This week it gives us great pleasure to feature Elon University student, Courtney Weiner, in the next installment of our Alumni Blog Series: Stories from Scotland.
Courtney studied abroad at the University of Glasgow in Fall 2019 and she is incredibly open about the challenges she faced, and overcame, while studying abroad. Studying Abroad is not easy and Courtney's experience is not uncommon, however, with the correct attitude and a little bit of patience you can grow and learn so much from your experience. We are so thankful that Courtney provides such an honest reflection on her time in Scotland and are delighted to share her story below.
"I’ll make more time for myself now which study abroad definitely taught me."
Name: Courtney Weiner
Home School: Elon University
Semester Abroad: Fall 2019
Scottish University: University of Glasgow
Why did you choose Scotland, and specifically Glasgow, as your Study Abroad destination?
A lot of people at Elon choose to go to Florence or London and I wanted to be different. I’ve always been that way, even when I was choosing where I was going to school. I came into Elon not knowing anybody and so I thought this would be a different experience and I would be able to immerse myself in a new culture. A lot of people when they study abroad go to a satellite school and for me it was important to be part of a full University; being around students and to be challenged. I knew I wanted to be in Scotland and University of Glasgow made sense because of the support I’d get from Arcadia and Elon.
Did you do much research into the University of Glasgow or did it just call to you?
It was suggested to me. Originally I was looking at the University of St Andrews but it’s not an approved program at my school so I’d have to have gone independently. I’d done more research into St Andrews but was told it would be more difficult and I’d have less support than if I went to Glasgow. Once I started looking at Glasgow I was very excited about it.
What were your first impressions of Scotland and Glasgow?
Well, it was raining; classic! It was humid but I thought I could get on board with this. When you’re flying in, all you see is green. I was probably crying because I was excited. I remember getting the taxi to get to the orientation hotel in Edinburgh and thinking this is an amazing place; I was so excited. I thought the people were really nice. My friend and I were trying to find somewhere to get our UK phone number and we were walking around and it was pouring and we got lost. We asked people for directions and they were so nice; it was a great first impression.
And what about Glasgow?
Glasgow is so different. I feel like when people think of Scotland they think of castles, the show Reign (I’ve never heard of this show but Courtney recommends it) and Outlander. I wasn’t expecting Glasgow to look how it does. It’s very much a city. It’s not that I didn’t like it, I’ve always wanted to live in a city. I remember seeing all the sandstone buildings and thinking this was a cool place. I immediately knew I was going to get a different experience from other people.
How was your adjustment experience and how did you settle into life in Glasgow?
It was difficult. I definitely had the 3 days of being really excited and happy then I had the realization that all my friends were studying abroad together in London and Florence and I was pretty much by myself. I was less than happy with my accommodation (Murano Street) but I grew to love it and appreciate it because of the experience of living there; I would suggest people do stay there for their study abroad experience. Being a Junior and living among 1st years having the time of their lives away from home for the first time was kind of funny (after I got over being annoyed by them).
I didn’t like being in a mixed flat at first with one shared bathroom and I was feeling really lonely. It worked out and we talk every single day now. I was crying a lot, calling my mom. I swear she was going to book me the next flight home if I called her crying again. I like to be busy and the first two weeks you are there you’re not in class. You have the Arcadia orientation then when you get to Glasgow you’re kind of just in limbo for a week. Fresher’s Week (the traditional welcome week for new students in Scotland) is a different experience, that didn’t help because of how crazy it is!
It probably took me 3 weeks to get properly settled and happy. I remember going to London to visit one of my best friends and immediately she could tell I wasn’t myself.
Was that the moment that helped you settle?
The first week of teaching was really hard. I would argue that no student who goes to Glasgow is going to be ready for the teaching. It’s completely opposite from what I’m used to. I was kind of on my high-horse thinking “I’m a third year and I’m in classes with first years, I don’t like that”; I got over that when I got a D in my first paper!
I went to Paris one weekend, I know this has nothing to do with Scotland, but I came back from that trip refreshed. It was the same friend I went to visit in London and if you ask her when did I start feeling open to the experience and not regret coming it would be after that trip. The next weekend I then went on the Arcadia Firbush event and that was probably the highlight of my entire trip (more on that later).
When you first considered studying abroad did you ever anticipate it would be this difficult?
Mom’s are always right; she was like “are you sure you don’t want to switch programs, you don’t know anyone on this one”; she was more nervous than I was. I’ve done sleep-away camp for 9 years, I went to a different part of the country for College by myself and I was fine. I was really surprised by how hard it was and that’s why it probably took a bit longer to get through to myself. I did see a therapist while I was in Glasgow which really helped. Once I started to not think I was better than everyone else because I was a third year that helped too. This is not going to change, this is where I am and it’s okay to be sad. You can’t be miserable because you have got this great opportunity that not everyone gets.
What were your classes like at Glasgow?
