Moving to Glasgow, Scotland to complete my Master’s of Science was the best decision I have ever made. I took a leap forward and decided to pursue a Master’s of Science in Forensic Science at the University of Strathclyde once I completed my B.Sc (Honours) back home in Canada. I was lucky to have Across The Pond assist me in every aspect prior to moving to the UK and I’m certain I would have been lost without their guidance.
If anyone knows me, they know that I want to know every single detail before I make a decision. I am the type of person who is ALWAYS busy with hundreds of tasks; and because of this, I want know as much detail as possible to set goals, stay on track and prepare for my week. Prior to signing my apartment contract, I spent days on Google Maps trying to figure out distances and viewing what was around my building. I had printed out maps, created notes for myself and included the approximate distance and time to reach every place. I had spent hours on end researching where I would grocery shop, pick up kitchen supplies and bedding. It wasn’t until I finally arrived to Glasgow did it finally hit me that life in Glasgow wouldn’t be as hard and busy as I imagined it to be.
On the first day I went for a casual walk and found myself at City Centre. According to my notes, it should have taken 20 minutes- but I was there in less than 10 minutes. I realized that all my analytical preparation was unnecessary and started embracing a different kind of lifestyle!
I spent the first couple of days settling into my new apartment which was a huge penthouse suite shared with 6 other post-graduate students (I got lucky in student housing!). I found settling in to be extremely easy, everything I needed was right in City Centre! I got my student card within the first couple of days of registration and started getting student discounts in almost every store (cha-ching for savings!).
Living in Glasgow was amazing! I got the true UK living experience by ALWAYS getting caught in the rain and living in a city with buildings that were hundreds of years old. University of Strathclyde, Caledonian University and City Glasgow College were all dispersed throughout Glasgow city. Due to this, there was a grocery store, Costa Café (UK Starbucks), and a Greggs (UK Tim Hortons) on every corner. Living in the city was nothing like living in Markham, ON. I always needed my car to grocery shop or go for a coffee run. In Glasgow, I walked everywhere. I did not buy a bus pass, since it wasn’t needed. I only took the bus when I went on trips and needed to get to the airport. This bus was a Glasgow Shuttle Express, took 20 min and only cost £6 (I later discovered they offered a 10-ride pass for £30!). I did however, take the train almost every other weekend when I went to discover Edinburgh. Edinburgh was my second home when I lived in Glasgow, I was there all the time discovering all the tourist attractions, catching lunch-dates with my friends and many times I did find myself spending my entire weekends there. Edinburgh was A LOT more expensive than Glasgow so in the end, choosing to live in Glasgow but being able to catch a 30 min ride to Edinburgh allowed me to experience the best of both worlds.
When I was first introduced to Across The Pond, it was at a graduate fair and I had no intention of moving away to complete my Master’s studies. I did not want to put myself through the trouble of packing up my bags and re-locating. Especially to an extremely expensive place where my savings would be halved (CDN to GBP exchange rate).
It wasn’t until I finally started speaking with an Across The Pond advisor did I slowly begin to learn more about the advantages of moving to the UK to pursue my studies. A Master’s of Science in Canada would mean two more years of education, I could not pursue my desired field of Forensic Science since it was not offered… and the cost would be relatively similar if I added up two years here vs. one year in the UK. I later discovered that the UK offers their “taught” post-graduate programs as 8 months of courses and 4 months to complete a research project. This appealed to me the most, since I would be not only doing classwork and be studying, but also have the opportunity to conduct research in the field I loved.
I decided to apply to four institutions which offered a Master’s of Science in Forensic Science. My advisor instructed me to prepare all the documentations: CV, transcripts, personal statement, passport and two reference letters. I was given a form to provide to my referees which directed them not only where to send the reference letter, but the type of information which should be included to strengthen a reference letter. Within one week of sending out my applications, I began to receive acceptance emails and letters. I completed a Skype interview with King’s College and since I was happy to meet the professors and speak to them, King’s College was one of my top two options.
