what to expect when coming to Edinburgh – I knew it would be old, not too big, and fairly rainy, but I didn’t know that I would fall in love with this city so quickly, and end up regarding it as a second home. Living in Edinburgh has encouraged me navigate my own adventures, embrace nature (I’m looking at you, Arthur’s Seat), and learn the history of a place I had never been to before.

No matter where you’re coming from, heading to university can be a really overwhelming experience. Even though you may come in with some preconceived ideas about what your time at university will be like, you should know that it might not exactly play out that way- and that’s really half the fun! So make the most of it- take risks, sign up for that interesting society, and don’t sweat the small things. You’ll be happy you did!

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