“The Experience”

Something I find fascinating about American culture is the need to have “The ___ Experience.” High school. College. Dating. First day/week/month/job/apartment. Study abroad. These Experiences™ are well-documented in books, movies, TV shows, social media, so most of us know what the life we’re “supposed to have” looks like, from Little League and princess dresses to a two-story house with a Golden Retriever. No matter how skeptical one might be, it’s very hard to be an American now and not have at least a fragment of The American Dream tucked away somewhere in the subconscious.

As an introvert, an HSP, a shy person, and a girl with curly hair and glasses, I don’t fit the American ideal. My little rebellious heart doesn’t want to fit the American ideal, it just wants me to be me. I’ve gone my own way (with varying degrees of success) as far back as I can remember, planting my flag in a mountain of books and declaring it my own. But aha – books are a very good, very sneaky (or not) way of talking about The Experience. And so, despite my efforts to turn off the path of the great superhighway of the American Dream, I often find myself on autopilot, merging back on.

And it never feels right when I merge back on. I’m like a mountain bike with a bunch of mud and rocks in my tires suddenly trying to keep up with a horde of sleek commuter bikes. I’m bumping along and I feel very out of place – which is good, because I am. I belong wandering around the mountains (very slowly) instead of zipping from place to place. Zipping around is great – I’m just not built for it.

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Analogies aside, I have my little being that loves walking slowly and soaking things in, and I grew up in fast, experiential culture. And that gets me here to the country I’ve wanted to visit since I learned that castles were real, but somewhere along the way my childhood dream and adult curiosity got muddled in with the idea that I am A College Student™ and I’ve got to have The Study Abroad Experience™.

What I would do here for me and what I would do for The Experience look very different. Briefly, for me I wanted to take some European-style lecture classes, wander around the countryside and the ruins and the old bits of town, and go to music things. What I felt a study abroad student should do here is madly finish classwork to clear up time, leap-frog around Europe every weekend, and join a bunch of adventurous clubs.

I found myself – surprise, surprise – alone in a café, writing and people watching, and realized I was vaguely dissatisfied. Why? I wanted to be doing something more. What? …something. Why? Because I’d compared my list of “experiences” with those of other students and my list was much, much shorter and much less dramatic.

Most days, I wake up early. I go to the gym or run along the River Kelvin, make a cup of tea, and go to my lectures. I’ll spend the afternoon studying, either in my flat, at a café, or in the GU Catholic Association building. Evenings, I go to theological talks or choir rehearsals. It’s a comfortable, calm routine, I like it, and it leaves room for the handful of jaunts I’ve done outside of Glasgow and my many forays into shops, museums, and parks.

My routine is not glamorous. And, unlike the rest of the international students, it seems, I have yet to venture outside of Scotland. I’m definitely not having The Experience. But, as I’m coming to realize, the normal study abroad experience is not for me. It never was, and I used to know that. Realizing it again felt like the sun was coming out (a big deal in gray, dreich Glasgow).

My realization also gave me permission to recognize the experience that I am having. By spending so much time on my own, I’m growing in self-knowledge and self-advocacy. By staying in Scotland, not only am I taking care of myself, I’m learning about the country in depth. By focusing on my studies and tours of museums and ruins, I’m gaining a rich, nuanced knowledge of the last two thousand years of European history with a focus on Glasgow’s West End. I’m having my own experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.


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 Procrastination and Labradors

The longer I go without finishing this blog, the funnier it gets. I started it almost two weeks ago and then left it alone in my documents folder. Fortunately, I’m not alone in my imperfection – procrastination seems to be pretty universal, according to my extensive accidental research that I’ve done while actually procrastinating. Because obviously a better cure for procrastination than actually finishing my blog post is reading five books on procrastination and then cleaning the kitchen because I can’t start anything else until I’ve written a treatise on how I’m going to beat my procrastination.

I think I’m allergic to starting anything until either a) I know it’s gonna be great or b) THE DEADLINE IS TOMORROW. Option B happens 95% of the time, and deadlines are the only reason I’ve done the majority of the things I can put on a school application or a resumé. The other 5% of the time never. Happens. Instead, this weird thing happens where I’m totally unsure about how The Thing will turn out but I do it anyway. That is the reason I’ve finished writing novels, have a massive stash of my drawings and paintings back home, and am on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

A few weeks ago, on a Tuesday, I realized that I had a free weekend coming up. I’ve already spent several weeks squirrelled away in my flat, pretending to do homework but actually reading, cleaning, or cooking. My primary form of exploration has been finding new cafés to sit in and actually do homework. Tuesday, I agonized over what I should do – I hadn’t planned anything, should I just stay home again and wait for a better weekend? No, absolutely not. I came here to see Scotland, not just the inside of one flat. But what to do? A grand solo adventure up to Inverness? A hike around Loch Lomond? A weekend in Aberdeen? Or stay in Glasgow and just go to a museum?

Luckily, I wasn’t alone in a hidey-hole in a tea shop when I had this moment. I was in my flat, with friends who pulled me back into reality. No, a giant solo trip isn’t a good idea when just going grocery shopping wipes me out, but it’s time to adventure a little more. I’d already been to Edinburgh for a day trip, maybe it would be good to go there again so I’m not as overwhelmed. But this time, think about going overnight – that way I’ve done it and I can go a little farther next time. Within half an hour, I had a friend from the RCS to travel with, a return train ticket and an AirBnB booked for Friday night.

I was terrified. I felt underprepared, I had no events to go to, I had no idea how to use the public transportation, and I didn’t even know where I was going to go to dinner. (priorities, right?) It didn’t matter, I’d bought the tickets and refused to waste the money. So I did some Googling and found an article on Edinburgh by Alexander McCall Smith. Said article suggested canal walks and delicatessens – much more my speed than battling the crowds to pay £18 to get into Edinburgh Castle.

The trip was gloriously imperfect. I packed my backpack, proceeded to accidentally soak it in the tiny RCS bathroom, and hopped on the train with not one but three other musicians, complete with harp and fiddle. I couldn’t get into my AirBnB, so I had to find a café with free WiFi so I could look up the check-in instructions again. I found the check-in instructions (I’d been using the wrong key) but I also found a café with a designated overly affectionate Labrador on duty and tablet made by the owner’s mum. I went to the Italian delicatessen alone, found a restaurant in the back, and ate dinner there alone – spending an hour over a wonderfully rich, smooth chocolate torte. I then met up with my fiddler friend and we went to a Scottish music session in a pub on the Royal Mile.

After my beautiful anti-procrastination trip, I came home and proceeded to procrastinate my essay for the next week. In the end, it doesn’t matter how many blogs you read (or write!) about beating procrastination, how many plans you make, or how good you are at the theory of not procrastinating anymore. It matters that you decide to act now, with the acceptance of all the resources that are and are not at your disposal.

I know I’m not going to start a revolution of thought or write the most profound Thing ever to exist. I know that in many ways, my essays, travels, and interactions will be very, very average. I’m still going to try to be exceptional – I don’t think it’s possible to turn off my “GIVE 200%!!!” switch. But it’s a heck of a lot better to give a disorganized 80% than to give 0% by never doing the Thing at all.


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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