Good-bye Glasgow… :'(

Only 2 and a half days left in Glasgow. On Friday I will be writing my final exam (Labour Law) then rushing off to the airport to hop on a plane to Amsterdam. I will spend Friday night in Amsterdam and then Saturday morning I fly out to Shanghai to see my boyfriend!! It’ll be exactly four months to the day since I last saw him when we meet up in Shanghai. I suppose the excitement of seeing him and the stress of exams (I’ve written three so far in the space of a week, eek!) has kept me from really processing that in two sleeps I will be leaving Glasgow, my home for the last four months. While I’m happy to be reunited with my friends and family from Toronto, there are a lot of things I will really miss about Scotland.

The Weather: I have a love hate relationship with Scottish weather. Take today for instance, it’s 12 degrees and only slightly damp. AMAZING for December! Especially when I see all the pictures of snow on my friends Facebook pages However, the sun will set at 3:45pm today, thus I basically live the life of a vampire. Scotland is so far North that we get about 7 hours of sunlight a day.  NOT FUN. I never understood how much I needed sunlight until I came here.

How active it is here: Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been in better shape. Being so close to parks and the highlands means there’s always something to do outdoors. (The temperate weather makes this easy to do even in December!) I hope I can keep this up in Canada, it will be hard without a massive park five minutes away and consistently 10 degree weather…

The Food: I know I’ve said this many times, but I’ve never felt healthier and eaten better. That sounds funny considering most people think pub food when they think the UK. That is so not true.  Its really easy to eat healthily here for cheap.The pub at the end of my street serves affordable vegan food and many of the instant grocery store meals are not only healthy but tasty. Plus, the Scottish know how to do carbs right. The Scones! The pastries! The cakes! I will miss the scones SO MUCH.

The amazing people I’ve met here: 4 months just isn’t enough time to properly integrate yourself into a city. Its only in the last month that I’ve started becoming close friends with people here. It’s sad to go, especially when you can see the potential for such awesome friendships starting to develop. Luckily we live in the internet age and I’ll be able to keep in touch.

Discount airlines: How amazing is it to pop over to Dublin for a weekend for only 30 quid return? (aka 50 Canadian dollars) Canadian’s airline market is ridiculous, its so cheap to fly all over Europe, I will really miss being so mobile.

The Uni: The University of Glasgow has been really good to me. The classes were challenging and useful, not to mention I got to take them in buildings rumoured to be used for the third Harry Potter movie. All the amenities, from the libraries to the cafeterias, have been excellent. Eating on campus is cheap and healthy, the gym is fantastic, the buildings look old on the outside but are new and comfortable on the inside. Its just a great university experience all around.

The City: Glasgow is awesome. And every day I’m here I realize how awesome it is. I could write a separate blog post on all the cafes, teashops, clubs, pubs, shops, restaurants, museums, beauty parlors and even laundromats I’ve found that I love. There are so many things here that I just won’t be able to replace back in Canada (the SCONES!).

European attitude: I find people in Europe to be more laid back. Law school in the UK is less about getting the high paying job and more about learning. This makes for a less stressed out and anxious class (though exam time is the exception, but I suppose that would be the case everywhere). Half the students here don’t even want to be lawyers. They go on to do such varied things with their degree, its really inspiring. I hope I can take this attitude back with me to Canada. I love how much calmer I’ve become. It’s made the learning process fun for the first time in ages rather than a giant task I must conquer.

So good-bye Scotland, I will miss so much about you. I wouldn’t have chosen anywhere else in the world to live for the last four months. I will definitely be back to visit!

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Field Trip to the EU!

This past week I had one of the coolest opportunities so far on exchange. My Institutions and Jurisdiction of the European Union class did a fully funded four day field trip to Brussels! We got to visit the European Parliament, Commission and Council, as well as a number of firms and lobby groups. As an exchange student, I was blown away by the generosity of the school to fund me to participate along with their own students. (Thank you Glasgow Uni!!!!)

Brussels is an amazing city. With the European Union and Council of Europe both located there, plus the Hague and European Court of Justice just a short train ride away, it feels like the center of the world! When I came on exchange one of the things I wanted to do was to take a step back from the typical Canadian law student route and see what else was out there. This trip did that for me and more! Meeting the lawyers working at the EU and the various firms has opened my eyes to so many career paths I didn’t even know existed before coming on exchange. (It also reinforced the need for me to actually brush up my french. Nearly every talk began with “So you NEED a second language to work here…”)

Bonus: I randomly found out while I was there that a friend I met backpacking in India a couple years ago is also currently interning at the Parliament. We weren’t able to coordinate a time to meet up but I’ll be seeing her when I’m passing through in January!

