I have had the opportunity to travel quite a bit in my short life. I say this not to tout some kind of accomplishment, but to acknowledge that this isn’t my first rodeo with cultural adjustment. Preparing to immerse yourself in vast array of new social norms takes some preparation and a lot of humility. Before I studied in Egypt, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to glean everything possible from the internet and still bumbled my way through everyday interaction. Yet, I have to admit I may have underestimated the potential for culture shock accompanying this move. Speaking the same language lulls you into a false sense of security.
I started looking for a place to rent in Scotland a while ago, long before we had firm plans about where and when and how. I had read on some message board that student accommodation in St. Andrews was hard to come by. St. Andrews is a small, old town and the rental market is impacted. Lists of available properties for the academic year appear suddenly much earlier than you would ever anticipate and are quickly whittled down to all but the most undesirable. Applications for such accommodation are thorough and competitive. I knew living outside the UK would put us at a disadvantage, but this was the age of the internet, nothing happened in person that couldn’t happen online.
I was wrong, so very wrong.
We have applied for house after house to hear the same thing over and over again.
When can you come by for a viewing?
Actually early on the process, we did find one letting agency that was willing to work with us without a prerequisite in person meeting. A personal essay would suffice. I was naive then and when the properties weren’t just right, I turned down quite the opportunity.
Like much of life, I was worried about imperfection. I wasn’t really concerned that we wouldn’t have a place to live, just that we would end up stuck with a home, too far, too small, or too expensive. I was also frustrated because I couldn’t solve this problem using the cultural tools I relied on. Despite the vast resources available to us via modern technology, our new neighbors preferred to do business offline. Obviously, this is indicative of our experience in rather rural Scotland, culture is likely different in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen, but it has come to be my understanding that these Scots put a high value on the interpersonal. They care deeply about connection and are rather skeptical of all that impedes real relationship. I let my cultural expectations get the better of me.
A friend with experience studying in the region actually suggested that we fly there to secure a place this summer because none would be available come September. We looked miles out of town, willing to buy a car to make things work.
We had resigned ourselves to chancing it with the student housing lottery, hoping for an expensive shot at rather cramped quarters and panicked when we got emails informing us of the limited availability of postgraduate student accommodation due to renovations.
But today I got an email that made be happy dance at my desk. I had contacted someone on Gumtree, the Scottish Craigslist, and they were willing to use Skype in place of a viewing. Now, nothing is final yet, but there is hope! It is in our [reevaluated] price range and only a 5 minute walk from the university. I am probably jinxing us by writing this, but it is perfect.
I’m sure that if this isn’t the place another will be. I often worry too much. With each potential home I am reminded that no matter, what we will make it work, and I am grateful for the reminder that for all the similarities, Scotland is a new place with new expectations. I am looking forward to slowing life down and refocusing on the importance of personal connection, learning from our new neighbors as much as we learn from our university.