My Exchange Experience by Leopold Kellers, Germany

Alright, so my Erasmus year at Strathclyde University is ultimately over now. It was an enjoyable and informative time of my life, which I am sure I will never forget.

After all the paperwork back home in Germany had worked like a charm, I arrived at Glasgow Airport in September. The weather was bad, and that was directly a foretaste on how wet would be most of my time in Britain. But this was only a minor setback.

The first week of the semester, “Fresher’s Week”, introduced us new students to what social life was going on at university, especially the Union, an organization representing the students.  I decided to go for the skydiving club and the mountaineering club, as I was hoping to see a lot of places in Scotland this way, which worked out quite nicely for me.  Parties were also not missed out during that time, even though Erasmus students are often accused of having one single, long lasting party during their whole stay, which might partially be true for some of them.

Then the semester started and soon, everything was taking its even, orderly path that one is used to when studying.  At the first glance, the lectures appeared to be easier and less theoretically focussed than at my German university.  Instead of letting me crunch on the hard maths in assignments at my desk at home, I was rather being asked to lay out my understanding of the subject via writing essays.

However, I did find that more time-consuming than I expected.  Even in the exams, I was asked from time to time, to put some statement into context and describe what I knew about it, which I found quite surprising as our exams usually only test if one is able to solve mathematical tasks and physical problems.

But what makes a significant part of an exchange stay is the life outside of university and Scotland, especially Glasgow, has a lot to offer with respect to that!  At least after getting a grip on the local dialect.  I stayed with four Scottish girls in my flat and in the very beginning I was completely lost whenever they were talking with each other.  After two months, it got better and by the end I would claim that I was able to talk to most Glaswegians without problems.  I only gave up on bus drivers and construction workers – their pronunciation will always be beyond me.

Another thing that I will never forget is the local cuisine.  Not only, that some Scottish people consider a bowl of instant noodles and a pack of crisps a proper lunch, but also the omnipresent chip shops have brought the art of deep-frying to a maximum level of 1perfection.  One will have a hard time finding something that can not be deep-fried.  None of them would stop at burgers, chocolate bars of even a whole frozen pizza, traditionally served with chips, salt and vinegar, sometimes even topped with cheese and curry sauce.  The right accompaniment to that was a glass of IRN-BRU, a bright orange, highly addictive soft drink, which on its own might already have served me with sufficient calories for a whole day, leaving the aforementioned food aside. They did a lot of other stuff, too, which is often made from controversial ingredients (basically all slaughterhouse waste appears to be recycled there), but is incredibly tasty, like haggis or black pudding.

There were a few things, which I began to miss during the year though.  One of the most annoying was the absence of a transportation association.  Not only that one has to buy a new ticket every time on switching between train and bus, even between bus companies, of which there were plenty, I had to buy a new ticket every time I changed. Oh, and the subway is on its own again as well, of course.

Other stuff that I suddenly realized is not available everywhere, were good sausage, good beer, good bread and especially good döner kebab.  All these did exist, but tasted and felt slightly different.

I somehow did not manage to get used to each of them in a way such that I could have accepted it as a permanent replacement. Also it was not allowed to drink a beer with a friend on one of the rare sunny days outside in the park – the police would come and fine 40 quid without mercy.  And 5 minutes later one could watch them walking unhurriedly over a red light together with 15 other pedestrians.

But all this was a pretty fair price to pay considering all the completely new stuff I got to know.  An example for that was the ceilidh, a form of traditional Scottish dance.  Because most Scots seemed to be willing to dance only after having some quite impressive amount of alcohol, the overall performance was often a bit chaotic.  That fact gave the perfect opportunity to join in, even if one did not know how to do it, because no one would ever care whether I did it right or not.  With all the fast hopping and switching of partners it was a huge fun in any case, especially if one wore a kilt doing so.

Speaking of a kilt: this is a fantastic piece of clothing, and wearing it once really makes you jealous of the fact, that women can wear skirts any time they want.  Although I am pretty sure that women are rather rarely confronted with people that attempt to check if it is worn true Scotsman style (no underwear) or not.

2But if you decide to wear your kilt on the journey back home, because all the greasy Scottish food might have made you ultimately too fat to fit into your remaining trousers, then accept my advice and plan some extra time for airport security!

Another nice thing was getting into contact with the international students.  And at Strathclyde, there are a lot of them!  It results in a huge melting pot of different views and cultures.  Many of the friendships gained there directly came along with invitations for a home visit.  There were a lot of tours of Glasgow and Scotland offered especially for international students, ranging from historic sites to tourist attractions like Loch Ness and, of course, whisky distilleries.

There were also a few things in Glasgow that especially impressed me.  For example, Glaswegians were incredibly friendly and helpful.  If I just walked through the city looking confused someone would almost certainly come towards me and offer help.  It gets even better, when one is holding a map in one’s hand.  Then one would risk starting off a hand-to-hand fighting over who may tell the right direction.  And Glaswegian girls appeared to be very cold-resistant.  Even in freezing winter it was possible to watch groups of them walking home from the club, only wearing a top and a really short skirt. Barefoot!

Although in general the weather was not as bad as many pessimistic Scots claimed (cf. my flatmate: “This was the whole summer now, from now on there will be rain only!” after two nice sunny days in March), it was usually still rather wet.  That did not stop me from catching some pretty bad sunburn in the end, however.  No one back home wanted to believe that this could actually happen in Scotland.

Finally, at the end of my year, I walked the West Highland Way, a 150 kilometre long distance hike through absolutely stunning scenery.  In nice weather, this was one of the best trips I have ever done in my life, especially as it was legal to wild camp in Scotland.  The only drawback was the plague of midges in late June.  These were really evil and attempted to eat me up alive and close to nothing helped to protect from them.  But often enough I forgot about them just by enjoying the view.3

So whether you kept up reading all the way until here or just jumped forward to the last paragraph, let’s put it short: I can only recommend an exchange stay in Glasgow without any restrictions.  I for my part enjoyed it a lot and I decided to make a visit in the future again, and if it only is to climb Ben Nevis, the highest mountain, on one of the few cloud-free days, which I did not succeed to do so far.

I hope this report can be helpful to prospective international students, either those deciding if they should do it or those already preparing their stay, and of course everyone else as well.  In the case of any open questions do not hesitate to contact the office and ask for my email address!

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