#StudyAbroadBecause Haggis

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Writer, Hedonist, Patron of the Arts. Ariadne Vales d. Caldera is the founder of the travel and lifestyle blog Born in Purple. Dublin Street is her first book. The author currently resides in her native New York after a protracted stint in Europe. When she isn't writing, she is tending to her legions of honeybees, all named Persephone.

Ariadne Vales d. Caldera - #studyabroadbecause haggis

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?

I wanted to do something different. As Americans, we have an outdated notion of ourselves as an isolationist state, and this simply is not compatible with our position in the world the way it was at the turn of the 19th century. I see this insularity as a limiting factor in our global engagement. I felt strongly then as I do now, that it is critical for us to accept and understand our development as a society and our relationship with the external world around us, so that we can truly build a better future across nations.

With that vision in mind, I chose Edinburgh because of its' enlightenment legacy, and its' continued excellence from that time till the present time in science, medicine, and the arts. It also didn’t hurt that the city was beautiful with an international airport and an Armani.     

Ariadne Vales d. Caldera - #studyabroadbecause haggis

What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?

Edinburgh was insanely fun. I have many glowing memories, which are probably taking on a halycon patina as the years go on. Walking always seems the first thing to come to mind when people ask this question - just walking, the act of walking around the city, around the encroaching wild countryside, and thinking how lucky I was to be able to read what I wanted, think what I wanted, and do what I wanted with some excellent friends in this stunning environment.   

Naturally, there were challenges, particularly acclimatization to the people. The British are extremely fastidious in the observation of their mores.  It would manifest itself in the strangest ways, for instance, struggles over what the ambient temperature should be in the apartment (I like an ambient temperature of about 72 F year round and my English friends really grappled with this, to the point where there would be outright arguments over the heating switches). I found the obsession with social class utterly baffling, frankly more antiquated and sinister than charming. And despite adequate warning, I found food extremely challenging in Scotland. Staples of my diet, certain meats (beef and turkey), fresh fruits, and salads were difficult to come by. Culturally there was a deep mistrust of raw foods, so sushi was also off the list. What was strange to me was that the countryside supplied all this amazing raw produce, fish and game, and dairy. What was lacking was the interest or the skill sets to make these raw ingredients edible. 

Ariadne Vales d. Caldera - #studyabroadbecause haggis

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad? 

On an academic level, Edinburgh helped refine a lot of the skills I went abroad with, particularly research, rhetoric, and writing. I really benefited from the small scale Socratic seminar style of teaching, but I also made it work for me; I think a lot of my peers were lost as to how to operate in that system. You had to manage your affairs, otherwise you’d fail, and unlike in the States, they would just let you do so without intervening. I think that’s an important lesson, that you have to fight for yourself. The city itself was a wonderful resource throughout my stay there - you have a contiguous urban developments from the early medieval period straight through, so its basically one architectural open air museum, and the city has a rich literary legacy as well as excellent art collections. 

On a personal level, being outside the United States really helped me refine my sense of identity. When I left the United Kingdom, I left much more analytical and introspective than when I arrived.  

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today? 

Ironically enough, I never considered writing as a viable path for me. My experiences in Edinburgh drove home that I could sustain myself while championing issues and causes that I wanted to support through writing.  

What advice would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?

Do your research. Find out how much things cost and put it in terms that you understand. Find out if they sell your favourite shampoo before you get stuck without it. Knowledge and small creature comforts like that can smooth the transition into a strange environment.     

Be honest with yourself and your needs. It’s one thing to push your boundaries, it’s another thing entirely to put yourself in a situation where you will be abjectly miserable. Haggis was not for me, so I ordered the vegetarian lentil pate equivalent and was able to participate in local traditions such as Burns Night amicably.  

Don’t spend precious time being frustrated. The weather in Scotland sucks.  Embrace it, you can’t do anything about it, make like the natives and get that lumpy jumper and waxed jacket. The tube doesn’t work in London - take the bus instead, it’s cheaper and much more pleasant. 

Immerse yourself - you may be surprised at what resonates with you, as it may not be what you had initially anticipated would.   

Ariadne Vales d. Caldera - #studyabroadbecause haggis

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?

There’s always some third culture fallout. I, for instance, compulsively covet Scottish deserts when I see them: Banoffee Pie, Cranachan, Sticky Toffee Pudding. I also ritually drink cream tea in the winter, which I never did before, always having been a black unsweetened iced-tea sort of gal.  

I also have, as a token from my uni days, a well-developed network of friends flung across the face of the Earth, I’ve been able to travel all over the world and have always had a familiar face on the ground, which is incredible, really. 

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

Aren’t you sick of me already? 

#studyabroadbecause haggis


All photos courtesy and copyright Ariadne Vales d. Caldera