Off to Glasgow
December 29, 2010 2:24 AM   Subscribe

Tips for my 20 year old son's upcoming semester at the University of Glasgow?

My son leaves this weekend for a junior year semester at the University of Glasgow. He has never lived on his own in a college apartment situation before (dorms only). He's not going to be on a meal plan.

Any good bargain eating spots, shops, etc. nearby?

Any hints, peculiarities, can't miss experiences that would be good to know?
posted by imjustsaying to Education (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The underground is incredibly useful for getting between the west end (where the university's based) and the centre of town. It's cheaper to get a 20-journey ticket than buy them individually. There's only two lines (one running clockwise and one counter-clockwise around the same circle); trains are usually every 5 minutes or so between 6.30am and 11.30pm (ish), except for Sundays when service is much more limited.

Public transport as a whole is generally good, both for moving around inside the city and for traveling elsewhere. As a general rule trains from Queen Street go north, and trains from Central go south - if you're heading to Edinburgh, be sure to get the quicker, fairly direct one from Queen Street rather than the longer one from Central, though.

If you're looking for bargain foodnshops, avoid the Waitrose in Byres Road next to the university - it's great, but pricey. Tesco is cheaper, as is the Co-op; there's plenty of those dotted around.

Places I'd personally recommend in the west end:
- Kelvingrove park (nice big expanse of green right next to the university) and Kelvingrove museum (great, and it's to it's credit that it's very popular with locals as well as tourists)
- Tchai Ovna on Otago Lane, a fantastic tea cafe place that also serves great vegetarian/vegan food; it's next to Voltaire & Rousseau, a wonderful secondhand bookshop.
- The Lansdowne on Lansdowne Crescent, a quietish and very nice pub/restaurant
- Ichiban (on Queen St in the town centre and Dumbarton Road in the west end), very reasonably priced and tasty Japanese restaurant.

If he's interested in the tourist bus tours, they leave from George Square in the centre of town and are pretty good for a general historical overview of the city.

I've lived in Glasgow for two years now (and work at the university myself), and I'm very fond of it. It has a reputation for being quite rough, which is largely outdated and/or more limited to particular areas if the city which aren't the swanky West End; although if your son is staying in the student village in Morano Street, it's worth keeping in mind that the area around/north of that is Maryhill, which is a lot poorer.

Feel free to memail me if you want to know anything else!
posted by Catseye at 3:39 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's been very cold (for Scotland - this might not be very cold for where you are) so far this winter. If he needs to upgrade cold weather coats/boots/whatever, all of that is a LOT cheaper to buy in the States before he goes than to try to find when he gets here.

The upside of the cold is that if he enjoys or wants to try skiing, the slopes at Glencoe and Nevis Range (on the Mallaig line trains from Glasgow) have been in great condition for so early in the season. Aviemore has had avalanche warnings and the road to the Lecht keeps closing, but they're not convenient for Glasgow anyway. The mountain walks and ice climbing everywhere north of Loch Lomond are fantastic.

If he wants to do sightseeing in the UK while here, get a student railcard. On a journey from Glasgow to London it would easily pay for itself. I'm biased, but think the train from Glasgow to Fort William is one of the more beautiful rail journeys here. If he digs Harry Potter (hey you never know) the train carries on over the viaduct at Glenfinnan from the films.

For journeys within Scotland, Megabus is a cheap alternative to the train (and if going up to Inverness, more direct as well).

Tesco and Co-op are far cheaper than Waitrose. Sainsbury is kind of in-between.

I've found US cards don't always work in UK stores (they are not compatible with chip-and-pin verification), but there are no problems using them in the ATMs. For a short stay as an overseas resident, getting a UK bank account is too much of a pain to be bothered with.

He's arriving this weekend? Both the 1st and 2nd are public holidays in Scotland, so worth finding out if there are alterations to public transport if the university hasn't arranged that.

Tell him to stay off the Buckfast...
posted by Cuppatea at 6:07 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been told before that US institutions mark to a very different scale to UK institutions, so he should be prepared to get some marks that will look lower than he is used to. Anything above 70 is a high mark and some professors will not go much above that unless someone is outstanding.
posted by biffa at 8:20 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, biffa's definitely correct--I remember a former student of mine on a junior year abroad from UCLA being horrified when I gave her the equivalent of a B minus--she was a straight A average in the US. (Wrote to thank me later, mind you.) Although there is grade inflation pressure in British universities, it's not as bad as in the US: most people will use the full grade range from A to F, with C being the passing grade. Teaching in the US, my impression was that we could basically only grade from A to B, with C only being used for truly catastrophic cases (and yet still not being a fail).

Also, as a rule, essay/exam questions in UK institutions are actual questions to be answered, not topic guides for the student to construct their own essays around. This can take a bit of getting used to--though it'll matter less if he's doing science or engineering, of course.

On to a few things about, and around, Glasgow. The south end of Loch Lomond is barely 40 minutes from central Glasgow by suburban-line train to Balloch; there's also a great bike route [pdf], much of it traffic-free, that starts in the centre of the city and takes you to the same place. It's about 25 miles to Balloch, from where you can get to a splendid youth hostel on the west bank of the loch a couple of miles further on--unfortunately this is the bank that the main road north follows, so it can be noisy. Or you can cycle on to the youth hostel at Rowardennan at the foot of Ben Lomond on the east bank--that would be a total of about forty miles, and very doable in the course of a relaxed day's riding. But definitely worth heading out that way whether by bike, train, car or bus.

