Credit: Jasmine Urquhart

Welcome to your new home

By Morgan Carpenter

Features Columnist Morgan Carpenter gives new international students a guide on how to survive the culture shock of moving to Scotland and coming to Glasgow.

International students, you have finally made it. You have arrived at University, in a whole new country to explore! You’re navigating a new adventure that only a few people will ever get to claim they’ve conquered, and you’re doing it all amidst a global pandemic, so first off – congratulations. If no one’s yet told you that they’re proud of you, let me be the first. 

To ease your transition, I’ve compiled a bit of advice that I would’ve liked to be given when I was in your shoes, starting with some things to note about Glasgow itself:

First off, the weather is exactly as bad as it’s made out to be – but the people more than make up for it. Always carry a raincoat with you, and pick out a pub within walking distance from your flat that has a working fireplace. You’ll thank me when December rolls around. 

Next, know that while there are always exceptions to the rule, Glaswegians are on the whole incredibly welcoming to visitors from other countries. I’m American, and my country doesn’t exactly have the best reputation abroad (which, you know… fair enough). Even so, I’ve never once run into any locals who were anything but hospitable – though be prepared to answer lots of questions about what your country is up to, particularly if you too have a questionable leader. 

With that in mind, do ask for help when you need it. If you’re still figuring things out with setting up a UK bank account or trying to navigate new social norms that are different from your home country, don’t be afraid to ask locals or other students for help.  

Now, this city might inherently feel a bit weird if you’re not from here. Glasgow is an amalgamation of history, diverse ideas, and dare I say vibes. It’s an old-world package for new-world ideas. You can see this as you walk around the city centre, wherein you’ll find sleek modern designs nestled in between stunning examples of 19th century Victorian architecture. There’s also a massive grunge history, and it exists somewhat improbably alongside a more refined artistic culture. As you explore, you’ll find this cultural medley extends beyond appearances, and all I’ll say is that it’s entirely true that People Make Glasgow. This is certainly as close as I’ve ever found to a global city. You will meet loads of characters (for better or worse) from all over the world, with a whole host of different perspectives. 

You’ll soon find that nothing you read about the city (and none of the pictures you saw of the University before coming here) will fully do it justice because Glasgow is if nothing else, a very unique city. 

Beyond the city itself, there are a few things I wish I’d known about the long-anticipated Freshers’ Week:

While you may be disappointed that the week won’t look quite the same as it has in past years, there are still going to be plenty of opportunities to meet new people. My first tidbit of advice is to branch out beyond the University-hosted events. Get out and explore the things that Glasgow is known for; check out the iconic sights, such as the Kelvingrove Museum (book tickets online first) or the Botanic Gardens while the weather’s still nice. Also consider grabbing a pal and scoping out any pubs, restaurants, or cafes that seem intriguing to you. This is an awesome way to get to know any new friends you’ve made at Freshers’ Week events, while also familiarising yourself with the area. 

I also highly recommend joining the Facebook group chats for your courses. Even if you don’t make life-long friends, it is never a bad thing to have a whole pool of people you can invite to events that you’re interested in, or simply ask to come to a new coffee shop if you don’t want to go alone. I am still in regular contact with people I chatted to online before I ever even arrived in the UK, and as all first-years are in the same boat as you (i.e desperate to make friends in this new environment and unusual global circumstance), I assure you people will be more than willing to link up and make friends.

Along the same vein, take some time this week to get to know your flatmates. The dynamic in your flat can sometimes make or break your year, so even if you can’t see yourself becoming best buddies with them, at least make an effort to introduce yourselves and establish some basic rapport. Hopefully, you’re living with some lovely people who you can tag along to events with, both this week and beyond – life is always better with a friend.

One last thing to remember: no one’s Freshers’ Week goes exactly the way they pictured. People seem reluctant to admit this to new students, but even in a traditional year when all of the events are on, you will have had nights where you’re too tired to go out, nights where your friends drink too much and puke, and nights where you just aren’t interested in anything going on. And the thing is, that’s OK. If I could go back in time and tell myself anything, it would be that it’s totally fine not to go full speed the entire week. There’s a lot of pressure and high expectations leading up to Freshers’, and one thing that’s particularly important for you to remember if you aren’t from Glasgow (or even the UK) is that you’re still in the adjustment period for this huge life change. You should go at your own pace, especially with the pandemic concerns to contend with.

So, make space to do all of the other things that help you feel settled in personally. Whether it’s setting aside an afternoon to Ikea-ify your flat, or taking a night out to watch Netflix in your pyjamas – whatever relaxation looks like for you, it’s just as important as making an appearance at the student unions’ events.

Please know that at times your transition may feel more overwhelming than it is to other students, as you battle homesickness and that stranger-in-a-strange-land feeling, but the truth is, adjusting to university is difficult for almost everyone. Whether home is 30 minutes or 12 hours away, this is still a new chapter in your life and your new friends are probably struggling too – so do talk to them about it, I promise it will make all of the difference.  

Now, go forth and conquer the week. We’re all rooting for you.


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