Meet Indigo at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland!
Name: Indigo Hearn
Nationality: Irish, British
University: University of Edinburgh
Degree: MA (Hons) English Language and Literature
Current Year of Study: 2nd year (Pre-honours)
How did you choose your university destination and course of study?
My original choice was to be in London. I didn’t care where, but I knew that I wanted to be in the heart of a bustling city. I soon came to realise that, realistically, London would be too overwhelming for me and that I would probably be better suited in a smaller city. I chose Edinburgh simply because it looked beautiful. It sounds vain, but in actuality the history behind the city and its captivating landmarks are incredibly fascinating; there is history everywhere you walk. Despite being a capital city, Edinburgh is small and very accessible – everything you need is right around the corner – or a castle.
Luckily, I’ve always known what I wanted to study at university; it’s probably one of the only things I’ve ever been decisive about. Studying something within the English realm was always a given for me and I originally chose just English Language to focus on in uni as that’s what I had excelled at most throughout school and in my A Levels. I started exploring English Literature at university and soon realised that I also wanted to make this a focus of my degree. Choosing a university that allowed you to take cross-department classes in pre-honours years was also a pivotal reason as to why I chose the University of Edinburgh.
What have been the highlights of your academic programme so far?
I have really enjoyed studying English Literature at university level. I was slightly sceptical beforehand as I didn’t study it at A Level but my tutors have been very engaging and constantly encourage different interpretations of texts that we study. I have found the semesterly reading lists to be very extensive, with fascinating insight into different time periods. Being able to discuss texts in depth with my classmates has always been in a very passionate environment and getting to learn from others has allowed me to broaden my skills in English Literature.
What do you enjoy most about living in Edinburgh?
I would describe Edinburgh as being a very comfortable city to live in. It does not feel hostile or scary in any way, as I imagine some other big cities would feel. Everything is very central and mostly within walking distance. There is nature and history entwined in the city, for example, the high street has a clear view of Edinburgh Castle as well as being right next to an ancient graveyard, which I have walked through many times to get to campus.
The Meadows is a lovely spot positioned right outside the main campus with cycle lanes running through it. There is often (sometimes questionable) live music and coffee vans and the grassy area is always speckled with students as soon as the sun comes out.
How supportive is your university to international students and, in particular, during the pandemic?
They have been supportive to the extent of providing online education. In all honesty, I think that might be it. The online teaching is fine, but it could definitely be better as I’m aware that my university, in particular, has the budget to offer more. Student support during the pandemic was quite disappointing, including academic support. There were many instances during the pandemic when I felt I needed extra, focused help but the most I was offered was to participate in live Q&A sessions held by lecturers or to get a coursework extension (which had to be approved with a reasonable excuse).
What have been 3 of the main challenges you have faced during your time at university?
The first main challenge I faced at uni was learning to make friends and be sociable. I have always regarded myself as quite a friendly person, but never too outgoing. I’ve been lucky enough to have naturally formed connections with people that didn’t require a lot of effort. When I got to uni, I became quite overwhelmed from meeting so many new people at once as I wasn’t used to that – due to having known most of the same people all throughout high school. I learnt that just because there’s loads of people around you, it doesn’t mean it’s easy to make friends. Groups form very quickly and I realised that I had to really put an effort into maintaining connections and taking the initiative to even initiate a friendship. This was definitely daunting at first, but faking confidence was the best thing I ever did and I wouldn’t have the friends I have now without it.
Another challenge was just the basic ‘adulting’ tasks that come with moving away from home and learning to be 100% responsible for yourself. Before I started university, I think I had convinced myself that I was definitely ready for all the extra responsibility, as a completely independent lifestyle had always seemed so exciting. This is also something that requires a lot of self-initiative – your parents aren’t always going to be around to help, at least not physically. They’ll talk you through the tears on the phone but ultimately, if you don’t organise your bills, you won’t have hot water!
The final challenge is one that I would say I’m probably still trying to navigate. I pushed myself really hard in my last years of school so it was nice to find that academically, first year was somewhat easy. However, my second year was very academically rigorous and I didn’t grasp the seriousness of it until later on in the year. Although I was putting in the hours, the outcome was disappointing and I realised that I was experiencing academic burnout as a result of pushing myself over the limit to achieve specific grades in high school. I didn’t recognise or deal with this properly and, in turn, was left feeling like I had no strategy to succeed in my academics. I was constantly busy because I kept saying yes to things that I simply didn’t have time for. I now know that I am someone who needs the extra time to ensure that I am on the right path to achieving my academic goals. I look forward to prioritising this in my next two years of university.
What activities are you involved in outside of your academic programme?
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to join any societies in the first year but in my second year I joined the Contemporary Art Society. I did it on a whim because I didn’t know which societies to choose. It ended up being the only society I chose but it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I loved the events and socials that they hosted and ended up making loads of my close friends there. I’ve got a place on the society committee for the next academic year and I can’t wait to get involved and create events. I never thought I’d have any type of organisational/leadership role at uni, but I really look forward to seeing what my friends and I create together.
How easy is it to find accommodation? Can you describe your living arrangements?
I was randomly allocated to my accommodation due to a late acceptance (2020 A Levels grading crisis!) but it ended up being quite good. It was small but the people were great – friends right on your doorstep. I’ve learnt that you definitely don’t need to pay an extortionate amount for accommodation: instead I would recommend saving more spending money. An en suite bathroom isn’t a necessity and a private studio is very isolating. Living in student accommodation is extremely sociable and it’s usually how you make your first and main friends in university.
Do you think your university experience is preparing you well for the working word and do they offer support with finding jobs and internships?
I would say the independence forced on you by university life has definitely helped me mature faster and prepare me for the professional world. As I’ve only just finished second year I haven’t been involved in the careers programme offered by the university yet.
What opportunities have you had to travel and explore during weekends and vacations?
Depending on your academic schedule, there is usually time to explore and visit the local sights. However, it wouldn’t happen every week as weekends are usually dedicated to socialising in town and extra time for uni work.
What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would offer an international student thinking of coming to Edinburgh and Scotland to study?
Firstly, don’t be shy! I know this is so much easier said than done but I’ve always been a very shy person and it can hurt to see opportunities pass you by because your shyness is holding you back. Like I said, the ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ concept is really effective, fake confidence is usually unnoticeable and once you get into the habit of it, it becomes so natural that it’s almost real!
Secondly, I can completely understand how being an international student can hinder your confidence. My ethnicity is mostly white and my clothes are quite basic so I was lucky enough to blend in with the freshers crowd, which is what I wanted. I was prepared to enhance my British accent in order to avoid questions about where I was from but upon meeting my flatmates, I was very nervous and my Americanised ‘International accent’ slipped out immediately. For some reason, I had the idea that people either wouldn’t understand or would be weirded out that I hadn’t grown up in the UK like the rest of them. Instead, everyone was extremely interested about my background and life in Bali and I quickly came to joke about it too, calling myself an ‘island girl’ when I slipped up and didn’t know basic things like how a bus schedule worked.
Lastly, culture shock is very real. I’ve found that people who have lived in different countries throughout their life have heightened senses to their surroundings, even how the air feels on our skin. Moving to a capital city could not be more different from living in Bali, and can definitely be daunting. My best advice would be to take the time to learn more and explore the city until it feels comfortable. When I first arrived at uni, I would often go out exploring during the day, learning new routes and finding special spots to return to. I took pictures and did my best to learn about the history of the city and the people in it – strangers are always more friendly than you think! Nothing feels better than the barista recognising you at your new favourite coffee shop.