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Fish Out of Water: Navigating Glasgow as an African Caribbean

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Early Stages

Since my early high school days I dreamt of studying abroad, whether that be in Japan, India, Lithuania, or somewhere else it didn’t matter; I wanted to see the world. Coming from an immigrant working middle class family from the Caribbean, I didn’t have the luxury of exploring outside the country, much less outside my state. Even without having the luxury of seeing the world I came to notice that as a black woman, I didn’t see many of whom looked like me out exploring. Did we not travel? And not a trip to Miami for a week, but to somewhere to truly seek discomfort. Was the outside world not friendly? I wanted to know, so, as anyone can imagine being a self-possessed freshman, I made it my goal to visit and embrace at least one country..

Now, if you would’ve told high school me that traveling abroad would be very near a nightmare with the Covid-19 virus mutating every other week causing flights to be unpredictable, and having previous study abroad attempts canceled due to countries going into lockdown she’d probably be in disbelief. She’d be even more in disbelief when she would learn that Scotland would be our home for the next six months. Past me would question present me as to why I would want to travel to Scotland in the midst of an ongoing pandemic where everything was unpredictable and in the case of not knowing anyone there. It would be like my first semester of college; I would need to relearn my footing all over again in an even more isolating place since I’d be away from friends and family with a five hour time difference, and cooking for myself which was uncharted territory. And to that I would answer: why not? I had wanted this experience for such a long time, and when I was finally getting what I asked after trial and error sudden program cancellations it was finally within my grasp. So why be apprehensive?

Google Maps to the Rescue

In my first week of being in Glasgow Google Maps had become my best friend. It served its purpose of getting me familiar with the area and getting used to city living as I came from a small liberal arts college in a smaller city. I tried to get myself familiarized to where things were and to steady my anxiety with so many people in the street at seemingly all times of the day.

As one week became two it was starting to feel like what I expected it to, my first ever semester at college. Being away from home, the roots I had spent in for over sixteen years only to uproot and go somewhere I wasn’t fully sure I would like to grow in much less thrive in. On top of that I almost felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb seeing as there were few and far between people who looked like me, but that was to be expected. But it was still stifling, even as people tended to mind their business and go on their way. However, the feeling of being the odd man out never ceased especially when I kept finding myself making “foreign” food my flatmate never heard of and walked around in my bonnet on a casual day. She never questioned me about it, but I did still feel awkward with the pretense that she had something to mention about it, a question or comment that needed to be informed.

Home Away from Home

After getting well into the month of January I found myself staring at a list of clubs and societies that was sent through the university’s newsletters pertaining to “club week startup” for the semester. Being delighted to have seen this I scrolled long to see what the campus offered. No surprise, they offered a great deal: Baking Society, Rowing Club, Dance Club, Aerospace Club, and a plethora of others I never knew that you could make into a club. But, one club caught my eye in particular. African-Caribbean Society. Back home I had a similar sounding club, so it was easy for me to go out and test the waters as their Instagram page advertised a club meet up to kickoff the semester.

I found myself at the tea place having a laugh with some of the people that came to the meet up, we took up a whole section of the room! I found out that people were really interested in my American culture that mixed into the Afro Caribbean culture which was a nice talking point. I got advice on where to find plantains and to get my hair braided. I left there two hours later with the friends I had just made to go catch a late dinner which was also filled with tons of laughter and the exchanging of socials and phone numbers for future meet ups.

Words of Wisdom

As I continued to explore the country it slowly dawned on me that the “differences” that I was beating myself up about weren’t massive. Even while I was in Edinburgh having a chat with a man that carried an owl, it became even more obvious. He told me that Scotland was its own melting pot, and even himself as he was born in America, New Jersey to be exact but his family was Algerian. He moved to Scotland when he was six and had been here ever since. As I waited for him to put the owl on my arm for a photo he went on to mention that it didn’t matter where I was from, it just mattered that I was here and needed to do what the Scots did; embrace things with open arms.

What made me feel like a sore thumb wasn’t a bad thing, my difference was an ice breaker. A character development that made the plot of studying in Scotland interesting to all those who would ask for my story.

Chris Cadet is a student at Franklin & Marshall College. She is studying abroad with IFSA on the University of Glasgow program in Spring 2022.