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


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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Sunset and Daybreak – Our Journey Begins

Introducing one of our lucky bloggers for the fall 2016, Thomas Enck will be sharing stories from his program in Salzburg, Austria and all over Europe! Enjoy!

T. Time: I

“May our travels carry us over many seas and to many shores, but may we never let them carry us from who we’re meant to be.”
– W.G.

It’s a strange feeling, having the sunset send you off at the beginning of a flight only to look forward to a warm greeting from the sunrise on the other side. These are the clichés that writers dream about; the ending of a chapter and the beginning of another, entering a new era, so on and so forth.

To tell you the truth I’m still a little peeved with the 5-hour delay that we had at the beginning this flight. And that’s what made the extended allegory possible in the first place.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the beginning of T. Time – a blog that will cover a small town, Colorado kid gallivanting throughout Europe for 4+ months with good friends new and old. But by no means is he the focal point of these tales.

Obligatory fair warning based on the name: if you were looking for a blog covering the Masters, or Golf, or Bubba Watson’s Oakley Jetpack (it’s a thing – Google it) you have, somewhat regrettably, come to the wrong place.

Currently your guide on this journey is nowhere near any of that. Rather, he is sitting in an Icelandair Jet which happens to be named after Hekla; a volcano that was thought to be the entrance to Hell in the Middle Ages. Charming name, I’m sure you’d agree. Just the plane you would want to fly you over the North Atlantic. That being said, the egregious delay, the temporary annoyance, not even the off-putting reference to the lair of Lucifer where able to match the unbridled curiosity, anticipation and yes, trepidation, of your metaphorical pilot – a man who has never set foot off the North American Continent.

The reason is fairly simple, and it is what we will cover over the next several months. Coming of age in the world in which we live into is an exceedingly difficult. Full of moments of paralyzing fear and insane bravery, insatiable love and inconsolable loss, destabilizing confusion and concrete certainty one after the other. We are expected to know who we are and step into the world fully formed before we ourselves know the answer to so many questions.

Thus we must learn, and to do so we must leap into the unknown. We must experience what life has to offer in the lessons taught by the circumstance around us. Maybe not in an aircraft named after Hell’s gates, but I digress.
I am not an incredible person by any means. In fact, I would say that I am average in most every aspect. But I would love to take you on this journey with me. Within the experiences that we have on a regular basis there is so much to learn.

It would be my pleasure if you would join me – metaphorically of course. The plane wasn’t delayed long enough for you to make it to D.I.A. after this was posted, even if it may have felt as such. The narratives to be told will be cut with humor and hilarity; pondering, questioning, and hopefully minimal pandering. All will be bursting with colorful characters and absurd and thought provoking accounts. Through these stories we can explore what it means to be young – be it literally or the young of heart – in a world that is so full of uncertainties. Dreams, ideals, aspirations and beliefs, all and more will be covered in due time through the medium of experience: across the entirety of Europe no less.

The honor would be mine to serve as your symbolic flight attendant on this journey. You, however, are the protagonist and primary traveler in your odyssey of self-discovery.

Should you choose to join, you have my word that our plane will not be delayed. In fact, we’re ahead of schedule. In addition, you can name the plane whatever you would like – Though may I humbly suggest something mellow, such as Basket of Puppies or Edelweiss. All you have to do is say the word and we’ll come roaring out of the dawn into the unknown.

Who knows. Maybe this daybreak it isn’t just a tired metaphor after all. It could truly be the start of something new; but there’s only one way to find out.

-Your meek conductor and Watchword Guide, T. R. E.