I actually grew to like (two) of my classes. I’d never been in a lecture hall before because Elon is a medium sized school that doesn’t have big classes. That was a big shock because I’m used to building relationships with my teachers and I realized that wasn’t going to happen here. Sometimes in the US we have a reading due for the day of the class and we discuss it but you can kind of get away without reading it but in Glasgow you have to read! I was in my Sociology class and the teacher was talking about a quote and I did not know what they were talking about. What I did like were the tutorials (small group-based discussion classes) because it was like what I was used to. I formed relationships with my tutors there and I still keep in touch with my English tutor. I looked forward to them because we could analyse and discuss things and get the one-on-one help I was used to. In the US we don’t have the one paper and one exam assessment style that Glasgow does so that was very scary!
How did you feel at exam time when you knew it was going to count for 60% of your final grade?
I was very nervous. I couldn’t understand how we were supposed to remember quotes to write in exams; it wasn’t multiple choice which I was used to, it was essay exams. The course conveners were telling us we had to memorize quotes to write an analytical essay in an hour. Thankfully I’d taken some AP classes in high school so I’d done a lot of timed writing. The night before my exam I had sticky notes lined up on my desk trying to put quotes together to have an idea of where I wanted to go with my paper; it was a completely different way to study for me.
And how did it work out in the end?
Pretty good; I didn’t fail and I’m still in University!
What would your advice be for students to cope with the academic side of things?
Get out of your head that you’ll definitely get an A. Also don’t compare it to other study abroad programs where your friends say it’s their easiest semester. When people tell me that, I’m glad mine wasn’t like that. I’m glad I challenged myself and it’s not going to be an easy semester when you go to one of these universities. Also, do the readings and pay attention!
Did you join any clubs or societies at Glasgow?
I was in GUST (Glasgow University Student Television). I’m a Journalism major so one of the things about Glasgow that intrigued me was still being able to do some student television because that’s what I’m involved in at Elon. At first I didn’t like it because it was....fun, at Elon the student television is run like an actual newsroom. I wasn’t used to that and I didn’t know any different but that's another example of me having to get over it and it was honestly the best thing that I did because I realized I could have fun.
Have you taken any of that mentality back to the student TV at Elon?
Laughing - I just don’t do it as much. My life used to be dedicated to the newsroom here but studying abroad overall taught me that I have to live my own life and do my own thing and if something isn’t making me feel good I shouldn't do it. I really thank study abroad for that.
Did you meet local people through GUST, or your accommodation or classes?
I think about this a lot. I became close with some people in my tutorials but then never talked to them again which is weird. Through GUST I met a bunch of people which made me feel more included in the student body even though I didn’t necessarily hang out with them outside of the society. I still talk to them this day through social media.
Did you take part in any of the Arcadia organized events?
Yes I did, I went to Firbush. I am not a hiker but that changed my life; I go hiking now! Nothing is ever going to be as hard as that was, it was a looooong hike and very wet. When I made it to the top of the hill it was worth it. There were rainbows at the top and I thought I was in a fairytale. That trip was so much fun; it was still towards the beginning of my time in Scotland so I got to catch up with people going through the same emotions as me.
How did Arcadia help you through your Study Abroad experience?
I literally cannot say enough about you guys. I think about this a lot and if I had gone to St Andrews I would have ended up going home. Elon doesn’t do it through Arcadia so I’d have gone independently. Arcadia helped a lot. I always knew that if I had a question or needed something I could reach out and get an answer. I cannot say enough about the Arcadia Scotland Center; it’s so helpful to know that there are people there who have your back even when you heel homesick.
What was the hardest thing about studying abroad?
Just being in a different place, in a foreign country surrounded by people you don’t know is hard and something you’re not prepared for; no matter how many times people tell you it’s going to be hard. A new environment and not preparing yourself for the impact of that is the hardest part. Going into my semester in Glasgow I was already thinking about what I was going to be missing out on at Elon and I visited my friends before leaving which was a mistake and wouldn’t do that now looking back. I would tell myself to stop comparing things early on.
What did you learn most from your experience?
I learnt that I love to travel and I can’t wait to travel again. I was a very work oriented person but I feel it is easier for me to prioritize things that make me happy now. That’s a way better feeling than forcing myself into an environment that I don’t want to be in. I’ll make more time for myself now which study abroad definitely taught me.
Since returning, how has study abroad helped your career?
I kind of learned that I don’t want to go into journalism while I was in Glasgow; that goes along with the realization that I had about not spending enough time doing things I like and listening to people around me and the things they think I should do with life. Glasgow taught me that too. As I said, they have so much fun at GUST and I started thinking why aren’t we having this much fun where I’m at? It definitely made me think about what I want to do and why I want to do it.
Finally; why would you recommend future study abroad students choose Scotland?
I would say that you should study abroad in Scotland because not many people think to go there. I loved getting to know the locals, finding new coffee shops where I could do my work. You’re part of the city and learning about the area and culture. You can get on a train and go to the Highlands so easily and have the opportunity to travel around the country. I stayed in Scotland for most of my weekends and it’s different everywhere.
You can check out a video of my interview with Courtney here: