School Daze

New Kid at a New School

I never had a scary first day of school. I went to the same school from the fourth grade through senior year because it was a K-12 institution. And in the fourth grade your first day of school is not that scary. I was a social kid so making friends was not very intimidating. Going to a new school your freshman year of high school is intimidating. Transferring schools in middle school is intimidating but going to the same school for nine years with the same people, the same teachers, the same building, and the same environment, is not by any means intimidating. I remember being a little nervous at the start of each year but it was more excitement to see all my favorite teachers and my peers that I grew up with. Going to college was scary. Going to college in another country was scarier. At least in America, I knew exactly what to expect in classes. I had taken college courses all through high school so I knew what to expect about the coursework, about the professors, about the structure of the class, about the technology software used, about all of it. In Scotland, I had to relearn everything. It was similar enough to where I was not completely lost, but different enough to where it took effort to learn and many observations to catch on. The following are some of the most notable observations:

  • Timetables and registration: I always knew timetables to mean the multiplication charts we were tested on in elementary school, but here you don’t use the word schedule, it’s a time table. This doesn’t just go for school, there’s bus timetables, appointment timetables, etc. My timetable consisted of two public policy classes and a law class. All classes were worth 20 credits which translates to 4 DU credits, but the schedule…sorry…timetable is complicated. For both public policy classes they are once a week for two hours. This is different from DU’s classes being twice a week for two hours. From what I’ve gathered school in the UK is most reliant on self-teaching, so they have less classes to give students time to read and learn the assigned material on their own. The students are expected to complete all out of class preparation materials and readings, which I thought was so interesting. In America, we do not trust that students will do their work on their own so we have participation grades and small quizzes to hold them accountable. That doesn’t happen here. My law class is where things get tricky. I have the class for one hour on Wednesday and then on Fridays from 9am to 10 am and then back again from 12pm to 1pm. It is so odd having a two hour break between the same class and I’m sure it is difficult for students to plan their classes in between a spread out timetable like that. However, they wouldn’t know because they don’t make their schedules. At DU, when registration opens you sign up for your classes and it’s a free for all while everyone enrolls in the classes they need to take. But, in Glasgow the registration department makes your timetable, so all you have to do is submit the classes you want to take with your first choice at the top of the list and hope you get a good schedule. This is probably very nice for the students here that are used to submitting the classes they like and receiving their schedule a couple weeks before class, but for me it was scary. It was scary to wait all Summer with no control over my enrollment, not knowing the classes I was taking and at what times. Another twist is tutorials. My law course has an additional class six Mondays out of the semester where a small group of the large 80 person class meets to discuss a problem solving activity. The problems are given to us in advance and we meet to compare our answers with a tutor (Glasgow’s equivalent to a Teacher’s Assistant). Other classes are sometimes specified as seminars and lectures where seminars are just discussions and lectures are a mix of discussions and teaching, however tutorials are the most interesting aspect of the timetable and class setup.
  • Professors: The teachers at University of Glasgow are incredibly nice. Each teacher genuinely wants to make sure the students understand and even the more strict teachers are never rude or shut down students ideas. They also do not assert their own political opinions into debates or discussions as much as American professors do. It is not uncommon to have multiple professors for a class here. In my public policy class we will have a total of five professors alternating the weekly lectures. So, one professor may teach weeks 1-3 and week 7. Another professor may only teach weeks 4 and 5 and so on. I wasn’t sure about this system at first but I have to say I actually think it is a brilliant idea. Different teachers have different teaching styles which not only helps keep students engaged because they don’t entirely know what to expect from each professor but they also help if a student is struggling to be receptive to one professor they will still have a chance to connect with the others.
  • Secondary to Tertiary Education: The transition and roles of High School and college is very different in Scotland. In America, common curriculum is taught all through High School and at the beginning of college. However, in Scotland, students begin specializing in certain education areas in high school, so by the time they reach college they are already set in a major and take just a couple common curriculum classes. This means people rarely switch their major and commonly take gap years so that they are absolutely sure of what they want to get their degree in. Law school is the most interesting course of education in the UK because instead of going to high school and then getting an undergraduate degree and then going to law school for three years, students graduate high school, study law in their undergraduate and then graduate with the ability to practice law. Thus, they receive the equivalent of a bachelors degree and a juris doctor degree in just four years of university. I am taking a contract law class while abroad which has been very insightful to the setup of law school in the UK. When talking to Glasgow students about the Law School setup versus American Law School, it seemed like we did not understand each other. It took a long conversation for us to figure out how the opposite systems worked.
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Professors Square, University of Glasgow
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12 Story Library at University of Glasgow