Also easily accessible from Glasgow is the Isle of Arran: suburban train to Ardrossan, ferry from there to Brodick. Gorgeous; good for cycling (not much traffic), hiking, and generally feeling much further away from urban life than you actually are. Check out the standing stones at Machrie Moor, or visit the (new) distillery. There are plenty of other choices for this kind of thing, too: the west coast of Scotland is just amazingly beautiful (I dream about it when I'm away from Britain), and cuppatea is completely right about the railway line to Fort William. But Arran is an easy trip. Easier still is Great Cwmbrae, a wee island that's a five minute ferry ride from Largs (ice cream!), also a short hop from Glasgow on a suburban line.

Glasgow itself I'm (sadly) not so familiar with, so not much to add to catseye's useful comments. If he's interested in art, or in fact just cool stuff, he should check out the Burrell Collection. I believe the Glasgow Film Theatre is a good place, and it's in the right part of town.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 9:31 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

The university's Students' Representative Council gives away a free guidebook to Glasgow, covering the city from the perspective of a student living away from home for the first time. It's got loads of advice about the city, where to shop, eat, drink, and take in the culture. If he isn't given one when he arrives, I'd recommend he goes down to the SRC and picks one up.

also, um, I kinda wrote it.

Good places to eat and/or drink, off the top of my head:

- Tchai Ovna, as already mentioned, is an awesome (and very studenty) little tea shop that is always five minutes away from shutting down. Try the Yogi Chai.
- Nice N' Sleazy is a great scuzzy hipstery music dive in the city centre.
- Mono is a nice pub, a tasty vegetarian restaurant and the best record shop in Glasgow all at the same time.
- The Ubiquitous Chip, just off campus, is a friendly pub attached to one of the best restaurants in the city.
- Stereo, hidden down a back lane near Central Station, does good beer and vegan food.
- The Black Sparrow near Charing Cross does awesome 2 for 1 burgers.
- The Bier Halle has a couple of outlets in the city centre; they do beer and dirt-cheap stonebaked pizza.
- If he can make it out that far east, the West Brewery on Glasgow Green brews some excellent German-style beers. If he's hanging around until the weather isn't quite so… apocalyptic… sinking a couple of pints with a few friends in their beer garden is probably the best thing you can do in the city.

There's loads of culture going on the city as well – there's great museums like the Kelvingrove, the Hunterian, the Gallery of Modern Art; music at places like Nice N Sleazy, the CCA and the Arches; theatre at places like the Tron and the Citizen's. I'd just advice him to get stuck in! It's an awesome city.
posted by dudekiller at 9:59 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I wasn't in Glasgow but can offer a couple of Scotland tips. Firstly, during some break in the semester or after it's over this summer, he owes it to himself to take a train around Scotland, either solo or with friends, to truly see it. The idyllic landscapes he'll see from the train are some of the most beautiful anywhere. It's like they come from a storybook. It almost doesn't look real, like somebody has placed a soft gold-wash filter over it in Photoshop. Little cottages, little stone walls cordoning off cute fields dotted with round hay bales or sheep, the lone tree at the top of the ridge, the rocky stream running along next to the tracks, the swaying fields of grain, the seemingly groomed green slopes, green green green, carpets of green. It's lovely, and train travel is such a civilized and serene way to witness it.

He could ride up through Fort William to Mallaig on the coast and ferry over to Skye, check that out, take the bridge back to the mainland at Kyle of Lochalsh, head through Inverness in the center over to Aberdeen on the east coast, then down through Dundee to Edinburgh and back to Glasgow, hopping off to check out or stay overnight at any or all of those places. It's wonderful to get out of the city and go through the small places and see the wild places, just to see it. He's young enough to probably like the hostel style of traveling, so that'll be fairly cheap.

Another thing he should be aware of before going is that the teaching, learning, and testing elements of education over there are different. I can't speak for undergrad, but at least at the graduate level the whole structure and style of it are different. The diffdrence is subtle, and for that reason can escape you for a while as you try to operate within it. I'm betting undergrad will be similar. He is used to being told what he needs to know and memorizing it and being able to reproduce it on tests. He's about to go into a style of education that is more open-ended and requires more of him in terms of going out and finding out what he needs to know on a subject. It can feel a bit less secure because there's a whole library full of stuff on a topic - which ones should he read? Which will be on the test? There will be book lists of course, but it will be up to him to a certain degree to find good ones on a topic and read and understand the relevant parts of them. In the end it's more responsibility.

It's a better style of education if you ask me but takes some getting used to, particularly if one isn't expecting that things will be any different. In my experience the goal over there is more about making sure people think, explore, and understand than it is about being able to prove it on tests. In some of my classes the only test was the exam at the end, and for a large portion of the grade. The semester was spent reading, exploring topics, and writing papers and other shorter writing assignments. So it made you make sure to grasp the concept of something rather than just to remember the right terms and explanations. I think it's the difference between actual learning and something more superficial.

If your son's program has not already briefed him on this, it will be valuable for him to know something about culture shock before he goes. If he knows what it is, can recognize its stages as they happen, and can understand why they are happening, he can lessen his anxiety along the way. Understanding reverse culture shock is also helpful, just to make re-entry smoother when he returns, though that's an easier adjustment.
posted by Askr at 1:50 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ashton Lane should be first on the list of places to walk around. It's right next to the uni and full of pubs and restaurants mostly populated by students. Separately, I also highly recommend Uisge Beatha on Woodlands Road, also in the West End, which has folk music jam sessions on Sunday nights.

As for cheap food, if he's living on Murano St. then the Tesco on Maryhill Rd. is likely the best option, maybe a 10 minute walk, not bad at all with 2 grocery bags. If his apartment is near the university, e.g. any of the side streets south of Great Western Road, then the Somerfield on Byres Road is convenient.

Join the QMU.
posted by whataboutben at 6:09 PM on December 29, 2010

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