Taking a Step Back

Christian Fogerty University of Edinburgh, Scotland


February 22, 2018

The amount of free time I have here is great. Or is it? I’m not really too sure yet. I’ve never had these vast expanses of completely open time in front of me. My head to the grindstone mentality back home just doesn’t work here. Here in Edinburgh, my previous illusion that you need to constantly work hard has dissipated. Now I feel able to take a step back and mindlessly stare. Here, I’m just an observer. I can try to be a participant, but in the end I’m just an observer.

The point of my last blog post was to motivate movement, to get out there and experience Edinburgh. So why am I talking about just relaxing and taking a step back now? It’s important to note that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s possible to be both active and a bit disengaged at the same time. Going out to a museum doesn’t necessarily mean I have to read every single label and take notes. Going to see a castle doesn’t mean I have to bask in the glory of every stone. Rather, these experiences are more fulfilling when I think about what they mean to me.

What I mean by this is that I will never totally immerse myself in this new culture. Forget all of what you learned in your anthropology classes, it’s impossible to completely feel a part of anything. Who I am is an amalgam of everywhere I’ve been and seen. It’s futile to try to attach myself to one single way of life. The most valuable takeaway from my time so far here is the fact that I will forever carry a fraction of Scotland with me for the rest of my life. No matter how much this fraction approaches zero, it won’t ever go away.

So when I say it is best to sit back, relax, and think about what the experience means to me I partly allow myself some consoling and give the reader some advice on how to approach an experience in a foreign country. I hesitate to call it good advice. In my opinion, it actually isn’t advice, but merely a fact of every foreign experience. You shouldn’t try to feel comfortable, because you won’t be. But who cares about comfort anyway?

Even as I just sit around, moseying about Edinburgh, and relaxing, I’m never truly comfortable. There is an exhilarating sense of something unexpected just over some hump in the future. I feel like I’m moving at just the right speed for the hump to feel awkward and unnerving. But after a few of these humps in the past few weeks I feel myself taking on a bit of who I surround myself and what I see around me. This slow change comes from simply going about my day and letting the world breeze past. As counterintuitive as it is, maybe the most profound changes come when we find ourselves in a new, uncomfortable world, living the same way as before, not trying to be anybody different, but just sitting back and thinking about what it all means to us.

To lighten the tension from this deep blog post I’ve attached a picture of myself getting slapped in the face with the Scottish flag while at Loch Ness (going along with the discomfort theme here).