From one UK to another: appreciate the simple things in life

Life is about the simple things. We are told to “enjoy the little things in life,” and in the same breath of air, “not to sweat the small stuff.” Obviously the two people who crafted these sayings didn’t see eye to eye. But honestly I can’t disagree with either sentiment.

I’ve found giddy happiness in things like getting to take an afternoon nap or snagging a free size upgrade on my morning coffee. I’ve also let stubbing my toe or breaking a nail ruin my entire day. So maybe the little things do have a powerful grasp on day-to-day life. Occasionally, however, something big happens that changes everything.

In some combination of hard work and fantastic luck, I was given the opportunity to move to Scotland for three years to get my Ph.D. After six and a half years at the University of Kentucky (UK No. 1), I finished pharmacy school and headed off to start my first job post-graduation, training as a clinical pharmacist in Richmond, Va. I always had the dream of moving abroad to the United Kingdom (UK No. 2) and heading back to school to get involved in research, so I submitted a grant proposal to the Fulbright Program.

About nine months after said submission, I found out in a single email that I would be taking a new role as a postgraduate student, researcher, cultural ambassador and generally inept American fumbling around in a new country. I couldn’t have been more thrilled for the adventure that waited. Talk about a big change.

I arrived in Glasgow at the beginning of September with three suitcases and a broken cell phone. I stepped out onto the airport curb to get drenched in pouring rain. Once I made it to my pre-arranged flat (aka apartment), I realized I had no towel for a shower and no linens to put on the bed. And nothing to eat or drink. An exhausting walk down the street led me to a shopping district where I sorted through various goods, making sloppy currency conversions in my head. Heading to check out and prepared with a wallet of pound sterling, the cashier says something to me in incomprehensible Glaswegian. I handed over a wad of money and stuck with the tried-and-true “smile and nod.” I had a momentary fleeting thought to myself of “wait, was that English?”

The simple, little things in the time since have been quite the learning experience. At least once a week, I attempt to cross a street and almost get flattened by a double-decker city bus, simply because I forget to look left instead of right. I also still habitually try to get into the driver’s seat of a car, thinking it is the passenger’s seat.

One day, I searched three groceries unsuccessfully to locate a single can of red kidney beans, but instead discovered a ready supply of haggis pakora in several eateries on my block. Mexican food? No. Scottish-Indian fusion? Yes, indeed.

I accidentally had a public conversation regarding my “pants” only to realize that here, I was indeed chatting about my “underwear.” If public silliness wasn’t enough, professional mockery was just as fun when I, a pharmacist, was awkwardly denied a purchase of more than 16 tablets of acetaminophen (Tylenol) at the drugstore. I apparently was at risk to overdose trying to buy a proper supply of pain relievers, unbeknownst to me. But to top it all off, after it took me more than three weeks to open the lowest-perk bank account available, I flat-out failed a credit check for a cell phone, essentially due to a lack of citizenship.

Now I tell you these things not to scare you off of your own international adventure. Big changes are exciting and scary, but the small things really are the secret spice of life. The most fun I’ve had in Glasgow so far has been making these mistakes and learning how to adapt to my environment. And luckily the locals enjoy partaking in my fun as well, even if I sometimes can’t understand when they are making fun of me.

Since family and friends first found out that I was going to be moving to the UK, I’ve caught the occasional “that should at least be an easy transition because it’s not too different there.” Every time I hold up the line at the grocery trying to figure out what my 20 pence coins look like, or misjudge the weather for the day due to a faulty estimation of Celsius to Fahrenheit, I have myself a little giggle. I tell myself not to sweat it, but enjoy it. My life underwent a monumental makeover, but I now know that good or bad, the small things are the best you can ask for.