Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

International Orientation and Fresher’s Week

To keep with the theme of being a week or two behind schedule, I’ll give a quick update on my goings on the first couple of weeks I spent here in Glasgow.  After my homestay weekend you read about previously, we boarded up and headed off to our homes for the next four months.  We picked up  Deirdra on our way into the city and she directed the bus driver to our respective university dorms, showing us all the useful places we might need to go during our time in Glasgow, ie grocery stores, book stores, popular restaurants and pubs etc along the way.   We had to make three different stops at different residences halls, dropping Kellin, Jenna and Janna at the Murano Street flats, Sam at McClay Residences and Johnathan, Will, Sarah, Michelle, Krista and myself at the Queen Margaret flats.

I will go ahead and say now that university housing is very different than in the states, or at least my college back home.  At Lafayette everyone lives on campus in dorms, sharing a room with a roommate or two unless they live in Greek housing or are a senior and live in one of the college owned off-campus houses.  However, here most students live in flats, or apartments, of 5 to 10 people all with a shared kitchen area and single rooms with, in many cases such as mine in Queen Margaret, an ensuite bathroom.  All of these residence halls are an average of about 20 min from campus by foot.  This is very different for me coming from a small liberal arts school where you can walk the entire length of the campus in roughly 10 min.  Also, a large percentage of first year students or “freshers” live at home and commute, many living within Glasgow.

Needless to say, Will and I, who are sharing a flat, were lucky enough to meet a British dental student, also by the name of Will, living in our flat for the summer who was kind enough to show us some of the shortcuts to campus.  Will has since moved out to another building within the Queen Margaret Residences to fulfill his duties as a Head Resident, equivalent to an RA, but we have kept in touch since those first few days he was living with us and he has even invited us over for a home cooked meal which we graciously accepted.  Anyways, back to Queen Margaret.  Here are a few pictures I took of my room before moving in.  I definitely won’t be missing the luxury of this room and my own private bathroom when I return to Lafayette in the spring….

The next morning, Monday, we began our International Student Orientation with the University of Glasgow which gave us much the same information we had received from the Butler staff the week before, but with a heavier emphasis on specific things we needed to do for the University, see “Stressing Out…” for further details.  Although slightly repetitive in terms of material presented, the first day was a great way to meet other international students.  There were 250 students from around the world who had come to study at the uni.  Over 50% were from the US and I think the second largest showing was from Canada with a close third coming from China.  Some of the more interesting countries represented were Norway, Belgium, Chile, Iraq, Latvia and a variety of others.

After a day of orientation Will and I  explored the beautiful campus for a while to get our bearings.

Kelvingrove Art Museum behind the campus.
Back of the main campus building and the famous University of Glasgow Tower.
West Quadrangle of the Main Campus
University Tower
The Cloisters. This picture does not do it justice.

We then headed to the cheapest grocery store Deirdra had told us about, Iceland, to stalk up our empty kitchen cupboards.   However, we soon realized when we got back we had nothing to cook or eat our food with.  Luckily British Will had some pots and pans and a few extra plates and forks to share with us until we could get our own.  So the next day after our Supermarket Session, again see “Stressing Out…”, American Will and I took the subway into Glasgow City Center to go to Argos, a local department store, for some pots and cutlery.

I am starting a new paragraph here because I need to do Argos justice.  Argos is hands down the most unique and cool store I have ever been to.  When you walk in, there are tables all around the with huge 1000+ page magazines that contain virtually every product that you could ever want, ranging from HD big screen TVs to baby cribs to bikes to sheets to, you guessed it, cooking starter sets!  So the way the store works is that you search through the catalogues and find the item you are looking for.  You then find it’s specific product code, write it down and check an “in-stock” machine to see if its, well, in stock.  After you have ensured your item is available you take your codes to the checkout, pay for the item, get a reception number and a pick up location and are directed to a waiting area.  Once your reception number pops up on the screen you go to your specified pick up location and VUA LA! there is your item.

Naturally, Will and I being the penny-pinching students we are, picked out the cheapest set, 20 pounds or “quid”for short, for  two frying pans, a medium sized pot, spatula, serving spoon, bottle/can-opener, and two sets of silverware; just what we needed.  Since we still needed plates and bowls we hit up the dollar store for some first-class metal camping bowls and bought a pair of antique plates off our penny-wise friend Kellin who had purchased a five person antique dinette set for a mere 5 quid.  So now we finally had all we needed to feed ourselves and our cooking adventures began. But that is a blog for another day….

