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How I fell in love with Glasgow and Scottish culture

Glasgow Central train station

By Gabrielle Gonçalves 14 March 2016

Gabrielle Gonçalves is a French student studying BA English Literature and Film and Television Studies at the University of Glasgow, College of Arts who has been selected to be a student journalist for the Education UK website. Here she describes moving to Glasgow as an international student.

As an international student from France, one of the questions I faced most often when meeting people in Glasgow was: Why come to Glasgow? I could never give a proper and satisfactory answer. A few words over a drink in a noisy pub could not possibly give justice to all the tiny elements that, taken into account, make Glasgow a very special town to me – and the perfect place to study.

Applying for an exciting new life

After finishing high school, I needed a fresh start that would open up new horizons for me. Leaving the nest and settling down to a new kind of independent life seemed to me to be the right way to start my studies at university. I have always wanted to study in the UK, ever since my first visit to England, aged 13, when I literally fell in love with the country. Growing up, though, I became more and more attracted to Scotland, probably because my favourite writers, musicians and actors were Scottish, and I literally fell in love with how gorgeous the country seemed to be (It is actually a thousand times better when you see those breath-taking landscapes with your own eyes).

After months of rummaging through university prospectuses, fathoming the depths of UCAS (the website through which you’ll be processing your applications) and working hard to meet the conditions of my offers, I eventually got an answer: I was accepted at the University of Glasgow, my first choice. On 9 September 2015, I finally set foot on Scottish ground. That day marked the start of a new, exciting life.

'People Make Glasgow'

Shortly before arriving by train from England to Glasgow’s Central Station, you can spot a colourful graffiti on a wall: ‘People Make Glasgow’. It is the motto of Glasgow’s city council. And how accurate! This city would not be the same without the approachable, kind, spontaneously helpful people who live there. You’ll meet captivating people of diverse ages, origins and social backgrounds, all sharing a fierce pride and love for Scotland.

As an international student, you must be curious and willing to get your everyday habits challenged. I was thrilled to discover a culture so different from mine, even though Scotland and France are not that far from each other. Culture shock does not seem to be the right word to describe what you will go through: it is more an experience of perpetual wonder, one of engrossing adaptation.  My family and friends sometimes mistake Scotland for England, which tends to annoy me a lot. Although both are part of the same country, they are different nations with equally different and rich cultures.

The UK is a mosaic of accents and dialects. Someone told me once that if you were travelling by train across the UK, you could get off at every station and find a different accent; this might be a bit exaggerated, but it is not far from the truth! In any case, this is no legend – Scottish people really do have an amazingly strong accent that you’d know anywhere once you are accustomed to it. Be careful, even though it is startling at first, you might find yourself picking it up quicker than you would think!

Flexible study

What I like about my university is how flexible it is. A regular undergraduate degree in Scotland lasts four years. Year 1 and 2 give you the chance to explore academic possibilities by allowing you to pick three different subjects. This is very convenient if you are unsure about your choice of degree when you start university. You will then specialise in one or two subjects at honours level in year 3 and 4. The wide range of subjects you can choose from is definitely another good point: you can even combine science and arts subjects! I am currently studying Film and TV, Theatre and Celtic Civilisation: an eclectic plan of study that I would never have been able to do back home! 

Choosing your university or college is a decision to make cautiously. Chances are that you will be spending the next three or four years there, so you should take into account all the features that will have an influence on your life. Of course, your life will not just turn into a fairy tale when moving to university. You will have to endure a lot of reading, research, demanding essay-writing, and the Library will probably become your lair during exam periods. With the other student journalists, we discovered we had all had phases when we were feeling blue (Scottish weather does not help in those cases!). However, you will be so busy enjoying yourself that it will not last long.

Glasgow University has a high population of international students. As a French person I never felt at all exotic, but more of a mere drop in the bucket. I have met more nationalities during the past months than in my entire life. You are not discovering a new culture but several at once. Some days, walking across the campus, you do not hear a single English word, but a variety of foreign languages, which is somehow puzzling but also captivating. The campus is an incredible village-sized cosmopolitan world. The city is sprinkled with four universities, a conservatoire and a number of colleges; the huge number of students makes meeting like-minded people and making friends very easily.

I advise you to get involved with societies that are of interest to you. I do warn you though – you may want to join half of the societies at the Fresher’s Fair and then never show up to any of the meetings, but it is a valuable way to make acquaintances. It is also a chance to get involved with the media student bodies and improve your writing or filmmaking skills among others! A dream occasion to enhance your CV while socialising and enjoying yourself.

A city full of culture

The cultural life in the UK is nothing short of amazing. Choosing to live in a big city as I did comes with a bunch of opportunities and endless possibilities to explore the culture, to meet new people. There is so much going on that you cannot possibly get bored, and you are bound to find something to your liking, whether you like arts, sports, science and so on. A town like Glasgow, UNESCO City of Music, holds enough museums, art galleries and music venues to sustain your longing for culture.

The local specificities also add some spice to your everyday life, such as food, traditions, and holidays. All the more reason why you should come to Glasgow: you could try haggis or deep fried Mars bars. Perhaps even have a sip of Irn-Bru (Iron Brew), an orange-coloured fizzy soft drink sold more than Coke in Scotland. It is like a religion here, and the day after I arrived, I saw a man with the logo of the brand tattooed on his leg. One of my favourite things here is the local fascination with traffic cones. It is pretty common to catch a glimpse of statues ornamented by quirky traffic cone hats – the most famous one has to be the Statue of the Duke of Wellington in front of the Gallery of Modern Art. My best memory remains the day I saw a man dressed as Santa doing some Highland dancing next to a piper wearing a kilt.

In my opinion, there is no better time to travel and live abroad than when you are young. I am glad I made the decision to come to the UK and would not want to be studying anywhere else. I know that more and more people nowadays seize the occasion to study abroad and that is the right way to follow! Studying in the UK will make you more open-minded and provide you not only with excellent educational standards but also a colossal amount of good memories and an ever-growing craving for adventure and discovery! 

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