Isabel, a fourth year English Literature student from Hong Kong, reflects on what helped her make the choice to study abroad at Glasgow.
I grew up in Hong Kong—a city that’s vastly different from Glasgow. Hong Kong is often dubbed as the place where ‘East meets West’ with its towering skyscrapers, crowded streets, bustling night markets and vibrant history. Nothing quite compares to the view of the skyline at night across the water from Victoria Harbour. Whenever I’m back home it always seems to me that the skyscrapers emerge almost naturally out of the mountainous landscape.
It’s essentially impossible to compare Glasgow and Hong Kong. The University is in the West End of Glasgow – a quirky, eclectic area of the city. It’s full of lovely restaurants and pubs, second-hand bookstores, and feels like the perfect mix between suburb and city. It’s super easy to walk everywhere, with the city centre of Glasgow being just over a half-hour walk away—or you can take the little subway (affectionately known as the ‘Clockwork Orange’—it’ll all make sense when you see the subway map). I’ll admit that having grown up using the seemingly endless MTR system, the subway did make me laugh!
Choosing to study abroad
I guess the question is ‘how on earth did I decide to move almost halfway across the world to Glasgow?’ Well, making the choice of which university to go to is by no means an easy one—especially when you’re going to be moving so far away from home. I’d always loved studying the arts and humanities at school, so I knew from my experiences with the IB Diploma that I definitely didn’t want to do a STEM subject at university (not that there’s anything wrong with STEM fields! I’ve just always leaned more towards wordy subjects—numbers are not my strong suit).
The main problem I faced was my indecisiveness in terms of subject choice. I didn’t like that a lot of universities wanted me to do one subject and nothing else. How was I meant to know exactly what I wanted to do? This is where the University of Glasgow came into my life to save the day. The University firstly spoke for itself as a world-renowned, historically significant place to get an education (I won’t embarrass myself by saying that the main building looks particularly Hogwarts-esque… but it really does).
Flexibility at Glasgow
The University offers a flexible degree system. For your first two years, you study three subjects in both years—meaning that you’re given the opportunity to try new and exciting things. I eventually ended up applying for a joint honours degree in History of Art and English Literature, and alongside those subjects I also decided to take French for beginners.
My situation in second year was a little bit different from others. After first year, I didn’t want to continue with History of Art or French but needed another level 2 subject to take alongside level 2 English Literature and level 1 English Language and Linguistics. I got in touch with College of Arts admin to see what my options were—and since I had taken level 1 English Literature, I was able to go straight into level 2 of either Scottish Literature or Comparative Literature.
I chose to take Scottish Literature, and although I was a little bit apprehensive about it at first, it turned out to be one of the best choices I’ve made at university. It seems obvious, but where better to study songs by Rabbie Burns and poems by Walter Scott than at a university that has been at the centre of Scottish history and culture since 1451? Learning about the literary heritage of Scotland from academics who are at the forefront of research in Scottish Literature made me feel much more connected to Glasgow and encouraged me to explore the city further.
Exploring the city
My explorations of Glasgow have focused on the incredible cultural heritage and arts scene that Glasgow has on offer. Glasgow is home to innumerable green spaces, and Pollok Country Park is one of my favourite places in Glasgow—it’s home to Pollok House, as well as the awe-inspiring Burrell Collection (which is unfortunately closed for refurbishment until 2020, but you can bet that I’ll be making a trip back up Glasgow to see it when it reopens). Kelvingrove Park in the West End is located right next to the main campus of the University and is a lovely, sprawling getaway of green space from the bustle of university life. The Centre for Contemporary Arts on Sauchiehall Street is also one of my favourite haunts—they have a never-ending line-up of exhibitions and screenings. It’s also home to an amazing vegan café called Saramago (I highly recommend their huge salad bowls).
Getting out of my comfort zone
Since starting at UofG, I’ve realised over the course of a couple of years that my interests lie in English Literature—and I’ll be graduating with a single honours MA (Hons) in English Literature in 2019. I’ve got one year left at Glasgow to make the most of, but the past three years have been filled with educational experiences that have pushed me out of my comfort zone.
In my second year I gave a presentation about research I had done about decolonising education at the University’s undergraduate research conference ‘Let’s Talk About X’—and although I can’t watch myself back on video (I find watching myself talk far too embarrassing), having to speak to a large audience in the context of having to explain my own research taught me to be concise and confident with my word choice, and forced me to work on my public speaking skills.
The course conveners, academics, and graduate teaching assistants have always encouraged questions and lively debate in seminars, and this support has been a huge factor in building my confidence about my academic abilities. Without the support of my tutors, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to submit one of my essays to this year’s edition of Groundings, an undergraduate research journal run by students at the University (my essay has since been published, which is very exciting!).
These experiences outside of the lecture hall created a clearer picture of where I want to go next. Having had such an amazing experience through moving to Glasgow to study abroad, I’ve realised that I want to continue studying and working in an international context. Studying a huge variety of things from Post-Civil War American Literature to Romantic Literature, and Postcolonialism to found poetry (to name a few), I’ve decided to pursue an equally interdisciplinary career. I’ll be continuing my journey in the UK after graduating as I will hopefully be pursuing a second degree in Law (fingers crossed!). Drawing on my interest in culture and heritage, I’d like to focus on art law, and repatriation, restitution, and reparations law—a daunting task, but I like to think that I’m well-prepared for the challenge.
There is understandably a natural fear in most new international students that Scotland will be an alien place, and that adjusting will be difficult. Speaking from experience I can assure you that the University community will support you. The possible growing pains are more than worth it for the outcome.