So, nearly 6 months after I departed Scotland for Switzerland I came back. Then went away again.
My social geography has been completely uprooted: with graduation the Class of 2011 scattered like the four winds back to their family homes, on gap year adventures or new jobs. It’s difficult to keep track of where my friends are and harder to catch up with them all in person any more. Going back to Edinburgh & Fife seemed like the safest option, especially since I was aiming for late Nov when most folk would still be at university but not yet sitting their winter exams. I was only back for approx 4 days, but determined to make the most of it.
I’m at that stage in Basel where I can’t see what the outcome will be. I have bad days. Where all my work colleagues start talking in German over lunchtime and I feel like the freak for being the only one who can’t understand what is going on. When I feel like an unhappy outsider, who brought this upon themselves. I have good days. When I introduce my work colleagues to some useless nugget of British language or culture: when I’m different but accepted. I have boring weekends. When I barely leave the flat and waste time on the computer, doing more damn grad school application stuff. I have awesome weekends. Where I go off travelling to some new city, or meet up with people and have fun in Basel.
The graduate school applications are never-ending. I’ve revised for the GRE tests…I’ve created the online application forms…I’ve written, re-written and final-drafted the personal statements until I can no longer tell if they make sense…I’ve got in touch with my referees on multiple occasions to communicate information…yet still the damn things are not gone. I have the two external funding applications to deal with – I’m still waiting to ensure that all the official documents have arrived at their destinations. It just never ends.
I need to go somewhere that I can get a sensible perspective and a chance to think….
…I touched down in Edinburgh just before midday on Monday. This time around, the Easyjet flight was straightforward. I had a To Do list: random bits of shopping that I couldn’t be bothered doing in Switzerland because the goods in the UK were cheaper, a series of self-ultimatums regarding personal statements and important documents that needed sent. I had a list of people I’d arranged to meet for coffee/lunch/pub.
Edinburgh looked exactly the same as ever. It still has the capacity to bring up a lot of emotions in me. I still am very, very attached to the place.
The thing is, that I really like Basel. It’s a pretty little city. Despite my derogatory remarks about it being a “provincial Europe town”…there’s a lot going on here (see my Surrealism In Paris post, etc). I can’t complain about my accommodation, job or Basel Dragons Running Club. It isn’t like I’m powerless to change my circumstances: I can afford more city breaks, I can attend more socials, I can do lots of…stuff. There’s nothing out of my control.
However…Unlike Philadelphia or Edinburgh, if I packed my bags and left Basel tomorrow – there wouldn’t be much incentive for me to ever come back. Switzerland was a calculated 12 month-contract – a way to kill time between graduation and a PhD. I want to do postgraduate study in America, I’m not really open to the idea of European opportunities. I set up Basel to be transient – it thus feels transient. Either I shut the Hell up about it then, or I make the effort to settle myself.
The concept of “home” has nonetheless shifted to Switzerland. Edinburgh feels intimately familiar – but I’m so damn OLD compared to all the students in Bristo Square and Teviot. I’m wandering around the place wearing my University of Edinburgh Ballroom Dancing Society hoodie…but I’m an imposter. Shame on me. But while I feel displaced from my surroundings it doesn’t feel upsetting. If I want to spend more time in Edinburgh I need to approach the city in a different manner – that of a young professional, rather than a student. I can and will do that – but while I feel like Basel is my home, I’m not worried.
I’ve been quite blasé about my travelling and living abroad: I’ve spent plenty of time around people who’ve lived in multiple countries in their life. I’ve never had much trouble with getting jobs at my professional level, nor had major financial issues. It’s quite a surprise to come back to Fife – St Andrews and Crail – to discover the people my own age who never left. My former schoolmates who are living in the same town they grew up in, doing the same type of unskilled jobs their parents always did. Who are unlikely to do anything adventurous with their lives. I find that quite difficult to grasp. I don’t think I could cope with that life. Not any more.
Living in a foreign country is difficult. No way around that. Yet it’s the sort of difficulty I wouldn’t want to ever relinquish. Not for anything.
I stayed in Edinburgh. I danced. I drank my first decent cup of coffee in ages (at Black Medicine, Nicolson St of course!). I caught up with my friends. I bought a gorgeous ballgown for £10 from Cancer Research UK. I completed and mailed off my important documents. Having realised that I had precious few photographs of the beautiful city I’d lived in for 3 years…I wandered about with a camera in my pocket. It was a productive, enjoyable, relaxing little break.
And then on Friday morning I went home. Home to Basel.