As part of our International Student Orientation we also had the opportunity to partake in a few “extra-curricular” activities.  Over the summer, Will and I signed up for all of them and luckily most of our newly made friends had as well.  One such activity was a bus tour of Glasgow which we figured would be a great way to get a broader sense of the city as a whole.  The tour did just that, however it was not conducive for a “sightseeing picture taker” such as myself, so pardon the following photos for not being the highest in quality.

Uni Campus from a distance.
George Square
Glasgow Cathedral in the Old City
The oldest house in Glasgow
The St. Nicholas Hospital- Founded by Bishop Andrew Muirhead circa 1471
Buchanan St- Home to some of the best shopping in the UK
The “Armadillo” Concert Hall

We also had the option later that day to go on a walking tour of the uni and the surrounding area, but since we had already been living there for a few days and had pretty much made our own mental maps of the area, we decided to forgo that and opted for a nap instead.  That evening we had a planned social event with other international students in one of the large halls in the main building of the uni, aka the really cool Hogwarts looking part of the school.  It was a great place to meet people to go out with later in the evening to socialize with.

Again, I will take a short sojourn from my narrative to give you a little cultural background.  Scottish social life can probably be summed up in one simple word, pub.  Although it may sound inappropriate that I am saying this, Scots admit to the fact that they “don’t measure a man by his size or character or skills on a football pitch, but rather how much he can drink” (a direct quote from the police officer who came to our Butler orientation to discuss safety).  He of course was joking and I am exaggerating slightly and by no means insinuating that all Scots are drunkards, but it is a well known fact, and actually somewhat of a real social issue, that alcohol is a very pervasive presence in the Scottish social culture.

It is not uncommon for a Scottish businessman or doctor or politician to finish work and have a pint of beer or a wee dram of whiskey with his mates down at the pub.  On the other end of the age spectrum, it is very common for young adults to go out to a pub most evenings and socialize before heading out to a club or other nighttime destination.  Students are able to do this because of the very different academic structure I mentioned earlier in my “Getting Oriented” blog.  Because much of the university curriculum is based in self-learning, most students spend most of their day either in class or in the library studying or researching, leaving their evenings free for socializing.

Just a few blocks from the uni is a very well known street, Ashton Lane, which is populated with a whole manner of pubs, clubs, and restaurants.  It has tons of character, a cobblestone road, old fashioned pub signs, strings of lights hanging across the road, and an overwhelmingly friendly and inviting atmosphere.  Unfortunately I don’t have a picture, but I will get one soon.  Needless to say, we spent most of our nights exploring the hot spots and meeting a variety of diverse and interesting people.

On the Friday of our orientation week we had the opportunity to go on a guided day trip for ten pounds. Will and I signed up for a trip to the Glengoyne Whiskey Distillery and Stirling Castle.  So on Friday morning we pulled ourselves out of bed and piled onto a bus of forty or so other students and headed north.  After about a half an hour we arrived at the very quaint and unsuspecting Glengoyne distillery.

Glengoyne Distillery

Mere minutes after getting off the bus we were handed a sample of their 10 year old single malt.  It’s five o’clock somewhere right….?  After our dram, we split up into smaller groups and took a tour.  When I had travelled to Scotland a few years ago with my family I went on a few whiskey tours so I had seen alot of the things before, however it was still interesting to relearn the process of making Scotland’s most famous export.

I won’t go into all of the details as this blog is already approaching epic proportions, but the main ideas are as follows.  The main players: barley, water, yeast. Step 1: Malting.  In this step the grains are turned into sugars by allowing them to germinate in water above a heat source creating malt.  Step 2: Mashing.  The malt is mixed with water, mashed up and heated, allowing the sugars to dissolve creating liquid wort which is extracted from the mash.  Step 3: Brewing. The sugary wort is then transferred into huge wooden barrels to which yeast is added to stimulate fermentation of the sugar into alcohol creating a beerlike liquid called wash.  Step 4: Distillation.  The wash is then transferred to large stills that heat the wash to high temp, boiling off the alcohol and then recondensing it.  The wash is distilled twice and only a certain middle percentage is kept.  Before the final step, the liquid is reduced from an alcohol percentage of around 80-90 to roughly 65.  Step 5: Maturation.  The liquid alcohol is then placed in casks that were previously used to age any range of spirit (sherry, rum, etc) and the liquid takes on the flavor characteristics of the wood of the cask, the previous spirit in it, as well as “the wind scents and flavors of the particular area”.  Not until the liquid has aged for at least three years can it be called whiskey.  Generally whiskeys are aged anywhere from 10 to 40 years with the quality and price of the whiskey increasing with each additional year for roughly 2% of the volume is lost every year due to evaporation (or as our guide said, “it is the whiskey tax paid to the angels”).  Once the whiskey has reached it’s desired age, it is once again watered down to an alcoholic percentage of approx 45%.