But it wasn’t all work and no play! Many fries, waffles and chocolates were consumed, not to mention the mulled wine and Belgium beer! This was aided by the presence of one of the most fabulous Christmas markets I have ever seen. Huge Christmas trees were located everywhere and the squares were full of christmas lights and stalls selling everything from German sausages to fancy cheeses. I had a great time getting to know my classmates. Often times the exchange students feel a bit segregated from the rest of the school community so it was really lovely to be able to spend a few days with them.

Screw New York, Brussels is the place to be!

One month left…

Today I realized that I only have 31 more days left in Glasgow. This gave me really mixed feelings. On the one hand, I feel like I have so much left I still want to do. 31 days doesn’t seem like enough time to see all the museums, visit all the places I still want to go. It takes me a while to get into the groove of a new place, and I am finally starting to find my place here. Plus, with all the traveling I’ve been doing, I feel like I haven’t had the chance to experience the city of Glasgow as much as I wanted to. I’ve spent so much time traveling around Scotland and Europe, I kind of forgot about the city I live in. As I only have one more trip planned (a field trip to visit the European Parliament in Brussels with one of my classes), I’m making it my goal to get out there and explore Glasgow beyond the University and City Center in these last few weeks.

On the other hand, 31 days seems like forever. While I have really enjoyed my time abroad, I have moments when I really miss my friends, family and especially my boyfriend. Being in a relationship while on exchange is hard. My boyfriend is also on exchange in Asia. Him literally on the other side of the world from me means we have not seen each other (other than via the computer screen) since August 22. I am so glad I chose to have this experience alone rather than us go on exchange together. I would advise anyone in a relationship to do separate exchanges rather than going it together. I think being on my own has pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to try new things and be more outgoing. That being said, I will be one very happy girl when we’re finally together again on December 22. :)

I’ve been keeping myself really busy with school and traveling to somewhere in Europe every weekend.  This weekend will be the first that I’ve spent in Glasgow since the beginning of October and it feels a bit strange. Without the rush to get papers done so I can get on the plane in time I don’t know what to do with myself. That, coupled with the fact that it’s been almost 3 months since I left Canada for Scotland, means that homesickness is starting to set in. (It doesn’t help that Glasgow’s downtown has been covered in Christmas lights. Christmastime always makes me feel like I should be with my family…) I suppose that is one of the benefits (though it doesn’t feel like a benefit sometimes) of being on exchange. Since coming to Glasgow I’ve realized just how much I value my friends and family back home.

But don’t worry readers, the news isn’t all bad from here across the pond! I’ve had some really lovely time these past few weeks as well. There are definitely worse places to be spending the weeks leading up to December 25th! I didn’t know this before I arrived, but Europe is the home to a ton of Christmas markets. One can’t help but feel the Christmas cheer walking around brightly lit stalls with mulled wine and Churros (weirdly, Churros are the Christmas pastry of choice at the Paris Christmas market I was at last weekend).

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While in Paris last weekend I also got the chance to go up the Eiffel tower! It was so cold, but so worth it!

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Adventures outside of Scotland!

These past few weeks I’ve started venturing further away from Glasgow and exploring the rest of Europe. Through much trial (and some error), I’ve learned a few things about traveling like a student so I thought I’d share some tips from my travels:

Pace yourself
You cannot do everything you want to in Paris/Amsterdam/London in two days. You cannot in five days. These cities are just TOO big and amazing and have too much history. So accept you will not be able to do everything and don’t try. If you only have a weekend pick one or two awesome things, and then spend the rest of your time just walking around and enjoying your time.

P1130020[The Eiffel tower, a MUST see for your first time in Paris… I literally cried when I first saw it.]

Travel companions, choose wisely!
People have very different travel styles. Some are up at the crack of dawn ready to hit the pavement while others aren’t up till noon. Figure out what’s important to you in a travel partner and ask the tough questions now and not standing in line to board your flight.

P1130077My cousin, aka, the BEST travel companion ever!

