What I wish I knew a Year Ago

I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic today. Yesterday I had my last postgrad class and today I finished up my internship. All that stands between me and a Master’s degree is a few essay and about five months. Oh yeah and a dissertation.

But with finishing a milestone in my graduate studies, I started thinking about how far I’ve come from this time last year. I still can’t believe I left everything to up and move to another country. And boy are there a lot of things I wish I knew this time last year when I was planning this move. Just recently I had a friend from home reach out to me to ask about Museum Studies at Glasgow. One of her questions was is there anything I wish I knew before going. At the time, I couldn’t come up with much so I said I’d think on it. Well here it is folks: the big list of Things I Wish I Knew a Year Ago (Mostly about Glasgow Uni and Graduate Life but also about Living in Another Country). TIWIKYAMAGUGLBALAC for short. Just a heads up, this geared directly at people who are looking at coming to Glasgow (or the UK in general) for postgrad study.

Academic Stuff 

The UK grading system

  1. At Glasgow Uni they used a 22-point grading scale and it is super hard to get used to. A 22 is a perfect score and corresponds to the grade A1 (the ever elusive A1). After that is A2 which is 21 points. Hmm maybe a chart is the best way to show this:
A 1 (22), 2 (21), 3 (20), 4 (19), 5 (18) Excellent
B 1 (17), 2 (16), 3 (15) Very Good
C 1 (14), 2 (13), 3 (12) Good
D 1 (11), 2 (10), 3 (9) Satisfactory
E 1 (8), 2 (7), 3 (6) Weak
F 1 (5), 2 (4), 3 (3) Poor
G 1 (2), 2 (2) Very Poor
H 0 (0) Zero
  1. I believe D3 is the last passing grade, but most core classes require at least a C3. So in some ways it’s similar: A is good, F is bad. But the addition of the points can be confusing. Don’t ever try to think of your grade as a percentage. You will cry.
  2. Speaking of crying: they grade INCREDIBLY harsh here! We were told in our orientation to that we will never get an A1 and to get any level of A is incredibly hard. I just assumed these were scare tactics, but DEAR LORD THEY WERE NOT JOKING. Do NOT come into grad school expecting to get the kind of grades you did in undergrad.
  3. Graduating with honors does exist. They call it distinction. You must be a superhuman to get it. I am not a superhuman

Class and semester structure

  1. UK semesters are weirdly short. They work on 10 week semesters with a reading week in the middle as a semi-spring break (but nowhere near the same cause people actually study during the break).
  2. Classes only meet once a week, for two hours. This took a lot of getting used to. As a postgrad student, you typically only have three classes a semester, so that’s only 6 hours of class a week. It always felt like I had too much free time because I was used to having classes that met three time a week.
  3. Instructors are very hands-off. They give you a required reading list, but they are not going to force you to read it nor are they going to quiz you in class about the reading. It’s entirely up to you how much (or how little) you want to read. But really, you’re only hurting yourself in the end if you decide not to do the reading. At the same time, it’s important to prioritize your reading because there is not physical way you can read everything. So read smartly, not endlessly.
  4. You will get very little hw and it will all be due at once. Most of my classes had three or less assignment and they were mostly essays. And everything was always due in the second half of the semester (which is only 5 weeks long if you recall). So essentially all of your assignments will be due the same month. So all that free time I mentioned earlier? Yeah, it wasn’t as free as I thought…
  5. There are specific referencing styles and paper formats to use and these vary across departments. Make sure you’ve get the right now so you don’t lose points for something silly (I’m not bitter or anything)

 Accommodations

  1. University housing sucks. Its expensive, its low quality, and they are constantly checking up on you. We have room inspections ALL the time and there is a huge amount of things that are not allowed in your room. You can’t put anything on the walls (even with sticky tack). They have fire alarm tests at 7am on Saturday mornings, once a semester. On the bright side though it is a fate rate so no bills and stuff and it was all arranged before I got here. So planning-wise, smart move. Living-wise, not so much.
  2. The Click2Campus packs are not worth the money! Glasgow Uni promoted a company that would have all of the stuff you need for a dorm waiting for you when you arrive for a fee. It sounded great on the surface. I would have pillows, sheets, towels, pots and pans, silverware, you name it all waiting for me when I arrived. No need to go out and buy it! WRONG. That stuff was so bad! I had to buy a whole new bedset because the sheets they gave me felt like cardboard. They were also a really gross black and gray checkered pattern that made me feel like I was in a dungeon. The kitchen stuff was all horrible quality and I’ve had to buy some new stuff to replace things that have broken. SAY NO TO CLICK2CAMPUS.

