Things Cost a Lot in Edinburgh

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

It turns out I was wrong about the hot air balloon club; their advertising was deceptive, and it was just out of my price-range, all told. But if hot air ballooning is your thing, it becomes affordable if you commit. The same can be said of motorsports, archery, skydiving, shinty and wind-surfing, or whatever strikes your fancy, really. I joined cross country.

In some ways, Edinburgh University is different from Swarthmore like any large university would be. The larger accumulation of resources distributed around a greater number of people means that there is a huge variety of things to do, but there are far fewer free events going on and a lot less nurturing from the university.

For instance, the introductory meeting for the Hill-Walking Club was probably attended by 200 people, an unthinkable grab for the Outsiders; however, the amount of gear they needed you to bring on each trip was pretty much a deal-killer. I managed to pack everything in about 75 lbs of luggage. I didn’t quite find room for my snowpants and gators. They might take epic trips each weekend, but when you go with a Swarthmore organization, you know it’s going to be heavily subsidized.

As I was looking at the membership fees for clubs, doing the mental conversion from pounds to dollars and sighing, I felt deeply appreciative of Swat, where everything at least feels free, because the costs are already sunk.

But that is the key, because the Scots don’t sink any costs. Upon graduating, Scots who remained in the country used to pay around £2,000. Following the Scottish Nationalist Party victory in 2007, they pay nothing for tuition. The same hold true for EU students, but not, ironically, for those coming from the rest of the UK. Students from outside the EU pay significantly higher fees. As one of those who pays an American college for room, board and tuition to study abroad, I might be in the running for “person who is paying the most to go here.” My Scottish roommate is getting a much better deal.

But to compensate, his family pays much higher taxes. One of the interesting things about being here is that it’s like the whole economic debate we have in America is just lifted and moved to the left. For a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with an historically strong welfare state, people in the UK just accept a much bigger role for government institutions in their lives than we do. Hospitals are state-run, universities are almost all public, the trains are thorough.

While Democrats bend over backwards to avoid being painted “tax and spend liberals” after Reagan’s 1984 landslide, the Liberal Democrats run here on, essentially, a “raise your taxes and buy more stuff” platform. They’ve started advocating for a cut in the income tax for the lowest earners, but even that was a struggle. Maybe the bailout will have a profound influence on the way people see government for decades to come. But I like the discourse here. Also, the politicians use bigger words. That was especially evident in Tony Blair’s recent interview with John Stewart.

I’m having a really good time. I keep meaning to travel more, but it’s hard to leave Edinburgh. We’re in a hip part of the city, which means that right as my flat eats dinner, brigades of women whose dress belies the weather begin to pass by. They’ve even started coming out before the sun sets! I guess I was wrong when I thought they were vampires.

From Wednesday to Saturday, it’s like the student section of the city turns into a giant party. This is fortunate because I only have class Monday-Wednesday. I think that if if rained less we’d be getting sick less, for as I have learned, a whiskey jacket is not a permanent accessory. It’s a Monday and I’m about to meet Carey Pietsch ’10 for a pub quiz. I’m bringing along my Scot so we don’t get creamed in the football trivia section.

This weekend Carey and I went to the city of Perth for a day of pastries and sight-seeing. We were intending to go to Loch Leven, a castle in the middle of a lake, but ended up just talking to the most incomprehensible Scot I have yet met and eating delicious food. More travel is definitely on my agenda; I just have to pull myself away. Maybe after the course is over it’ll be easier to get out. For now, I’m content to experience a new city.

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