Always have a paper map

Phones die, ipads are too big and are like wearing a giant “tourist, ROB ME” sign. Paper maps can be popped in a pocket, drawn all over, and are easier when you want to get a general sense of an area.

Pack light
Heels take up too much room in your suitcase and you won’t wear them, trust me. Similarly, don’t bother with the workout gear… Yeah, it would be lovely to go for a jog in Hyde park, but between figuring out the tube, seeing the Tate gallery, catching up with friends, do you really think it will occur to you to work out?

Accept that even on a strict budget, travel will be more expensive then you think and get over it.
Even the best laid plans sometimes go awry. You’ll get lost and miss your train, the museum won’t take your Scottish student card, the cheapest meal around will end up being the cost of your labour textbook. I’m not suggesting you blow the bank. Quite the opposite, it’s important to make a budget and take the frugal route whenever you can. However, there will always be things you just cannot account for. There is no point feeling stressed about cash when you should be enjoying the Eiffel tower, so make sure you have a cushion for emergencies.
[In that vein, if you cannot afford to go somewhere, DON’T DO IT! “I got stranded in Amsterdam” very rarely goes over well when you’re collect calling your parents for plane fare.]

P1130168[Example of things not going as planned. My cousin and I were trying to leave Bruges but all the roads were blocked. Why? The king and queen were visiting (!!!!!!). So we missed our train, but saw Real European royalty! I think it was worth it…]

Budget airlines are budget for a reason
They are fabulous for the student on a budget, but never forget that you will be paying for every morsel of food served to you, as well as any excess baggage. With that in mind, have a big meal before getting on board and pack lightly (see number 4)

A cool pair of shoes will get scuffed and thrown away in 3 years, but you will never forget the first time you saw the Eiffel tower. Take advantage of your time abroad! Who knows when you’ll be back?

Playing Tourist in my Backyard!

At some point on exchange, you have to get out of the student village and explore the country you’ve traveled thousands of miles to study in. Lucky for me, Glasgow is perfectly situated to get pretty much anywhere in Scotland in about a day, making it perfect for weekend jaunts around the country.

Since I got here I’ve made it my goal to knock down all 10 of my guidebook’s “Scottish Top 10”. Touristy I know… but really, I don’t care! So far I’ve gotten to six (Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile, National Gallery of Scotland, Isle of Skye, Loch Ness and the Great Glen, Glencoe and Culzean Castle), only four more to go! [Side note, I’ve gotten many snide comments from other students/friends/etc about my intense desire to go to Loch Ness… All I gotta say is anyone who’s too cool to visit Loch Ness while in Scotland clearly doesn’t have their priorities in order! You’re here, it’s famous, you might as well see it!].

I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last four weekends exploring the country and it has been a blast! My parents were here to explore with me for the last two weeks. It was so nice to have a taste of home right before thanksgiving, thanks for visiting Mom and Dad!

Here are some photos of my travels:

Edinburgh – Edinburgh is BEAUTIFUL! I don’t say this lightly. It’s so beautiful I had to go twice! The first time I went, I got off the bus and it felt like I was in a storybook.

Being the rather independent person that I am, I spent my first weekend in Edinburgh alone at an amazing hostel called the Caledonian Backpackers. Hostels and I get along pretty well. I can sleep through pretty much anything and it’s always a great place to meet new friends. It was fun getting acquitted with the city on my own, the next time I came I was able to be a tour guide to my parents!

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Isle of Skye – I fell in love, most gorgeous place on earth. I need to go back. The hiking was amazing! (As was the fish and chips, best I’ve tasted so far!)

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Loch Ness and Glencoe – Look at the sun we had that day, amazing! [Note: it is very sunny in most of these photos, that is NOT the norm in Scotland. I had to wring out my clothes yesterday after my evening run.] Nessie came out to say hello… It was frightening.

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Celtic Game – Okay, so this isn’t in my guide book’s top 10, but it should be! If you go to the UK, you need to go to a football game. The Celtic (not Celtics, I was corrected…) are one of Glasgow’s two home teams. It was such an exciting game (almost as good as hockey…) even though we lost!
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This weekend I’m venturing onto the continent with my cousin Stephanie who’s come to visit for the week. We’ll be hitting Paris, Ghent, Bruges and Amsterdam… where I will be celebrating my 26th birthday! Expect many photos of our epic adventure as soon as I get back.

