Ventures into the unknown for Joshua Stein

The curious tale of how I landed up studying at Edinburgh

Choosing a university is built up as a huge moment of one’s life, and rightly so. Which course, city or campus, big city or small town, these all come into play and we as students will always live to regret, or celebrate our decision. But from my experience Scottish universities are not exactly publicized as options in London schools. At least not in my school. In fact, they are completely ignored, regarded as unimportant and perhaps even, unequivocally inferior to English universities.

So I always get the question of how I came to be at the University of Edinburgh. How is it that out of all the universities in Britain I chose to come to Edinburgh, ‘beyond the border’, some might say. Many English say this with trepidation and confusion. ‘Isn’t it cold?’ is another response I get, from Londoners who are recipients of the regular heatwaves in southern England.

But I was first alerted to the possibility of coming to Edinburgh by one thing and one thing only. And I’m not proud of it. In a conversation with family friends, all of whom have dual nationality (British and German,) someone let loose casually that anyone holding a European passport would get education in Scotland for free.

I also hold dual nationality. Also both British and German.

My reaction was pretty laughable, yet inevitable; I immediately arranged a trip around Scotland with my dad, to scout out the peculiar north, an area I had so far neglected in my life. We planned a grand tour of Scotland, visiting, not just Edinburgh, but also Glasgow and St Andrews. I took a day off school, and we spent a long weekend wondering around the various areas, drinking tea in the Glasgow Botanical Gardens, and getting blown around the seafront at St Andrews.

Glasgow was a little too big, and the amount of cream they put on their cakes also put a sour taste on my palette. St Andrews was too small, a blip on the map where I would love to spend a holiday, but I couldn’t spend an entire four years . And no, I don’t play golf. And no, I don’t fish, these being the two and only reasons natives of St Andrews expected a father and son to be there.

Then there was the hugely embarrassing condemnation we received from a lady when we asked for directions to the Leuchars train ,’the midpoint’ as it were, between Edinburgh and St Andrews. Being English we approached her, and she instantly knew we were the lost type. First came the question, ‘Are you here for the golf?’, and in that thick Glasgow accent I was now accustomed to. Simultaneously we shook our head, and proceeded to ask directions. We wanted the train to ‘Leuuuuuychars’. At this her face creased up and she started to laugh. Slapping her sides she was doubled over as we watched on. And waited for the ruckus to start. ‘Leuuuuuuuuychars’, she breathed between hoots of laughter, ‘Leuuuuuchars! It’s like Lukkers’ she finally said. Yet she continued to laugh at us, as we stood there. Our train to ‘Leuchars’ was in 3 minutes, and here was the only human being around who could maybe tell us which platform we were. And she was just laughing at us. And we were just waiting.

But Edinburgh was neither too big, nor too small. A perfect size, and not only did we run into our first ever SNP rally on Middle Meadow Walk, but I saw somewhere where I could genuinely live. Where I could genuinely see myself staying for 4 years.

Then of course, the inevitable happened and this incredible opportunity for free education, which had attracted me in the first place was withdrawn. But I, attracted to the soft accents, the genuine people and the beautiful city, still went there. I guess without the free education which seemed so promising and ended up being so fruitless, I never would have even considered Scotland.

But it is weird now. You can feel the £9,000 slowly worming it’s way out of your bank account as the year goes on, and the student finance is tiresome and painful to do, because you know you are signing up to a sizeable debt. And then you speak to a Scot, or a European (constituted as one who has lived in Europe for 3 years) and they complain about the ridiculous amount they just paid for Tesco croissants, and how on top of accommodation life is incredibly difficult. Meanwhile I am standing there grinding my badly homemade tomato and chicken wrap to a pulp.

Because I can’t afford croissants.

And I see them see me do it. And their eyes widen in horror.

I guess you could say my frugal nature led to me going to a university where I am now extremely happy and content. I can without a doubt say that I would not be a student at the University of Edinburgh if I hadn’t heard about this seemingly ‘wonderful opportunity’ for free education. So thanks, German-British friend. Thanks. I owe you one.

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