Trip to Edinburgh

For my birthday abroad my best friend and I took a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. It is a city just an hour away from Glasgow and is the Scotland capital. The city is bigger, more expensive, and definitely more ‘touristy’. We took the train to Edinburgh which was interesting for us. In America, I rarely use public transportation. My freshman year at DU, I took the light rail to get downtown, but once I brought my car to school, the light rail was hardly ever a form of transportation for me, However, in Glasgow, public transportation is widely used and heavily preferred. Edinburgh was the same distance from Glasgow as Colorado Springs is from Denver, yet I could never imagine taking a train to Colorado Springs, I would just drive. Not having a vehicle has forced us to use public transportation which was scary at first but easy to master and understand after a couple weeks. Train are also unreliable in Glasgow due to strikes. This may just be a current problem that is not typical for Glasgow but it seems strikes are everywhere causing cancellations and delays. It is not just with train systems either. Strikes have taken place with the post offices, garbage collector companies, airlines, and even the campus gym. To say the least, it has been hard to adjust to relying solely on public transportation, but very insightful after living in a place my whole life that relies little on buses and subway systems.

Regardless, my friend and I took the train to Edinburgh and spent the day exploring. We saw the Scot Monument and the Edinburgh Castle which are two of the most amazing structures in Scotland. Edinburgh was also the birthplace of Harry Potter so there are many historic places that J.K. Rowling either wrote her books at or inspired places/things in the Harry Potter world. There were more American fast food places like Burger King, Five Guys, and Wingstop in Edinburgh which was intriguing for us. We had afternoon tea at a cozy tea room near the Royal Mile. We ordered a ‘high tea’ experience which consisted of a pot of tea as well as an assortment of pastries and snacks. The scones were one of the most incredible pastries I have ever eaten.

We finished our adventure by eating at an Italian Restaurant that had amazing reviews. The waiters were so much fun. They were fascinated that we were from America and had lots of fun teasing us and asking about study abroad. When they found out it was my birthday they gave me a free dessert with a candle and sang me happy birthday in Italian. In America, I used to feel so awkward and embarrassed when restaurants would sing me happy birthday, but for some reason I felt to comfortable and truly grateful to the restaurant staff for making me feel special. The best part of our dinner was when we tipped the waiter. We tipped him 10 pounds on a 50 pound check, so the standard American 20% tip, and the man was appalled. He gasped at the money and with wide eyes tried to not accept the tip. I explained to the man that in America we tip well especially when we receive good service. I told him about my serving experience and he finally understood and took the money. He promised to split the money with his coworkers which I thought was awfully kind and with gratitude he escorted us to the door and gave a happy goodbye. It’s the little things that make me happy, so even though it is amazing that I can say I turned 20 in Edinburgh, Scotland exploring monuments, castles, old shops, and tea rooms, my favorite part of the day was making the waiter’s night with just a 10 pound bill.

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View from Edinburgh Castle
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Scot Monument in Edinburgh, Scotland
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Tolbooth Kirk, renamed “The Hub” located on Royal Mile in Edinburgh

Leaving on a Jet Plane…

I have moved 12 times in my life. 10 of those moves were before I turned fifteen. Colorado to Montana to Idaho back to Colorado and over again, but none of that prepared me for moving abroad to Glasgow, Scotland. I came to Glasgow with my best friend. We did not plan it that way, we just have the same major, and Glasgow was our top choice program. This gave me a sense of stability as I prepared to depart from Colorado. I have never lived away from my family before; I stayed in state for college for that very reason. I knew it would be hard and I was afraid. Maybe that’s why I procrastinated packing until two days before I left. I feared being homesick. Little did I know, you don’t get a choice of being homesick or not.

Everyone came to the airport to send me off. My mom, my mom’s boyfriend, my grandma, and my boyfriend. We fit as many people as possible into Nana’s Toyota Rav 4. I tried not to cry the whole way to the airport but every few minutes a tear would slip out. I rushed through the goodbyes as fast as possible trying and failing to keep it together. I was shaking as I watched their car drive away. I was still sad as my best friend, and I made our way through security, but I didn’t understand why. I remember watching the sunset as I sat at my gate thinking to myself “I had already said my goodbyes so why was I still upset?” The plane ride from Denver to London was 9 hours. We arrived at 11:30am and the first thing I noticed when we flew in was the cars on the highway, they were all driving on the left side of the road. It was something small, but it looked so funny to me. Due to British Airways strikes our flights got switched around a month before we left, and we got stuck with an 8-hour layover at London Heathrow Airport. We got food and took turns sleeping while we waited for the flight. I watched the sunset at the gate again, and I wondered if I was going to feel this sadness every time I watched the sun go down. By the time we arrived in Glasgow, we were exhausted. It was 11:30pm when we got into our flat. The whole building was quiet. We were so tired but due to the 7-hour time change, there was no way we could sleep. We ordered Domino’s pizza (of all things) using a coupon we got in our welcome package and began settling in. I remember going to sleep that night I felt odd. I was safe and I was comfortable, but I was sad. I wondered if I was going to feel homesick the whole time I was in Glasgow.

