Finding friends in a foreign country
University of Stirling, Scotland
It rained when I left. After months of waiting and countless hours of working myself to the point of exhaustion, I was finally on my way to the airport. The air was thick with humidity and the sky was overcast all day. My anticipation of the rain was as high as my anticipation of finally escaping Hilo. Then it happened. Hilo bid me farewell with a downpour that likely went long into the night.
This was my first time leaving the state! My excitement kept me awake for the entire 30-hour trip from Hilo to Honolulu to Denver to Toronto to Glasgow to Stirling. Due to the 11-hour time difference, I left Hilo Friday evening, traveled for about 30 hours and finally got to my dorm at about 1:30 p.m. on Monday, which was the first day of school, but upperclassmen didn’t start until Thursday. I unpacked and settled in, then fell asleep by 8. REEEE REEEE REEEE REEEE REEEE, imagine my enthusiasm as the fire alarm screeched a 12:00 a.m. The partying freshmen set it off and set the tone for my life in the dorm for that year--obnoxiously loud parties, fire alarms and standing out in the freezing cold in the wee hours of the night when I most needed to be asleep. But it wasn’t all bad. I followed one person out of my hall and into the far corner of the parking lot across the street. Soon, the others in my hall joined us. This was to be our fire alarm spot, where we would huddle like penguins, for the excess of 60 alarms that were to sound off during the year.
I used this opportunity to acquaint myself with the 13 other students with whom I would be living for the next eight months. We didn’t have much in common. They were freshmen, I was a senior; they liked drinking, I was allergic to alcohol; I valued cleanliness and responsibility, and well, they were freshmen. Despite our differences, they welcomed me into their budding family and I was in no position to turn down new friends. The Jungle … we’d eventually collectively call ourselves. Individually, we earned nicknames throughout the year. I was christened Cookie Monster for my tendency to bake as a form of relaxation.
These cookies, and other food I made, were used as currency to buy love and solidify friendships. It started with cookies in my hall and at Stirling University Drama Society play rehearsals. Then I added a hangover cure which consisted of bacon, square sausages, baked beans, fried eggs, sauteed vegetables, toast, and a salmon and tomato bisque everyone affectionately called The Blood of the Gods. There were also birthday cakes, midnight snacks of smoothies and baked potato wedges, and the occasional soup and toasted sandwiches for the notorious Scottish rainy days. One of my fondest memories is eating one of my big breakfasts with a bunch of friends from the drama society after staying up all night at a friend’s flat, playing GameCube and watching movies.
It was mid-October after a very stressful rehearsal of Roberto Zucco, the big production of fall semester. Iain, the promotions manager and sound technician for the Stirling University Drama Society, could tell we were all on edge after being lectured by our director so he invited a bunch of us to spend the night at his flat. We played Mario Party and Super Smash Brothers, and watched DVDs until the sun came up. Kat, Cameron, Pooja, Jess, Pellow, Kalvin, Robbie, and Iain became the members of my British family.
We spent time together on a daily basis, eating lunch or hanging out in the campus pub, studying in the library, rehearsing with the rest of SUDS, or just lounging around school and talking. When midterms and finals rolled around, we would buy snacks from the little shop on campus then spend all night in an empty computer lab studying and writing essays. We were emotional support for each other during these trying times of the semester. There was nothing more satisfying than a good Cuddle Puddle or Crying Pile to purge any negative emotions toward a looming 9 a.m. essay deadline.
The English courses at Stirling Uni were rough. I’d find myself reading a total of 200-500 pages per week for my classes and typing 3,040 pages worth of essays all due within one week for midterms, then again for finals. It was difficult but rewarding. I learned a lot about specific literary movements in history and the connections between language and social power. They also emphasized different aspects of literature on which to focus when critically reading. I gained a new perspective to view everything I read and knowledge I wouldn’t have learned at UH Hilo.
However, I valued my experiences outside of academia far more than just sitting in lecture halls and seminar rooms. I’ll always remember the bonfires up in the hills behind the dorms; watching fireworks on New Year’s from a roof in the middle of the city with a few close friends; walking around the campus loch with the other animals of The Jungle at 2 a.m.; ordering pizza at 4:30 when we returned to our hall; staying up for two days straight, running around town filming a video for a 48-hour film competition; conquering my fear of singing in public; aimlessly wandering the streets of Edinburgh; looking out over the city lights of Stirling from the castle ramparts at 3 a.m.; and my bro-mantic threesome that rivaled both “The Three Musketeers” AND “The Three Stooges”.
I went to Scotland with my mind open to new experiences. I got everything I had hoped for and more. Even the rain was different. Scotland is notorious for its terrible weather but what people there considered rain fell somewhere between a drizzle and passing shower in Hilo … the drops were smaller and colder. After a year of being fully immersed in British culture, and having the time of my life on the opposite side of the world, I was ready to return home to torrential downpours. It “rained” when I left.