People Make Glasgow

Expressed everywhere
Present on signs, in people
People make Glasgow

You see it all over the place. It’s on bikes. It’s on taxis. It’s the city motto, and at first, I just thought it was a cheesy catchphrase, the kind of thing people say as an idealistic goal and not as an actual accurate statement. But then I saw it for myself not just in words, but in actions. People make Glasgow. 

A preconceived notion busted

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I walk past this mural whenever I go to the nearby Tesco Extra. My flatmate Annaliese can attest to the fact that the first time I saw it, my immediate reaction was, “Look at all the melanin!”

For the global studies seminar that North Central study abroad students were required to take at the end of last school year, we were assigned to present on anything we wanted about our destination country. Of course, I chose to research and present on the racial/ethnic breakdown of Scotland and its associated societal effects. The results I found didn’t look appealing: this country’s population is 96% white, with a slew of scholarly articles indicating negative racial attitudes towards South and Southeast Asians. Having done that research, I arrived to Glasgow prepared to deal with a similar societal climate to that of my predominantly white community back home in the States.

Thank God I’ve been proven wrong.

Glasgow is an extraordinary colorful palette of cultures. Whenever I walk out of my flat, whether it’s to the University or if it’s just to the local grocery store, just about every other person I pass by is a person of color. That’s not an exaggeration. That’s already so much more than I can say for the community I live in back home where I feel like a fish out of water. It’s not exactly Chicago, but it most definitely isn’t Naperville, either. It’s so much more diverse here, which is so hard to believe considering the hard numbers.

Of course, diversity is never only about the aesthetics, it’s also about the inclusion among that diversity. With a huge population of international students and the sincere friendliness of Scottish culture (contrary to what many of the scholarly articles I’d read had me believing) abound, boy oh boy have I found inclusion here, too. And it’s so much more than I’ve ever dreamed of.

I’m at home here.

Integrating into the pace of this study abroad experience has felt like second nature to me. I’m still waiting for culture shock to hit, but it hasn’t yet, and at this point I’m wondering if it even will. Sure, I forget about how people drive on a different side of the road than what I’m used to, I’m a little insecure about my American accent sometimes, and I get a little antsy when I’m trying to dole out the correct change at the grocery store because I’m still not familiar with Scottish currency, but those little things are totally negligible in comparison with how much I’m already feeling at home here. Living this independently in a totally foreign country has been nothing but a long-awaited and much-needed adventure of self-sufficiency both at the social level and at the individual level. It’s been the opportunity to be who I am at my very core. I’ve completely taken advantage of that opportunity and continue to do so in every single moment, whether it’s just cooking for myself or meeting new people and making new friends. It’s the most thrilling and fulfilling feeling imaginable. I feel all the more comfortable being entirely myself here, unfettered by the culture of my campus and its surrounding area back in the States.

In the U.S., I feel like I’m constantly on guard, carefully navigating my way through an exhaustingly homogenous community and its associated viewpoints, attitudes, and actions towards minorities. I’m constantly checking myself, sometimes even allowing myself to stay silent just for the sake of day-to-day social survival. I notice how people react when I try to share my culture — I notice the patronizing and insincere “Oh, how fascinating, how interesting” response from peers who, despite their obvious and misguided attempts to “prove” otherwise, clearly have never engaged in cultural exchange before; I notice the awkward silence as they try to calculate other responses in an environment they’re afraid is “too PC.” I’ve noticed it all, and despite knowing and believing that there’s no good education without feeling uncomfortable, sometimes, it is damn exhausting. I didn’t realize just how exhausting it was until I got here, to Glasgow, studying abroad, where authentic and beautiful cultural exchange runs rampant among individuals with so much confident, unapologetic pride and knowledge regarding their own heritage.

Though it’s only been two weeks, I really am at home here. I’ve been able to be myself — all of myself.

In the U.S., in all-Filipin@ spaces, sometimes I feel too American and not Filipina enough. In all-American spaces, I feel too Filipina and not white American enough. But here, I’m able to embrace and act on every bit of my identity as a first-generation Filipina-American.

I cook chicken adobo for my flatmates from Chile, China, and Texas. We marvel at the similarities between Chilean and Philippine culture, and I practice the Spanish that has come naturally to me thanks to my familiarity with Tagalog. My Slovenian friend and I exchange language lessons in our respective tongues — when we eat, he can now say Kumain na tayo, and I say Dober tek. I even allow my slight Filipino accent to come out in almost every conversation I have, shaping my sentences with the tiniest of lilts and rounded syllables, and I just feel so much like me. (Flashback to that one time I got to wear traditional Philippine clothing on my campus — I’ve been feeling something similar to that thrill for the last two weeks, only a thousandfold and every single second. AKA, I’ve been feeling it a lot.)

And all the while that I am offering these parts of my Filipina cultural identity, I am also still sharing about my home country of the United States of America: our politics, our customs, our popular culture, and so on and so forth. I let my new friends from Scotland, Chile, Germany, China, Italy, Taiwan, Singapore, Slovenia, and France grill me on my roots and roles in both Philippine culture and in American culture, and it’s satisfying beyond belief. For the first time, being a first-generation American who has constantly had to straddle the line between the world of her immigrant parents and the world of American culture no longer feels like a bashfully given explanation for my personality and my values, but rather a beautiful and validated aspect of just who I am as a person.

From meeting new folks to learning and trying new and exciting activities, I am completely in my element here, and I rejoice in it every second. My thirst for diversity and cultural exchange is constantly getting quenched, and yet it’s also endlessly growing as each social interaction and exchange with someone leaves me yearning for even more. I feel free and limitless here; I am being poured into just as much as I am pouring out. It’s nothing short of thrilling.

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Speaking of cultural exchange: This past Sunday (18 Sept), I got to celebrate the Chilean Independence Day! We cooked, we ate, we drank, we danced… This beautiful group consists of people who hail from countries all over the world, including Chile, USA, Scotland, Slovenia, Singapore, the Czech Republic, Australia, and Canada. I am so grateful for these individuals and the journeys we’re sharing with each other.

With every individual I’ve met celebrating their culture and their authentic selves to the fullest of their abilities, wherever they’re from, no wonder this city’s motto is People make Glasgow. I’m beyond blessed, beyond grateful, to be in the hustle and bustle of it all.

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