Model barrels at Glengoyne
Pond and waterfall where all the water for the whiskey comes from.
Inside the distillery.  The stills are on the right.
900 Pound bottle of whiskey from the Isle of Skye, aged 50 years.

After our tour of the distillery we headed off to Stirling Castle.  Since we were a little late in arriving, we missed the tour we were scheduled to take so we were given four hours to roam the castle and surrounding grounds to our content.

Stirling Castle from the road
Entrance to the castle.
Outer walls of the castle.
Great Hall

View of the William Wallace Monument from Stirling Castle

After a long day of whiskey tasting and castle exploring we made it back to Glasgow and an early night to bed, thus ending our International Orientation week, but setting the stage for one of the most exhausting weeks of my life, Fresher’s Week.

Fresher’s Week is a week devoted to the first year students of the university.  The best way I can describe  it is a glorified party week sponsored by the school.  Each fresher has the opportunity to buy a “Fresher’s Pass” that gets them into all of the events or special discounts at local clubs, and as international students we were given the opportunity to join in the fun.  Every day, student organizations and local clubs flocked to campus to hand out coupons and flyers advertising different events happening that day or night.  There was never a dull moment and it would take pages to tell all about all of the things I was able to participate in during the week so I will give just a few highlights.

Arguably the best part was all of the free food.  If you looked hard enough you were able to find at least one place or event that had free food, so naturally that was one of our top priorities.  We attended various student organization bbqs, picked up free pizza from Pizza Hut while also entering to win our height in pizza, and attended a cultural potluck put on by the International Society of which we are all now members.  The International Society is the largest and most active student group on campus with over 500 members from all over the world who participate in a whole range free and promotional parties and relaxing events and pre-planned trips around Scotland.

We also attended a couple of live shows.  The first of which was a stand-up comedian who was notorious for heckling the crowd, and of course we were the lucky Americans he picked on for about half the show.  However, I will say that this was actually one of the more memorable cultural experiences I have had here.  Although he spoke in English, he had an incredibly thick accent and when he talked quickly or dropped his tone for comedic effect, I completely missed the punchline because I couldn’t understand what it was he was saying.  Also, not being from the UK we missed out on alot of the slang and social idiosyncracies that he was poking fun at.  The other live show we attended was a comedic hypnotist.  I had seen a similar show at my college orientation and really wanted to be hypnotized this time, but I failed the initial test.  Apparently I am too logical and independent to be put under the spell of another person.  Although I wasn’t able to be hypnotized, a fair few definitely were and were soon convinced they were the Queen of England or Santa’s little helper or glued to a chair.

And of course we couldn’t fully experience Fresher’s Week without partaking in the nighttime festivities. At the University of Glasgow there are two student unions, the Queen Margaret Union (QMU) and the Glasgow University Union (GUU) which are essentially huge buildings that house bars and clubs and host student run events, sort of like a big frat/sorority/student government organization all rolled into one.    Every night during Fresher’s Week the two unions competed to get the most number of students at their union and we split our time between the two.

My favorite event at the QMU was a Headphone Disco.  Sounds interesting, right? Well it was.  The basic concept is as follows:  At the door everyone is given a set of wireless headphones that have two different listening channels that correspond to the music being played by two different djs.  If you don’t like what one dj is playing you switch the channel to the other.  It was sort of an eerie feeling seeing a huge group of people jamming out, and then removing your headphones and it being almost silent.  I say almost silent because what it really turned into was a contest between the djs to have more people listening to their station than the other, and the way they determined that was by how loudly people were singing along to the song they were playing.  It was a really fun and interesting experience I won’t soon forget.

Headphone Disco at the QMU

At the GUU the craziest night was hands down the Foam Party.  The club was packed with people in t-shirts and shorts or swimsuits, rocking out to great music and being blasted with a huge foam cannon that created a three foot layer of foam that coated the entire floor.

Foamless party at The Hive, club in the GUU.  I didn’t bring my camera to the foam party for fear of ruining it.

Needless to say the first two weeks in Glasgow were action packed and full of memories I will never forget.  The hardest part was getting back into work mode after two weeks of relaxation and partying.  But I have, and am now settling into more of a routine and finally starting to feel like I am a student abroad, rather than just a tourist.

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