My semester at the University of Edinburgh has successfully combined academic rigor with social flexibility and plenty of travel opportunities. The university prides itself in its high classroom standards, and my peers are extremely bright. However, I usually take four classes at my home institution rather than three. I’ve embraced this extra time by exploring Edinburgh and beyond—my semester has been a lot of fun. In Scotland the accents are thick, the whisky is plentiful, and the people are extremely sociable. The scholastic and cultural learning curves were not too steep and, overall, my adjustments have been minimal. I am very comfortable here!
The comforting similarities between the United States and the United Kingdom (Scotland, specifically) are magnified when I travel outside of Edinburgh. This week I experienced my first real “culture shock” when I travelled alone to Munich for a job interview. I was interviewing with a US-based company (they have a major office in Munich), so you can imagine my surprise when I quickly realized how few people spoke English. This would be a challenge as I navigated my way through the city.
Wandering through the famed Christkindlmarkt that evening, I was hard-pressed to find street signs with subtitles or food stalls offering English menus. Even in a city as diverse and cosmopolitan as Munich, the English language was not fully embraced. I struggled to converse, relying on the most basic German I knew, and stuck to mostly greetings and formalities as I meandered through city center. I was frustrated by the significant language barrier; it made me feel silly. In Munich I became the quintessential American tourist, lacking language skills and cultural awareness.
Out of necessity, I resorted to preliminary German words such as guten abend, bitte, and danke and tried my best to disguise my nasal Buffalo accent during each conversation. Much to my surprise, it actually worked! Restaurant and hotel staff, shop owners and receptionists were more understanding of my language inadequacies when I made some sort of effort to speak their language. I was eager to learn and earnest in my actions, and people responded positively to my efforts. I learned a valuable lesson on my whirlwind trip: the best thing to do is try! I tried my best to respect the German culture by learning a few simple phrases. Despite a slightly wounded ego, I survived the 36 hours in Munich relatively unscathed.
The next day, with my interview concluded and my bags packed, I called an Über for the airport to catch my evening flight to Edinburgh. As I pulled up to the terminal, I thanked my driver in the most polite, German accent I could muster. He snickered and replied in English, “You’re welcome.” I shut the door and my face flushed red. So, maybe I wasn’t as successful as I had hoped. Still, I was proud of myself for being brave enough to try.
I admit that I felt a sense of relief when I finally touched down in Edinburgh later that night. The friendly flight attendants chatted amongst themselves as I disembarked the plane, commenting on the remarkably clear skies and the “wee bit” of frost on the pavement below. “Cheers,” I smiled and nodded as I made my way past.
Ah, it was good to be home.