Gallus Alice?

Bin your crisp bag and ‘mon in, because we’re going to learn a new dialect today. Academically speaking, Glasgow patter is the Scots dialect spoken in Glasgow. Practically speaking, it functions as Not English to my American ears. Even though I have to ask Glaswegians to repeat themselves three or four times, I find every new term fascinating.

“Gallus” is a Scots adjective, the last in a long slideshow presented by a helpful professor at our welcome talk. Ages ago, he said, to do something gallus was to be seeking the gallows. In modern days, the connotation is more positive. To be gallus is to be daring, to do something not outrageous and illegal but edgy and brave.

A picture accompanied every preceding term on the slideshow, but the screen for “gallus” was blank. This, he said, was because he wanted to apply the term to us. We, the students spending a semester in a foreign country, are gallus.

At the time, I wasn’t feeling particularly daring. I’d entered the “cultural confrontation” stage, or EVERYTHING IS WEIRD AND I WANT A NAP. In the last week, the shock has worn off a bit, I’ve figured out how to cross the street, and I have a far better understanding of the daring of studying abroad.

In the past week, I have:

  • Managed to enroll in classes (despite the process involving five days, several emails, and many time conflicts)
  • Gone grocery shopping (again)
  • Braved my first giant lectures
  • Run five miles along the River Kelvin
  • Gone to my first cèilidh

My ears are ringing from the many accents I’ve encountered, and I’ve only run into a handful of Americans. I am confused and don’t know where or even what everything is. I’ve relearned how to read street signs and pass people on the sidewalk, and every time I relearn something simple gives me the feeling of stepping off a curb I didn’t know was there.

It is kind of stressful and rather exhausting, and I am a little homesick, but that’s nothing compared to what a glorious, eye-opening adventure this is. For one thing, I’ve planned and dreamed and schemed for years to go to the British Isles. I’m now smack dab in the middle of what feels like a Doctor Who episode, and a mere hop, skip, and a jump away from the green hills and ruined castles of the legends that are told to the accompaniment of skirling bagpipes.

Strangely, the glamour of it isn’t what I treasure most about right here, right now. Rather, I treasure the aforementioned mess of confusion. Why am I so grateful for the fact that I can’t find baking soda in any shop? Because it makes this real. Rather than floating around in a dream, I’m actually living and growing.

More importantly, my confusion has clarified just how difficult life is for the international students back at DU. I’d have classmates who didn’t know about Walgreen’s, or who asked me to explain things like how to check out a book from the library. I took these nuggets of knowledge for granted and didn’t understand why my peers from France, Pakistan, and Taiwan were so confused.

Now, I get it. I’ve walked the mile in their proverbial shoes. We international students don’t have to figure out just a new campus map, we have to learn everything from scratch. Yes, we get the glamour of seeing a new country, and it’s awesome. But we have to live here. We are lonely and confused and stuck in a foreign place for the next three months. We have no choice but to learn on our feet.

We are travelers. Our massive undertaking of studying in a new country is truly gallus, and we’re going to take advantage of it. We are going to see the sights, explore the coffee shops and museums, but also make this place our home.

Just tell me how the subway works first.

Alice Major


Alice Major is studying at the University of Glasgow in Glasgow, Scotland. She is a double major, focusing mostly on music and adding history because history is cool. Study abroad is Alice’s first time out of the country, and she hopes to come home in one piece and with a wicked Scottish accent.

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