Being the problem solver I am, my mind immediately went to how I could leave early from the program. During finals weeks there were no classes so maybe I could go home sooner than planned, maybe I could change my flight, maybe I could change my boyfriend’s flight so that he could visit me sooner, maybe I couldn’t do this. These thoughts and emotions lasted over a week. I felt physically sick too. I was dizzy and nauseous all the time. I was tired at every hour of the day even after the jet lag wore off. I had headaches and it seemed like this sickness was not getting better. After the third or fourth day of complaining to my best friend she said it was all in my head. I was so offended. Why would she tell me I was making this stuff up? I really did not feel good. But after thinking about it and doing a quick google search I realized she was right. I was homesick.

I was trying to ignore my feelings because I thought it was so stupid for a 20-year-old college student to be homesick less than 7 days after leaving home but that was the truth. Recognizing my feelings was the cure. I remember the conversation I had with myself. I had to tell myself that I deserved this experience. I have worked hard in school and worked hard to financially afford going abroad. I reminded myself that I can do hard things and I am brave enough for this challenge. Once I accepted my homesickness it became easier to manage. After about two weeks I was so intrigued with exploring Glasgow and the surrounding area that the melancholy had worn off. School started and we began taking trips to places around Scotland and Europe making time fly by. My advice to those worried about being away from home is to accept those emotions before you leave. I fooled myself by thinking that after the goodbyes at DIA, everything would be fine. It takes time and a good pep talk before you feel better. The homesickness doesn’t last forever, and the more accepting you are the easier it will be. This may seem like a sad story but it’s not. I am so grateful that I have something in my life that is hard to say goodbye to and they will be right there waiting for me when I get back. Homesickness is not a bad thing, it’s a reminder to appreciate the blessings of family and friends. Everyone needs to be humbled like that occasionally.

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University of Glasgow Campus
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Glasgow West End District near the University of Glasgow

Pieces of advice to prepare for arrival:

  • Get a UK phone plan: I can’t speak for people who are studying in places other than the UK but Giff Gaff is a must. Phone plans in the UK range from £10-£20 a month. My best friend and I suspended our Verizon phone plan in The United States for three months (That is the longest you can suspend it) and ordered sim cards from a mobile company called Giff Gaff. My card was £15 which got me 30 GB of Data in the UK and 5 GB of roaming data in European Union countries. This plan also had unlimited texting and calling. Verizon abroad plans are about $300 per month with strict limits on data, texting, and calling so this saved a lot of money. All we had to do was switch out the sim cards at the London airport during our layover and we were good to go. Just don’t lose your US carrier sim card, you’ll need that when you return!
  • Pack light: There’s no way you will be able to know everything you are going to need while abroad and checking bags is expensive. You will also buy a lot of things once abroad like medicine, clothes, beauty products, hair products, souvenirs, kitchenware, cleaning supplies, etc. My best advice is to focus on clothes and leave behind the shoes. How many times are you really going to wear those boots? When you arrive don’t get carried away with bathroom products, kitchenware, and cleaning supplies. You can’t bring back all those pots, pans and wine openers so stick to the basics.
  • Buy a crockpot: One fantastic investment that my roommate and I made was a small £20 crockpot. It made dinners so easy. There are tons of cheap and easy crockpot recipes that make lots of leftovers. We used our crockpot at least 3-4 times a week which saved us so much money in eating out.
  • Don’t ship anything: Due to some harsh procrastination, I did not go to the doctor until three days before I left for Glasgow. When the doctor said I needed new glasses and contacts I was stressed because there was no way I was going to get them ordered and delivered before I left. I didn’t have my UK address yet, so my mom and I planned for her to ship my contacts to me when they were delivered to our apartment. They were just contacts so they can’t be that expensive. We were wrong. For an envelope with a three-month supply of contacts plus shipping insurance, UPS charged nearly $200. This already hurt our wallets but then when they were delivered the courier charged me another $90. So, you may say to yourself while packing “In the worst case we can ship this to me.” This is a big mistake. I could have waited and ordered my contacts when I got to Glasgow, but hindsight is always 20/20.

The Summer leading up to my departure from the United States I would tell people that I was studying abroad for three and a half months, and it seemed like every time they would ask me the same question: “Are you excited?”. And every time I would nod my head yes and say, “I’m so excited, it is going to be so much fun.” But I always felt a little fake every time I gave that response. I actually wanted to say, “I’m excited, but I’m nervous, scared, and anxious too.” I always felt like that was not the right answer. But now I don’t think there is a right answer. It sounds cliché and cheesy but it’s true. I learned that it’s okay to be afraid if it does not confine you. Studying abroad is brave. It may come easier to some people than others but at the end of the day no matter who you are, it is courageous because you are choosing to challenge yourself in every way possible. So, whether your struggle is homesickness, not being able to eat fast food for lunch every day, making new friends, taking classes in a different language, or just not knowing the name of the street you live on, know that all it takes is a little courage. There is always fear, but the response is what matters.

This photo was taken on my birthday six days after we arrived to Scotland. This is the Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, Scotland.