Bye for now!

Observations on Higher Learning in Scotland

Before I came to Scotland, I was under the impression that Universities operated essentially the same way, regardless what country you happen to be located in. This, I have since found out, is not the case. The University of Glasgow is very different from U of T, and not just because it’s about three times as old. Five weeks in and I think I’ve learned enough to create a pretty good crash course in how to survive University: UK style.

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[Get used to the fact that you will be taking classes in rooms three times as old as your home country!]
Do your prep work!
The Socratic Method is alive and well here in Scotland. (If you’ve never heard of the Socratic method, watch The Paper Chase.) Before every class readings and questions are assigned and the professors expect you to be prepared. By this I don’t mean skimming the article two hours before the class and showing up to lecture ready to have the topic explained to you. An unnamed student who may or may not be the author of this post foolishly didn’t read the last article assigned for Advanced International Law this week… bad decision! Here, when you show up to class expect to be asked questions and to defend an opinion. The professors here assume you already know the content, as far as they’re concerned, their job is to facilitate discussion of the content.

So, now that the Socratic method has scared you into thinking “Oh no! I didn’t do all the readings this week! I don’t want to be shamed again in front of my peers! I guess I’ll just skip that class…” I hate to break it to you, you can’t, because…

Attendance, it’s mandatory
In Scotland, attendance is mandatory, even if there is no participation mark. At first I was a bit taken aback by this. In North America it’s up to me how I want to learn the content! If I want to pay x number of dollars to just learn it in my room and just show up to the exam, why can’t I? But then it dawned on me… No one else here is paying x number of dollars. University here is free (!!!!) for Scottish students. So, I suspect the requirement of attendance is the university’s way of  making sure the system isn’t abused by someone not serious about their studies.

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Plus, once you get used to the teaching style, you’ll want to be there every week because…

Studying Law doesn’t exactly mean the same thing over here
It may be called a law class, but that doesn’t mean you’re actually going to be studying any law. Subjects are a lot less compartmentalized than in North America, which is really cool! The aforementioned Advanced International Law Class includes topics on politics, economics, philosophy… as well as some law. This seems to be especially true of the upper year classes which really focus on broad concepts and theories rather than black-letter law. Bonus: With all the politics added to my classes I’ll be able to discuss the Euro Crisis at smart parties without sounding like a complete idiot. Thank you, Glasgow.

Reconsider your wardrobe
It is embarrassing to admit, but my sweatpants and Uggs Thursday uniform was not well received over here in Glasgow. Rule of thumb: Wear what you would for a night out on the town in Toronto, put on panty hose, throw a scarf over anything low cut and it’s appropriate for class. [This of course makes going for a night out in Glasgow that much harder… think cocktail dresses, blow outs, and a lot of eye make up]. Honestly… I still haven’t got this one down. That, more than everything else is what sets me apart from the locals (well… other than the accent and inability to count the British coins properly).

Student Unions, they’re where it’s at!
I had never even heard of a Student Union (at least, in the type that I am talking about) until I got here. Student unions at the University of Glasgow are like fraternities, except anyone can join and you don’t have to pay them any money or run around in a funny costume to show how much you want to be a member. They are a cross between a cafeteria, social club, bar, gym, library, event venue and student government. Pretty much all the clubs at the university are affiliated with one of the Unions and that is where all the major social events are held.

So there you go! With these tips in mind you’ll be a pro at navigating UK University in no time!

Hello CIE Blog readers!

I thought I’d tell you a bit more about my life here in Glasgow now that I’ve settled in. My flat is located close to the university in the city’s Westend. This is an awesome area full of little shops, vintage stores (they LOVE vintage here in Glasgow), cafés and parks. I live right beside a huge park called Kelvingrove with amazing running trails that go for miles… Glasgow is an incredibly active city and the university has many clubs devoted to sports and other outdoorsy type activities. It’s great for people like myself who aren’t good enough to play on a varsity team but still really enjoy being active.

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I’ve joined the “Hares and Hounds” club (a British name for running clubs, love it!). Contrary to what you may think, Scotland has the perfect running weather. The rain and overcast skies keep you from overheating and the scenery is really magical, so green! Just make sure to bring a jumper and a windbreaker… you will be getting wet!

