OK, so you’ve decided to study in Scotland? Then let me paint you a picture of some of what you can expect from your time here. Many, many things make Scotland a bonnie place to be.
Firstly, you’re sure to be welcomed with open arms by the locals. We’re a friendly lot, for the most part. Ask for help or directions and we’ll likely happily stop for a chat and point you the right way; you might even make yourself a new pal or two. Scottish cities occupy that sweet spot where they’re small enough that there’s a good community atmosphere and big enough that you’ll find your tribe no matter what your interests are. Join clubs and societies that interest you, or don’t.
In my own experience, moving from the Highlands to the Central Belt to study, there’s no question that there’s much more to do. In Scottish cities, there are endless opportunities to be creative. Everybody is in a band or is pals with someone who is. Loads of the smaller venues will take a chance on up-and-coming acts who want to put on gigs during the week, so there’s every opportunity to express yourself if that’s what you want to do. It’s not just music; if you’re into photography, dance, theatre, creating zines, film or something else entirely, you’ll be able to find someone who’s already doing it at grassroots level. There’s a real DIY culture in many areas and people are generally happy to share their knowledge if you approach them with the right attitude.
Following a mural trail is a great way to get to know our cities on foot. There are so many amazing visuals everywhere you turn; you’ll find vibrant murals splashed on the sides of buildings, down hidden alleys and busy river banks – perfect for your Insta. There’s no need to go on a formal tour for this; just do a bit of research online and you’ll find plenty of info to get you started. The cities are compact enough that almost everywhere is close enough to walk to – who needs a gym membership when you can keep active and explore for free?
One international student shared with me some of the things that surprised him about Scottish culture since moving to study in Edinburgh:
‘I suppose the language struck me the most. Taking the piss or winding someone up, makes for regular conversation. Scottish people have a way of using the English language which is like poetry, but with a lot more swearing. Also, the food blew my mind! Perhaps this was because I came from Africa, and there wasn’t much variety. The concept of chip shops, Greggs and morning rolls were game-changers. Now, I can’t imagine breakfast without a morning roll.’
When it comes to Scottish food, there are clichés by the dozen that you’re probably best to avoid. Ignore all calls to try a deep-fried Mars bar and the like – naebody eats them, and for good reason. Saying that, you might need some post-night out scran to cure your fierce hangover. It’s the same here as with anywhere else; any sort of greasy food will soak up the alcohol. A pizza crunch (deep-fried battered pizza) or a munchy box (a mix of everything from pakora to chips to kebab meat and more) will sort you out… maybe. You’ll probably want somewhere to go for a pint and a bite to eat with your pals after college or uni, and in that case, there’s a real culture of indie cafes and bars that will look after you without having to resort to Wetherspoons or some other Brexit-bothering-Tory-owned-hellhole. If, on the other hand, booze isn’t your thing; brilliant, go you. The drinking culture in Scotland has changed a fair bit over the last few years and no one should put pressure on you to drink alcohol if it’s not your thing or you’re just not feeling it. If they do, our advice is to patch them (get rid).
Unfortunately, one thing you’ll discover is that while good weather isn’t rare, it’s definitely not the norm. We’re used to bleak, dreich weather here in Scotland and the four seasons in one day trope is all too real. I’m convinced the grumpy Scot stereotype stems from the fact that we’re all vitamin D deficient. Beloved Scottish comedian Billy Connolly has the solution, saying ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing. So get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little.’
If the temperature ever goes above 18C, it’s something remarkable. Everything changes in an instant and places such as Kelvingrove Park, Queens Park and The Meadows become hotspots. Find somewhere to sprawl out on a picnic blanket and grab a lukewarm Strongbow from your bag of cans. Best find a beer garden if you’re in Glasgow, though; drinking in public parks is illegal and the police are right on the ball with enforcing the ban. On the odd occasion that the sun does decide to make an appearance, you’ll hear the cries of ‘Taps aff’. Resist all urges to join in, please.
Alternatively. Do your own thing; make your own story.