The second in our new series exploring why international students chose to come to Glasgow
Truth be told, it wasn’t part of my original plan to end up in Glasgow. An American child to two immigrant parents, I had always toyed with the idea of studying at an international school, but never thought it would become my reality. I applied on a whim, with little knowledge of the city or the school, except that it had a strong biology program and showed up on many a Harry Potter fan page. The closest I’d been to Glasgow was in belting out ABBA’s “Super Trouper” every once in a while. But then my university application process didn’t go as planned; I got waitlisted at a few of my top choices and flat-out rejected from others. After years of hard work and planning, the whole thing felt like a slap in the face. And then, so very unexpectedly, I found myself with an unconditional offer to the University of Glasgow. “Ok,” I (half-jokingly) told myself, “you could always ditch the whole Trump thing and go to Scotland. It’s a rare opportunity, and let’s face it, you could always transfer to a school back home next year if it wasn’t a fit.” But it felt so rash, like I was running away or finding a temporary fix. My parents weren’t too keen on the idea either – I think they took it as me trying to distance myself from them. I built up my case, diving into research and logistics and costs. Sometimes, I’d step back and question the whole thing. The more I talked about it, however, the more appealing the idea became. Soon enough, I had enrolled, chosen my accommodation, and found myself on a flight to Glasgow, with three suitcases (which do not hold as much as one would hope) and absolutely no idea what to expect.
For the first week, I was so overwhelmed with taking in my new surroundings that I never paused to let everything sink in, that I would be here for at least one academic year, a seven-hour transatlantic plane ride away from my world, in a country I’d never even been to. As someone who’s always lived in suburbia, I was captivated by city life. Glasgow is not your textbook city, however: trading skyscrapers and office buildings for 19th century architecture, it’s a lot less harsh than what I’m used to (ie Boston, New York), making it more manageable. For some reason, I was also under the impression that the University was surrounded by city life, when in fact it is nestled into the luxurious corner of the West End – an even better deal. I tried to settle myself in as much as possible before the beginning of school, starting with where I’d spend most of my time: my charming Murano flat. I chose Murano for the same basic reason everyone else had: nearly every student forum described it as “modest, but hands down the most social accommodation at Glasgow Uni”. Already nervous about finding friends as an international student, I jumped on the Murano train in earnest, convinced that I would find my friends for life there. Then, as luck would have it, I was placed in a renovated, five-person flat. Don’t get too jealous, my Murano high ended there. Though somewhat endearing at first, the constant drunken hubbub becomes quite tiresome, literally and figuratively. I will also say that living with someone and being friends with them are two different ball games, and, for the sake of everyone involved, let’s just say I didn’t get so lucky in the flatmate department. I came out of Murano weathered, with lots of stories and lessons for the grandchildren.
Another more general expectation of university is the promise of an excess of friends. “Honestly, don’t worry, I met all of my best pals during Freshers,” everyone seems to say. While I have found some soul mates, it wasn’t an instant or easy process. Sifting your way through the acquaintances and actual friendships takes some time, and even then, you might find that you were just in the honeymoon phase with some. There was also the added hurdle of having the American stereotype following me around, but I was able to convince a lucky few that I wasn’t as annoying as they say. The surprising thing is, most of my friends are Scottish, which has really allowed for an immersive experience. Once I got over the whole language barrier thing (honestly, the accent isn’t even the worse part, it’s the dialect) I found myself pleasantly surprised by how much less competitive and petty Scots are than Americans: I’m not trying to reinforce the stereotypes, but Americans can be obnoxious sometimes. Obviously, the US and Scotland were built on separate ideals, and I am an American at heart, but a break from the extreme capitalism and arrogance has proved to be quite refreshing. When people back home inevitably ask what my favourite part about Glasgow or university is, it’s always the people.
Being an international student is definitely not smooth sailing. There were times when I genuinely considered moving back home. But like most things, if you give it time, life tends to work itself out. Wherever I end up, my experience here is now a permanent part of my makeup, one that completely exceeded any expectations. It has taught me that those wild leaps of faith are worth it and can be successful. Getting attached to Glasgow was a point I never thought I’d reach, but I now have a whole other home and family, one that I can’t wait to return to after Christmas break, one that excites me for the future, and one that I can’t fathom leaving behind.