On the Friday of Welcome Week, I was sitting in my office in Bristo Square for the first time in nine months. As I’d cycled in, I passed a handful of early risers on the Meadows: students in crop tops (how brave), staff in trainers, the inevitable dogs. Last night’s pizza boxes were strewn about the bins. There will be more, where those came from.
Perhaps you too are a staff member returning to your office and its pile of post. Perhaps a first-year tumbling out of your dad’s car, with too many clothes and no duvet; a second-year arriving on campus for the first time, after a year on screens in a different time zone; or a fourth-year PhD student, who spent the summer somewhere on the Dalkeith Road.
Whoever you are, welcome – and welcome back. Here’s how to arrive in our wonderful city.
1) Prepare to be surprised
By room changes and Covid-19 changes, yes – for who knows what awaits? But be surprised too, by how the weather shifts from pouring rain to sunny sky in the space of an hour, or how an Edinburgh wind snatches your breath away as you walk. Be surprised by how you feel in a room full of human beings, listening and attentive; by the glorious reality of new faces, when you have seen only the same few for a year. Be surprised by how your work clothes no longer fit you – after eighteen months of global pandemic, when you think about it, that may be the least of what doesn’t – and shrug, and wear something else.
Be surprised, if you are new, by the friendliness of Edinburghians: we are a village, wrapped up in a stunning city. Be surprised, if you are returning, by the gap where your favourite café once stood. Sadly, not all surprises will be kind; but most will be curious. Be surprised by how this unfolding semester, and autumn, and life itself, are not what you ever thought they would be. Above all, be surprised by how good you can be to yourself in the midst of that, and how much you can discover.
Surprise is an invitation. You get to choose what you do next.
2) Mourn, a little
A beginning marks an ending. We begin this year each carrying our previous chapter, the ink drying on its pages. There is the fresher whose last year of school was the most disrupted for several generations; the lecturer who worked fifteen hour days to keep their course on the road. To be here you may have left family and friends, a place, a job. You come knowing that you will make memories, and, also, that you carry plenty already. You may be homesick; your heart may ache; there will be people we said goodbye to, and things that happened, that we cannot easily forget.
Take some time to honour what you have left. Write it down, doodle it, or pin it on your wall. Find out about the Chaplaincy’s Mindful Doodling sessions.
If you are new, tell your new friends where you are from, and what you love about it. If you don’t want to remember anything, be gentle to yourself when it reappears anyway – in dreams, in inboxes, in a flash when the light catches something a certain way – and give it space. Breathe with it. It will pass.
Mourn a little – it’s only natural – but don’t be lonely. There are good people here, waiting to meet you.
3) Fall in love
Fall in love (again) with books, and quarks, and the eighteenth century; history or maths, art or biochem; an exquisitely curated data set, or a hidden treasure trove in the library; with the labyrinth in George Square Gardens, the arches of Old College, and the skateboarders in Bristo Square. Fall in love with Soderberg coffee, and Union of Genius soup, and afternoons in the café at Teviot House; with the great sweep of the Crags, the view from Blackford Hill, and the clam-strewn beach at Portobello; with the warmth of a barbecue on the Meadows, and the cool damp graffiti gallery of the Innocent Railway tunnel. Fall in love with the right person (treat them well) and with the wrong person (don’t stay too long). Fall in love with unexpected friendship, and serendipitous connection; with letter-writing, and wandering, and mindful quiet, amidst the noise.
Sometimes, love needs a little work. So grit your teeth when it rains, and your windows rattle, and you forget a windbreaker on Arthur’s Seat; ask for help when your deadline is approaching, computer says no, or you simply don’t understand; take a deep breath when your lateral flow is positive, the doors in Pollock keep slamming, and People and Money is perplexing.
Edinburgh’s worth loving, in sun, and snow, and gale. Settle in, and see for yourself.
The University’s Chaplaincy offers courses, drop-ins and resources to support your wellbeing and mindfulness practice:
Images: Chris Close