Since I’ve come to Glasgow I have also seen a ton of live music. Glasgow was appointed a UNESCO City of music in 2008, and after being here 3 weeks I can already see why. One of my favorite local haunts is this little pub right around the corner from my flat where Celtic musicians come to jam every Thursday night. The music is amazing and it isn’t a university pub, which can be refreshing at times. At the risk of sounding cheesy, being there really makes you feel like you’re in Scotland.

The music scene isn’t all traditional bands either. This is the city that produced the likes of Travis, Belle & Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand and Snow Patrol, so you can bet the indie band scene is amazing. My new friends and I have been able to see some great bands like King Charles and Mise en Scene at tiny venues for a fraction of what you’d pay in Canada.

Note: Being a “Mature” student on exchange
Law in the UK is an undergraduate degree, and the majority of people one meets at international orientation events and in residence are in their undergrad. As a 26 year-old law student who hasn’t seen the inside of a dorm room since 2006, I am in a very different place in my life than a lot of my colleagues.  While socially it helps that I’m often mistaken for a 16 year old, it can feel a little isolating at times. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Part of going on exchange, especially going on one’s own, is forcing yourself out of your comfort zone.

So for all you mature students out there, don’t think exchange isn’t for you! There is still loads you can get out of the experience, from traveling to exploring new hobbies to actually spending time enjoying your classes (I mean, we’re here to learn right?). Plus, I’ve still been able to meet a ton of nice, interesting people through clubs and other activities, you just have to get out there!

Also remember that sometimes, age really isn’t more than a number. People who go on exchange, regardless of their age, are usually adventurous, ready to explore a new culture and eager to make new friends, just like you! So, if you can get over thinking, “OMG, I was in undergrad when you were in grade 8!!!”, the experience can be a ton of fun. (Plus: who doesn’t ever wish they could try reliving their undergraduate years once or twice, sans all the rookie mistakes?)

This weekend I am off to the Isle of Skye with the international students club! Check it out, it was apparently named the fourth best island in the world by National Geographic! I will definitely be taking my camera with me!

Glasgow Calling…

Hello Outbound exchange blog readers! My name is Emilie and I am a third year law student at the University of Toronto the University of Glasgow! I flew into Scotland four days ago after a crazy 23 hour, 3 flight, 2 six hour layover epic journey. (Word to the wise, the Brussels airport, not the best airport to spend a six hour layover… the only thing going for them is some super comfy couches to pass out on until you get shooshed away by an angry guard speaking Flemish…) But I made it! I’m currently living in an apartment flat style university residence with 3 awesome girls from all over the globe.

International Orientation started on Monday and I’ve yet to learn anything about the University of Glasgow law school, or Scottish law, or even what courses I’m supposed to be taking (not to worry, that all gets sorted next week, classes don’t begin until the 24th of September). However, I have attended a Ceilidh (Scottish dance party with accordions and fiddles), learned a couple interesting things about Scottish culture and taken plenty of photos to document these discoveries.

1. Sunday Dinner: I arrived in Glasgow Saturday night around 9 in the evening so Sunday was my first full day in the city. Nothing was open… except the place to get a European sim card for my phone and the pub. But really, on a Sunday what more do you need? In Scotland every pub does a Sunday roast “with all the trimmings” (Beef wellington, mashed potatoes, fried potatoes, various root veggies). For 6 pounds, this was the perfect introduction to my new home.

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(Notice the Black pudding and Haggis variations on the menu… amazing!)

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2. Scottish Ikea: You know how in Canada you can literally buy everything at Ikea? They’ve taken that to the next level in Europe… Ikea in Scotland sells its own brand of beer… and prawns! Talk about a one stop shop… My flatmates and I were able to furnish our flat AND get grocery shopping out of the way in one trip.

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3. Freshers week: (aka Scottish Frosh week) is next week and as an exchange student I am able to sign up. This is not your Grandma’s frosh week, they take it very seriously in Scotland. While it’s been 8 years since I did frosh the first time around (I know, oh dear, I’m so old…) in Scotland it is not just for first years, so I figured why not? It looks like an awesome way to really get integrated into the University of Glasgow culture. Also, the events look amazing… and confusing? (What is a “Very useful Quiz!?”… will update you all next post.)

That’s all for now readers! I’m off to the clubs fair to sign up for the rowing and riding clubs. The clubs take beginners (which is key as I have no experience with either…). Wish me luck!