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

SCOTLAND – UNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW, 2018 FALL

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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On Culture Shock and Coffee Shops

In Denver, one of my favorite things to do is go discover new coffee shops. I’ll order a mocha or a latte and sit down, planning something or other and just observing. It’s a tame form of exploration. I know there’s a good chance of the menu being on a blackboard, the payment being via Square, and the tables being just the right size for a laptop and a notebook. The only unknowns are the baristas, the menu specifics, the decor, and my fellow patrons, and I can manage these unknowns.

I moved to Denver in 2016. Until then, my hometown of 3,000 was my whole world, and it took me until the middle of my sophomore year at DU to feel comfortable crossing the streets. With Denver’s multi-lane streets and its population that seemed to take ignoring each other on the streets to an art form, cafés were one of the few things that made sense there. The culture shock took weeks to wear off.

Plane View

I caught my first glimpse of Scotland on Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. British Summer Time. Our plane descended through the clouds into the greenest hills I’ve ever seen and took us over the edge of Glasgow. From the air, it seemed picturesque. I could see myself spending the next four months picking up nuggets of culture and storing them in my travel treasure chest.

The plane deposited me onto an alien planet.

Once I stood on the pavement, the picturesque city became entirely too much. They drive on the left side of the street. Sidewalks are asphalt or cobblestone and irregular. The speed limit signs say “twenty’s plenty.” People say “cheers” as they walk out of shops, which line the streets instead of sitting in their own tidy buildings. The phrase “Scottish water” is everywhere from trucks to teabags. There is moss everywhere. The aforementioned shops sit directly under three or four stories of apartment buildings – flats – which all look very old. Every safety poster tells me to have a separate chopping board for meats. Cafés offer lower prices for “take away” items.

I expected that I would find much of Glasgow uncomfortable and unfamiliar, but I did not expect the immediate paucity of familiar things. For the last four days, the things I held on to during my transition to Denver simply have not existed. From the moment I stepped off the airplane, I have been in what the OIE’s Canvas module “Culture Shock” describes as “cultural confrontation.” For my own purposes, I renamed it “EVERYTHING IS WEIRD AND I WANT A NAP.”

This is a normal stage of adjustment, one I saw in international students at DU and see in my fellow adventurers at UofG. They all seem unflappable and are acquiring UK SIM cards and frying pans with great capability. All of the advice I remembered about culture shock was that you should throw yourself into activities and meet people. They all seem to be doing that very well. I am not – I am very much flapped and 90% of my brain is off yelling about pound coins.

My sane remainder realized that I’m suffering from simple overwhelm. I found a notepad and made a grocery list, then dragged my butt out of my comfortable flat to a nearby coffee shop. I ordered a latte (£2.70 and the change came in the form of two coins, a ten pence and a twenty pence) and sat down to watch the cars go by on the wrong side of the street.


Alice Major

SCOTLAND – UNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW, 2018 FALL

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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