There is something about the inside of airports that make them seem identical in every country. Getting off the plane, walking down the long, narrow corridor oftentimes grey and devoid of any personality – the first five minutes following the landing is always shrouded in a haze of surrealism, as if you can't quite believe you are in a different place from whence you came, simply because the environment doesn't look all that much different.
To the keen observing eye, however, there will always be some tiny differences, patiently waiting to be spotted.
"Look, Papa!" I heard one of my fellow passengers, a very young girl holding onto the hand of an older man, exclaim, "Papa, the words on the posters… They are strange."
I grinned to myself. I was fluent in English, but I could understand how she felt – the fact that all the posters on the wall were suddenly in another language than the one I was used to made everything seem quite exotic.
"Yes, sweetheart," her father explained to her in a patient voice, "They're in English. We're in Scotland now. They speak English here."
"Schottland," the girl repeated in a sing-song voice, testing out the name on her tongue.
Her father laughed. "Do you know what it's called in English?"
The girl made a humming noise, popping her thumb into her mouth as she thought hard. Then she stuck out her bottom lip. "I don't know." She glanced balefully up at her father, as if it was his fault for asking a too-difficult question.
"Scotland," her father told her, in English this time.
"Skoht-lahnd," the girl repeated, stretching her mouth wide to pronounce the word.
As I walked past them, pulling my suitcase along behind me, I wondered what their story was.
If it was one thing I had learnt through my experiences, it was that everyone had a story. Some were just more obvious than others.
At customs, I joined the queue for the European Union passport holders. Some people in the next line glanced curiously at me, but lost interest after seeing the burgundy-red cover of the passport in my hand.
When it was my turn, the customs officer peered at me. "You're from Germany?" he asked, obviously trying to make conversation. He already knew where I was from. It was both emblazoned on the cover and on the inside of the little book that identified me to the rest of the world.
"Yeah," I said, smiling wryly at him.
He looked at my entry card. "You study here?"
"I'm doing an exchange programme," I told him, "for six months."
"An exchange programme? What do you study back home?" He seemed to be genuinely interested, even as he busied with stamping the necessary documents.
"Lovely," he said, sliding my passport back towards me. He smiled, "Enjoy your stay here in Edinburgh."
I grinned back. I loved the way the locals pronounced the name, 'Edinburgh'. That low burr in the last syllable was so distinctively Scottish. "Thank you. I'm sure I will."
As I walked towards the baggage claim area, I couldn't help but feel my heart rate start to speed up. This was it. This was the start to a new chapter of my life.
There is something about the inside of every airport that makes everywhere look the same. But it's not.
It's not the same.
And even if you miss the details, miss the posters on the wall, the street signs by the roads, the scenery outside the window on the bus trip from the airport straight into the city... it all becomes terrifyingly real the moment the bus rolls to a stop and the doors whoosh open – and you step through them into a whole new world.
For me, this new world consisted of rows and rows of Victorian-styled townhouses.
The sky was still blue, but it was a different shade of blue.
My legs felt a little shaky as I walked down the street. I pulled my luggage along behind me, feeling both suitcases bounce on the uneven pavement, hearing the noisy sounds of plastic wheels scraping against concrete.
And that was the moment it all sank in.
This was real. I was here.
I was in Edinburgh.