Back From Abroad: Glasgow, Scotland Gay Gordons, D-Throws, and Tartan

Lo Smith


Last spring, I had a bit of an existential crisis. Standing in front of a class of 18 middle-schoolers in Glen Burnie, I realized I didn’t want to be a teacher. This realization set me free. Since I was nine years old, I thought I wanted to teach. Suddenly, my entire plan was gone. My future was terrifyingly open. I did what every junior in college does when they have this crisis: I went straight to the study abroad office and applied (within minutes to the deadline) to spend my first semester of my senior year of college in Glasgow at the University of Glasgow. I don’t think I have made a better decision in my life. 

Unlike the ICAs I would have been stuck with if I continued on my mislead path to being an educator, I was able to spend a semester in a foreign city, living with complete independence. I had my own student flat in the West End of Glasgow, Scotland (think Charles Village, but cooler) right by the river. There was a vegan pub at the end of the street and the university was only a mile walk away.  I cooked my own food, paid my own bills, and negotiated my own phone plan. 

The city centre lay two and a half miles down the road from me. I was literally in the middle of it all. The University of Glasgow has approximately 30,000 students spread out over the massive campus and West End. It was a welcome change from the stifling feeling of the Goucher bubble. The entire country was just a Citylink bus ride away. 

While 30,000 students may seem massive and alienating, I quickly found my niche. I joined the GULGBTQ, the Glasgow Queer Student Society, during the fresher’s fair (think club rush, class registration, Greek Week and GIG all in one) and the society quickly became the center of my social life. 

Within my second week in Glasgow, I travelled with Ciara, the GULGTQ Welfare Officer to Pussywhipped: A Wee Queer Feminist Festival in Edinburgh. There, we attended workshops on transfeminisms, queer feminist porn viewings, and met with feminist filmmakers and artists from all over Europe. By far, the highlight of the festival was the headlining performance by ONSIND, a folk punk duo from Durham, UK, who I have been a fan of for a while now.

GULGBTQ took a traditional Scottish experience and queered it for me.  We met with queer students from other schools and took them clubbing with us (what up, mezzanine level!). I attended my first ever Bon Fire night on November 5th with the organization, where we stood together on the Glasgow Green watching the fireworks arm in arm with my Glaswegian friends. I competed in quizzes about Scottish history and sports at the unofficially official gay bar. I joined the Archaeologist and Nordic societies through my GULBGTQ cohorts as ringers for their pub teams.  

I took my fellow Goucher student, Abigail Abrahams, to the Annual Winter Ceilidh with me, where we danced all of the traditional Scottish dances we could figure out and remember. The entire party was quite partial to the “Gay Gordon,” a simple dance of couples in a large circle, but with lots of flourishes and spins, which we danced three times. There is just something about watching a short Korean man and his husband in full matching kilt and jacket outfits whirling around the dance floor to make you feel at home.  The night ended with a massive circle on the dance floor, and we all linked arms, held hands, and swayed together as we belted out the traditional Scottish song “Auld Lang Syne.”  Walking home from the dance with our chips, Abigail and I spotted one of the legendary urban foxes of Glasgow in the park. 

To round out my Scottish experience, I took a bagpipe course, a medieval Scots language and literature class. I have taken a few classes in Medieval Literature here at Goucher, but nothing can compare to the understanding of a text when you have stood on the same shores as Dunbar and Henryson.  I studied bagpipe in the US as well, but when a member of a hereditary piping family tells you that you have finally mastered the D-throw, that’s when you feel like you’re really doing it. 

Most people claim that their study abroad experience caused a great shift in their lives. While I wasn’t teaching in South Africa, or living entirely in a different language, I too came home different. It wasn’t an academic change, or a social one. It’s just something I found on the top of Arthur’s Seat, on the River Clyde, in the tartan of my university graduation scarf and at the folk sessions in that dark basement pub called the Flying Duck. 



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