On Being a Person Abroad

Hayley Graffunder University of Edinburgh, Scotland


March 24, 2017

 or, On Being Type A Abroad

Sipping tea in cafes with a stack of books in front of me, meeting my friends out for dinner every other night, and always having a full closet of clean clothes to chose from with literally no effort on my part. This is the flawed way I envisioned my time abroad before I got here. Unfortunately my lack of income from not working here (curse you, short term student visa!) and the fact that I still have normal human needs here means that I still have to live a relatively normal day to day life, full of budgeting, grocery shopping, and laundry. This isn’t to say that I was completely oblivious about this reality when I came here, it’s just that I willfully disregarded the logistics of being a person when I imagined Scotland.

There’s a whole list of things that are basic requirements for living as an adult: grocery shopping, laundry, budgeting, meal planning, cooking, cleaning, staying organized with school, dealing with getting sick, and so on. Unfortunately literally none of these stop being necessary just because the streets are cobblestone and the buildings are older than the country you were born in. I’m not here to claim that I’ve worked out a universally perfect system, but I have managed to stay alive (and dare I say thrive?) abroad, so I’m counting my way as a success. This is how I handle being a human throughout my adventures abroad.

  • 1) Budgeting

This is one of the more important things to do while abroad that I’m still getting a handle on. I’ve learned that what works best for me is to withdraw cash once a week — for me it’s on Tuesdays, and I take out £60-80. This is my money for the week. I have to use this for groceries, laundry, any kind of shopping, coffee shop visits, eating out, activities with my friends — everything. The only thing that comes from outside this budget is when I order things online (which I try not to do) and when I book trips. Anything left over theoretically carries over to the next week, but since I have the self control of a seven year old, this has never happened. Of course the system isn’t foolproof: I went shopping one day and put over a hundred frivolous dollars worth of shirts, sweaters, and dresses on my credit card. You know, like an adult. But just having an idea of what I’d like to limit myself to and have it in physical cash reminds me not to spend every penny to my name. Plus, I never have to panic and check my account balance on my phone while in line at Tesco to see if I have enough money to buy my mangos and Cadbury chocolate. Which brings me to:

  • 2) Grocery shopping, meal planning, and cooking

It turns out you still have to feed yourself when you’re abroad, and unless you can blow all your money eating out everyday, you’ve got to deal with the stress of figuring out how much produce you can eat before it goes bad (It’s always one less bag of spinach than you think). I try to make this easier on myself by going grocery shopping once a week, on Tuesdays, right after class. This schedule helps keep me accountable so I don’t try to skate by for a week on oatmeal and pasta or shop like I’m stocking up for the apocalypse. It also means that Mondays can get rough since I get both my cash and groceries for the week on Tuesdays. I found out through trial and error how much I should buy of what to feed myself for a week, so I pretty much buy the same things each time. Yes this is boring, but I’ve perfected homemade vegetable soup and southwestern style omelets, so I’m counting it as a win.

And don’t leave leftovers out of your meal plan. Unless you’ve written a cookbook on cooking for one, you’ll have leftovers of everything. Tupperware is key.

  • 3) Laundry, cleaning, and chores

Ah yes, chores. Those things you have to do when even you can’t stand the way you live anymore. Am I going to mention something about having a schedule again? Absolutely. Mondays are my laundry days. I only have class in the morning, and I’m usually just down to coins at this point which is perfect for our coin-op laundry machines. While my clothes are in the wash, I straighten up my room, take out the trash, and organize everything that’s gotten tossed around throughout the week. I get to start the week feeling productive, and it gives me a good environment to get stuff done in for the rest of the week. In general, any day with morning class is a good day for chores, since you’re already awake an on a roll before noon.

  • 4) School

So literally everyone else I’ve met here is allowed by their home schools to take their classes pass/fail while abroad, and I’m not going to pretend I’m not extremely bitter. I got the shortest end of that stick because my letter grades here are reflected in my GPA back home. This means I have to stay on top of everything just like I would normally -- no turning in papers that are just good enough to pass, because I have to crank out an A in every class. To keep myself on track, I write out my reading schedules for each of my classes, keep a bullet journal of all the things I have to do each day, and have monthly calendars with important dates for essays, big assignments, and exams. This way I know exactly what I should be doing at any given moment. Even when I choose to ignore this and explore, I know what I need to catch up on the next day to stay on top of things.

  • 5) Dealing with illness

This is absolutely the least fun part of being a human while abroad, because you can’t put this on a schedule (like I apparently enjoy doing). I had the pleasure of having a cold on and off for the first eight weeks of the semester. Being sick in another country is so much harder than it is at home, and not just because it gets in the way of having fun. There’s also the challenge of figuring out what on earth the cold medicine is like in your country and where you can find it. In Scotland, the best thing I could get my hands on is Lemsip. This powder that you stir into hot water is basically just liquid Tylenol and tastes like hot, bitter lemonade. It does wonders for a sore throat, though. Other things worth noting about Scottish pharmaceuticals include the fact that no antacids or Tums here are as strong as in the states, and melatonin requires a prescription. Make things easier for yourself and bring tried and true remedies from home.


Scotland Semester