If you’re feeling panicked, no fear! We’re gonna take a quick break so I can show all of the goodies I’ve been eating in Scotland. Donuts are featured heavily.

 

The Nitty-Gritty on Living in Glasgow 

  1. Some people really are hard to understand. I thought it wouldn’t be an issue but sometimes even now after being here for 7 months, I come across someone who I just cannot understand for the life of me. I smile and nod and back out before I can embarrass myself any further.
  2. There are so many things that they just don’t sell here that you wouldn’t expect, so be prepared to learn to live (and especially cook) a little differently. (Heads up ladies, they don’t have gel deodorant; it’s all spray on here!)
  3. You will spend more money than you think you will. Isn’t that how it always works? I thought I would live super frugally to offset tuition costs. But remember, having a life and doing things that make you happy are important too! But yeah, you will definitely spend more than you expect
  4. Setting up a bank account is hard! Not on the Scottish end; they’ve gotten it all worked out. But the American banks are a pain! I’ve had several friends who have all complained about the difficulties they’ve had with their home banks when they’ve come here. So make a game plan before you leave so you know what your home bank is going to need from you when you’re setting up a new account.
  5. Adjusting to living without a car is hard! I’ve never had to fully rely on public transport and my own two feet before. Grocery shopping is a nightmare because you have to lug everything back. Make sure to invest in a backpack, trolley, or even a suitcase to carry groceries in.
  6. Do some research on cell carriers before you buy. Some really are better than other. I started out with Lycamobile and it was horrible. But then I switched to EE and its so much better. Also phone plans are pretty cheap and are usually month by month
  7. You have to ask for the bill at a restaurant! They will not just bring it to you!
  8. People don’t drink water here. It’s weird. Bring a water bottle with you because there are very few fountains. I don’t understand how everyone isn’t dehydrated.
  9. Umbrellas are useless. Just don’t bother. Raincoats on the other hand are essential.
  10. If you cannot comfortably walk more than a mile in a pair of shoes, don’t bring them. I brought so many shoes and I’ve worn maybe three pairs consistently.
  11. The public libraries suck. Apparently, people don’t really check out books here that much. It’s a shame.
  12. Figuring out where to buy stuff is hard. When all the stores are different from what you’re used to it can be really hard to figure where to find (and get the best deal) for certain items. Unfortunately, there’s no simple solution to this. You’ve just got to experiment and ask around.
  13. If you’re a craft beer lover like I am, you’ll be disappointed to know that craft beer is just barely making a name for itself here. There are a few good places (ahem, Brewdog) but you’re not going to find the gastropubs with 50 (or even 20) beers on tap like we’re used to at home.
  14. International shipping is really expensive. Like really really expensive. Sometimes it might be better to just buy something new than ship it from home. Also be aware of customs. If you ship something that’s worth more than $35, the recipient will have to pay  a customs tax on it.

Well I’m going to stop there because I’m sure I could rant on and on about what not to pack or buy, but that seems like the topic for another blog post. I know I got into a lot of little details on the living part, but they are all little things that I found jarring, and honestly still do. And just one final thing that I wish I knew last year: you will get homesick and you will feel lonely. It doesn’t mean that you’re not cut out for this international grad school thing. It just means that you are in a new environment and you will miss your comfort zone. You will miss your family, friends, pets, house, car, food (I could seriously write a whole post on the food I miss). Make sure you make an effort to stay in touch with everyone. It can be hard with the time difference and people’s busy lives. But make the effort, for your sanity and for your friendships. And finally, make sure you find something you can do when you’re feeling sad. Mine is going to the plant shop down the road, grabbing a book from the library, and settling in with a coffee and scone at the coffee shop.

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