Gosh, it feels like forever since I’ve thought about anything blog-related… it’s just been such an exciting and overwhelming week as I’ve tried to adjust to life across the pond! I arrived in Glasgow, Scotland, on January 5th to start my five-month-long study abroad experience at the University of Glasgow. I am beyond ecstatic to have finally made it here, as I’ve been trying to come to Scotland since pre-Covid (and have wanted to study abroad basically my whole life before that, not to be dramatic or anything). Traveling during a pandemic isn’t quite how I imagined the experience, but it’s safe to say that all the stress and worry I was feeling pre-departure has melted away now that I arrived. Everything is so exciting and new, so I wanted to share a few unedited pics of my first few days here!
Some backstory: Since I was originally supposed to come to Glasgow in the fall of 2020 and am now a senior, I have already finished all my requirements for school back home… which means I just get to take electives while at Glasgow and have a glorified vacation. I will fly home in May and return to Denver for one weekend in June to walk across the stage at graduation. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my last semester of college!
I am living in student housing, which is a 15-minute walk from campus. I have my own room and bathroom, seen below, and I share a kitchen/common space with two other study abroad students. Or at least, I’m supposed to—neither of them has shown up yet. In fact, I haven’t met anyone yet! The two orientation events I have attended so far were virtual, so while I’ve been trying really hard, I haven’t found an in-person opportunity to interact with other students. I’m not going to pretend—it’s starting to get a little lonely!
My room is awesome. Aside from the general smell of wet dog (which I imagine is common in this climate, since it rains so much and your coat/shoes are always wet), I really like my accommodations. The built-in storage around the desk area, under the bed, and in the closet is everything my tiny-home-loving self could ever want. Of course, I don’t have nearly enough stuff here to fill all the nooks and crannies, so it’s not quite as satisfying as it could be, though still enjoyable. The only downside is the tiny bathroom. The shower is yea big, with no specific flooring for the shower… which means the entire bathroom gets drenched and nearly-flooded every time I try to get clean. Lucky for me, I don’t take very long showers as it is!
Above: I thought this old and fancy-looking building was part of campus… It is not.
Now, onto the exciting stuff: A random assortment of my first impressions of Glasgow, things that matched my expectations, other things that did not, etc. Of course, I’ve only been in the city for less than four days and have only explored a small area thus far… so it’s quite possible that any of these descriptions are specific only to the neighborhood I am staying and cannot be generalized to Glasgow as a whole. That’s something I’m hoping to learn in my next five months here! But until then, here are some of the thoughts that have been swirling in my head since my arrival:
- Surprisingly, Glasgow is not very pedestrian friendly. There aren’t very many crosswalks, and where there are crosswalks, it takes at least five minutes for them to turn to the Walk sign. In fact, I have only actually waited for them to turn once or twice because that’s how long they take (and everyone J-walks anyway—I try only to cross the streets when others are also crossing, but I have already witnessed several almost-accidents). Additionally, the streets are not well-lit, which makes for a dangerous combination when considering the uneven sidewalks and the fact that it currently gets dark at 4 p.m. (I would prefer not to walk alone in the dark in a city that I don’t know, but it seems inevitable). The cherry on top is that they drive on the opposite side of the road in the United Kingdom, which requires extra alertness from foreigners like me when crossing the street. I was not expecting to feel so stressed while walking!
- Studying abroad gives me a newfound sense of independence. Sure, I went to college in Denver for three and a half years and lived “on my own”. But nothing compares to being in a foreign country all by yourself and not knowing a soul, or any of the customs. It’s exhilarating, terrifying, and exhausting all at the same time. I wanted to go someplace where I didn’t know anybody, but I kind of expected to have met somebody by this point! I’m just really grateful to have chosen to study in a country that speaks English because dealing with another language on top of it all while in a pandemic would have been a lot.
- People here have no problem talking about politics. At a virtual Q&A session over the summer, I was told by a local that a totally normal conversation starter would be to ask strangers their thoughts on Brexit. I thought that was baffling, as politics are such a taboo subject in the U.S. But sure enough, at the bar the other night, a couple of locals asked where I’m from and then immediately questioned if my state is red or blue, asked if I “like Mr. Joe”, and then proceeded to bash on Boris Johnson. This cracked me up—I wish I had asked their opinions on Brexit, but I was still too chicken!
- Scottish people use words and phrases like “wee” to describe something small/quaint, “What do you fancy?” to ask what you want from a menu, and “rubbish” for trash. I love hearing all the differences in diction!
Above: The cloisters at the University of Glasgow campus.
Above: The Scotia Bar is said to be haunted by “The Green Lady”.
- I learned from a local that it is borderline illegal, or at least very frowned upon, to wear your football (soccer) jersey to a bar on game day (oops, I have to remind myself that they say “match” instead of “game”). Not that I have any British soccer jerseys to begin with, but now I know not to wear one unless I am at a bar that supports a very specific team! I have been told that the essential Scottish football team to support is the Celtics (I watch a decent amount of English Premier League soccer but am unfamiliar with basically everything else).
- Even though everyone speaks English, I have been having a really hard time understanding their accents. Some people’s are so much stronger than others, and I’ve noticed I tend to understand women better than men. One local was talking to me the other night and I felt horribly that I didn’t understand a single word! I have bad hearing to begin with, so when you combine that with face masks and accents, it’s not a good combination.
Above: The National Piping Center. I could have taken a class here through the University, but I’ve heard learning the bagpipes is very difficult (and I’m already musically untalented as it is).
- The locals I have met so far are not as into Harry Potter as Americans. Maybe because so much of Harry Potter was filmed in Scotland, so locals are tired of hearing about it? I don’t know, but what I do know is that I was mercilessly made fun of for my Hedwig wallet the other night. As one local described it, “Why would an adult believe in wizards? It’s silly.” All I can say is… I disagree. And I very much intend on doing some Harry Potter sightseeing while here.
- I have only heard American music playing out-and-about so far. On my first night here, the restaurant I ate at was playing Macklemore’s “And We Danced”, which I thought was a very odd choice for a restaurant, let alone one in Scotland. They were also playing an amazing 80s playlist at the pub the other night, including Bruce Springsteen, which all the locals at that pub apparently love. I asked one of them why there isn’t more Scottish music and he said, “Oh you mean like this?” and then started humming a traditional Scottish song and doing a little jig in his seat. He threw out Lewis Capaldi as the only mainstream Scottish singer he could recall.
Above: Just campus things… The University of Glasgow is basically Hogwarts.
Well, I still have half my list of first impressions to write about, but this post is already so long! I’ll leave it here for today and share more observations at a later date.
I’ve always wanted to study in another country to fully live and immerse myself (as opposed to just visiting on vacation), but I was ever-so-slightly worried that going to an English-speaking country wouldn’t be the same cultural experience as going to a country that speaks a totally different language. I am glad to report that there are still so many differences in culture and customs here in Scotland, and I am grateful for that! In fact, I have been feeling an appropriate amount of discomfort every time I go out and have to interact with people, just like I did in Spain—which is how study abroad should be. It’s all about getting out of your comfort zone! I have already become very accustomed to looking like a fool and getting yelled at when I do something wrong. It is fascinating to see how different people live, and I can’t wait for many more adventures in the coming months.
Thanks so much for reading, and if you have any questions about my study abroad program, please leave them below.
Miles of smiles,