When it was time to make an acceptance and put forward a deposit, my advisor was my therapist. I was making lists, having Skype calls with him, and weighing out the pros and cons for each of the programs, and lists for each of the cities… I was slowly going crazy. I knew that in the University of Strathclyde, I would have the opportunity to specialize in the stream of my choice, I would be given hands-on practical lab experience and I had known people in Canada who did graduate from that program. But there was something about moving to London to complete a degree from an Ivy League University which I found so intriguing. I finally reached out to speak to my professor and she had given me advice that made my final decision. It does not matter if I graduate from a UK recognized Ivy League institution if I planned on returning back to Canada (Toronto is my home, and I was 100% returning!). I finally made my final decision to study at the University of Strathclyde for a lower tuition, in a city with lower living costs, and completing a degree that would give me the opportunity to have a specialization.
Living in Glasgow was actually a little cheaper than living in Toronto, ON. My rent was about £500 per month (this included electricity, water and internet) which was equivalent to around $1000 CAD at the time. My phone plan was unlimited everything (I chose this only for the data) and cost me £12 every month! I was also able to use this plan when I travelled to certain destinations in Europe. Talk about a steal! I had signed up to the University Athletic Centre which was 90£ for the entire year which averaged to 6£ every month! I found many things in Glasgow MUCH cheaper than in Canada… including groceries. The only thing I found more expensive was eating out… A burger in a restaurant would cost about £12 which was almost $24 CAD! For this reason, I always preferred making my own food at home, especially since groceries were about the same price as in Canada. I would say that in my entire time living in Scotland, I ate out 5 times… I was obsessed with travelling so I always made sure I saved and kept track of my spending so I can take another trip!
I lived in university accommodation- the Post-Graduate building (James Goold Hall Block A). I chose to do this because I wanted to be set up with roommates which I was compatible with, and I wanted my monthly fees to include all expenses (electricity, water, and internet) so that nothing was a surprise in the end of the month. My roommates and I were all international students from all over the world, we were placed in a penthouse style floor… we needed a key to get to our floor since the elevator would open up to our apartment. We had access to the roof (which we technically weren’t allowed on for safety reasons) but once a while, set up chairs and tables to sip on our teas and coffees while enjoying the view of Glasgow. The accommodation was actually pretty nice for the price I was paying, it also included having a housekeeper come in once a week and “deep clean” our kitchen.
In my spare time I found myself out with my friends, at the gym (at least 3 times a week), and obviously travelling to different destinations to explore. I loved hiking up Arthurs’ Seat in Edinburgh, and many times would drag my friends along to complete a morning hike. I made amazing friends when I was in Scotland, they were a mix of classmates and students I met through different connections. These were the friends that would always be ready for an adventure- whether it be a weekend trip to a Scottish destination, or for a two week backpacking Euro trip.
I was lucky enough to be one of the few MSc Forensic Science students to return back to Canada to complete my research project at the Centre of Forensic Sciences in Toronto (which was the best way to wrap up my education!). This meant I was only in the UK for eight months, but was able to travel to Rome, London (many times), Amsterdam, Berlin and Barcelona. Throughout Scotland, I would always either take a train or a bus to visit parts of the Highlands. Flying from Europe is very cheap, so as long as I booked my flights in advance I would be getting a bargain. My flight from Berlin to Barcelona actually cost £30 ($60 CAD!!). I always travelled with at least one friend, and we would stay in hostels while we explored these cities. Hostels always had lockers so you can “lock-up” before you start your day. I personally felt there was no point in wasting money on a hotel room if I was going to be out and about all day. Hostels were also a great way to meet other international students, make even more connections and a way to learn more while travelling.
For any students thinking of spending a year completing their Master’s studies at the University of Strathclyde I would tell them to prepare for the best year of your life!
Practically speaking, invest in a good pair of walking shoes, a good rain coat and a pair of rain boots. There is no point in having an umbrella (the wind will break them)… and you will most likely be the only one with an umbrella. Prepare to embrace the rain of Scotland!
Once you arrive, make sure you are always getting involved with social events, especially the International Society. It is a great way to meet other international students and they hold many trips around Scotland throughout the year.
Everything you envision for your year abroad should be taken with a grain of salt, so be ready to be adaptive! Keeping an optimistic perspective is key to making your year away the best experience of your life!