Finding my Feet in Glasgow

Ginny Lafean Glasgow, Scotland


October 11, 2021

"I'm finally here in Glasgow and this still doesn't feel like real life."

That's what I told my parents on the phone the night before my taxi ride to Base Glasgow, where I'll be staying for my long-awaited semester studying voice performance at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. My (very opposite) school in cornfield-dotted Indiana, US is the only place I've studied music for three years now; the attitudes of my professors, the bustling city life, even the small size of the conservatoire are all new experiences for me. Though I am happy to have a week to settle in and get to know the city, I was so excited to meet the new students on Monday and the Year Three vocal department on Wednesday, and after chatting, they all seemed excited to meet me. The welcoming atmosphere is like no other school’s, and the creative energy even in the Zoom room buzzes around the participants. Though these meetings were for orientation, it felt more like a social gathering, and I learned of the school’s dedication to its students. This is certainly not the enormous Indiana University that I’ve known!

For students hoping to study at RCS someday, I can already say that right off the bat the kindness and excitement of all the professors shown through brilliantly.. Once you are accepted, the entire school, from the president to your one-on-one teacher, is so happy you’re there. The classes are lectures full of peer feedback, open discussion, and general camaraderie; I’ve already been out for drinks with my class a few times! Though the reputation of the school feels overwhelming, the focus of the teaching is not on becoming the best RCS alumnus but on becoming the best version of the musician you are. Everyone wants you to learn, and that’s it. They want you excited about music, instead of burnt out.

The staff described numerous times their prioritization of student well-being and growth, something most schools claim in their "Prospective Student" brochures but can rarely deliver. The RCS president even went so far as to assure us that, despite insecurities and struggles in our studies, we should always remember that we were selected as students for a reason, that "[RCS] is entirely confident of our abilities and our potential," even when we are not. My anxieties about my classes and my singing, though ever present, were eased considerably even from just the first welcome meetings. I can already tell RCS is a place "like nowhere else," as its slogan claims.

But the general student anxiety was not the only stress plaguing me this week. Arcadia has a whole section of travel preparations dedicated to dealing with culture shock, and from my week's experience in Glasgow I can advise future students that this is nothing to sneer at. On Monday, after keeping constant motion in walking around Glasgow for supplies and food, at 8pm I sat down on my bed and felt my surface layer of forced coolness turn instantly into a wave of anxiety. I knew no one, no where, and had nearly no support system immediately accessible. It's a really scary feeling.

But I found the best way to avoid the shock of throwing yourself into a new place is to treat everything you do with wonder. On Tuesday, I spent four hours strolling around Glasgow, noting shops, trying coffees, and admiring the beautiful architecture. I probably looked like a cringe-y character in a coming-of-age film, but the effect of treating everything like a vacation turned my nerves back into excitement at the fact that I was here. Thinking back on it, I think the reason this worked was that it forced me to stop trying to familiarize myself with foreign concepts right off the bat; I could stop pretending like I knew what I was doing even if I didn't, I could stop trying not to look stupid. Allowing myself to embrace the newness of things first made the scary idea of trying the new thing fun, at the same time letting me familiarize myself with how it works. It’s a little mentally exhausting for someone with more heightened anxiety levels, but that just means you sleep better at night. If I hadn't approached Glasgow this way, I probably would have stayed in my room until classes started, instead of finding a lovely bridge across River Clyde as the sun was getting low or a Harry Potter shop on Union Street, absolute heaven for a Potterhead like me.

Being in Glasgow still doesn’t feel like real life, but as I get used to the city and (starting Monday the 27th) my classes, I’ve started to find the haunts and jaunts that will help me feel the most at home.

Coming up for me are some Arcadia-organized trips to explore the country of Scotland! Come back over to this blog for updates about that, and my life in Glasgow.


Scotland Semester