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Nirupa Puliyel’s winning essay

When watching Braveheart last night with a group of international student friends we were surprised to find ourselves cheering when scenes featuring Edinburgh came on.

My French friend summarised it perfectly at the end of the movie. In what was a poor imitation of Mel Gibson’s accent (itself a poor imitation) she exclaimed: “Och aye! Makes you proud to be Scottish!”

Edinburgh is truly a city that absorbs you into its arms, regardless of your race, age, nationality, or even duration of stay.

My experiences this year at the University of Edinburgh have been no different.

Whether its been participating in the ceilidhs, international student karaoke nights and potluck dinners, Tandem speed lingua meetings or just enjoying a cup of coffee in the international student centre, I feel like the University put a lot of effort into making us as international students feel as much part of the University as home students.

I’ve enjoyed interacting with Erasmus and other exchange students, and my university accommodation allowed me to live with them and personally experience cultures different to my own.

But University hasn’t been all about coffee and potluck.

As an architecture student I spend long days (and often nights) in the studio. Though this does not directly correspond to regular sleep patterns it does lead to a very tight knit group.

I feel I am much closer to my fellow architecture students than I would be had I only spent the occasional lecture and tutorial with them; surely nothing brings people together like an impossible deadline.

Thinking back to the fresher’s fair, I realise that I may possibly have signed up over enthusiastically for an absurd number of societies, many of whom still insist on sending me emails.

But I have managed to attend a few of the societies more diligently.

Despite my two left feet I enrolled as a member of the Swing dance society. In my mind’s eye I envisioned myself being tossed over someone’s shoulder in an effortless lindy-hop move.

In reality more an art of trying to lindy hop without disembowelling your partner.

As a slightly less hazardous pastime, I regularly attend EUSA’S architecture lectures as they give me the opportunity to meet established and up and coming architects on the cutting edge of the field.

As a member of the Art Soc, I attend life drawing classes, sketching trips, exhibitions and gallery trips regularly.

Through the society and my own exploration of the city and its galleries I have gained some insight into the wealth and variety of art in Edinburgh.

A city that is famous for its festivals, Edinburgh is a cultural Mecca of theatre, art and music.

As a result of my fortuitous position of living in the heart of the city, across the street from the Festival Theatre, I have been able to get a taste of the incredible performing arts scene of the city.

I even managed to take COR lessons which were organised by medical students of the University, gaining life saving skills that will no doubt come in useful in future swing dance classes.

For all being a student in Edinburgh has given me I wanted to give something back to the community. On weekends I volunteer at Oxfam.

The experience has given me the unique opportunity to meet and interact with people outside my peer group.

Through this job I feel that, in a small way I’m contributing to helping people in my own country and other less developed nations.

It has reminded me of our responsibility to combat issues such as fair trade, climate change, gender equality and debt relief.

The work has also made me more aware of the efforts the University of Edinburgh makes in being a fair trade and green university.

Edinburgh in 2008 is nothing like what it is depicted as in Braveheart, but some aspects hold true.

It is still a city that inspires a fierce pride and a sense of belonging.

As an outsider I can still appreciate the nuances of Edinburgh, but I can also engage in its life as an insider to its workings.

Perhaps being an international student and feeling at home are paradoxical, but it is a contradiction I am more than happy to be.