Scotland: Discovered

We have discovered Scotland.


After 30 days in this country, it’s safe to say that our group is, to use a Scottish phrase, a “wee bit” tired. And I don’t just mean sleepy enough to catch up on Z’s on the flight back into the States (which we did), but a sort of weariness that accompanies the end of the best types of trips. A trademark of this May Seminar (one that was designed intentionally by Professors Lindner and Knutson) was that the 12 of us students were responsible for seeing the things that we wanted to see while in Edinburgh and Glasgow. That translated into guidebook scouring, Google maps planning, subway riding, walking, concert going, museum browsing, castle viewing, Frisbee throwing, restaurant testing, pub crawling, walking, taxi cab hailing, mountain climbing, wool scarf shopping, rain braving, heat tolerating, and mostly, a lot of walking.

The secondary trademark that made us take ownership of the trip was the ethnography component. If you’ve not experienced the joys and trials of social scientific research before, the important thing to know is that the process requires a level of persistence that is exhausting. For most, the ethnographic research translated into group selecting, rejection bearing, interview planning, interview transcribing, creepy observing, non-creepy observing, tape recording, phone calling, text messaging, Google maps planning, question asking, data collecting, thesis writing, thesis revising, and again, a lot of walking.

While our blog posts to date have shown excellent snapshots of the cultural observations we’ve made, or shared with you our faithful reader detailed accounts of some of the adventures we’ve had, perhaps you’re curious about that exhausting ethnographic work we’ve been up to. The subcultures chosen by each person represent a diverse cross section of Glasgow, and speak to the individual interests, strengths, and inquiries we all brought with us on this trip. Ethnographer Brianna Johnson observed a tea house operated by a Czech family that happens to enjoy smoking the hookah, and learned that despite the shop’s hidden location, their business is booming. Colleague Jenny Morrow interviewed four different cosmetic consultants in a nearby department store and learned that they are NOT simply girls who play with mascara all day long, but instead sales experts who value customer satisfaction above everything. John Stelter focused on a Catholic community in Glasgow’s city center, while Lauren Tjaden spent time at a community center with outreach programs for children and the elderly, both learning that a sense of “community” is created differently depending on it’s members. And me? I hung out with the cello students at a music conservatoire, and learned that they’ve created a strong sense of identity that stands out from other musicians at the conservatoire.

A few of our classmates became adopted by the groups they chose to study. Matt Gantz, for example, who was sliding down the fire pole and wearing the full firefighting gear by the second week of his time with the Strath-Clyde fire department. He has pictures with the squad to prove it. And Tansy Wells, who was invited to an exlusive, staff-only inventory party at the coffee-shop/bookstore she studied. At her final meeting with them before we left Glasgow, Tansy said she was emotional enough about leaving her new friends that she got choked up. 

Scotland challenged us and took good care of us. As a Glaswegian might say, our trip was “pure brilliant.” We have arrived back but I think it’s safe to say that we won’t forget our time in Scotland any time soon.

Though we’re home, we aren’t quite finished with the Scotland experience. Up next? Ethnography writing, with a deadline at the end of June. No rest for the international traveler. 

Thanks for reading with us this month.

(Especially you, Mr. Wells. You’re blog-following skills are second to none.)

Blogged by Steph 

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Glasgow: Scotland’s Fashion Center

Over the last few days, I’ve been spending a lot of time perched on a ledge at the intersection of Sauchiehall and Buchanan Streets over the stairs of the Buchanan Galleries, where I am doing my ethnographic study.  The streets are both pedestrian walkways and form a massive shopping district, so hundreds of people walk by every day and from my eagle-eye view I have a pretty great opportunity to people-watch.  One thing I have noticed is the huge range of fashion choices in this city look much different from the comfy, casual look we are used to on Concordia’s campus.

For the ladies, even casual looks are a lot more structured than we might expect in the States.  Ugg boots are paired with black skinny jeans instead of baggy sweatpants, but a more popular choice we have noticed is denim cut-off shorts and black tights or leggings, which is not a look that is seen often at home.  Blouses and blazers are popular choices even for a casual day of shopping, and the high heels that we have seen are borderline ridiculous (maybe that’s just ethnocentric of me, but they can’t possibly be comfortable or practical).  Also popular are brightly colored skinny jeans in every shade of the rainbow and a curious affinity for wearing leggings as pants, and while I would never make either of these fashion choices, Glaswegian women seem to pull it off in their European style.

Even more striking is the difference in men’s fashion between Scotland and Minnesota.  As Ariel and I were discussing today, we very rarely see the “bro” style of grungy sweatpants, sweatshirts, and backwards caps that is so common among college-age men of America.  Instead, most men wear skinny jeans, tailored shirts, and hair that has been not only combed but styled, which is a style change that we have been appreciating.

Along with the structured styles that are popular among the adult population, much of Glasgow’s youth follows another trend that has not yet been named in the U.S.: NEDs.  NEDs are Non-Educated Delinquents, or youths that usually have chosen not to continue schooling after the age of sixteen (which is when Scottish secondary school ends) and are generally recognized by their tendency to wear track suits and congregate in public places and cause disturbances, as a policeman I talked to earlier this week explained.

Of course, in a city as diverse as Glasgow, it is impossible to say that everyone is well-dressed or even dressed in a similar style.  Many people are dressed very much like they would be in the U.S., and many people’s choices would not be considered fashionable, like the man I saw yesterday with multi-colored dyed dreadlocks and facial hair and leopard-printed bell-bottoms.  In any case, there are some definite differences in clothing choices that have left us feeling out of place at times, but have also made my hours at the stairs a little more interesting.

In case you haven’t heard, it’s the Diamond Jubilee this weekend, celebrating 60 years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign and meaning lots of weekend sales for shops and department stores.  God save the Queen.

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Don’t forget to celebrate!

So, today marks the last full weekend we are to experience before returning to the US this coming Wednesday. For some it has effects on the types of observations they are able to do. Having chosen to study a music venue/pub myself, today is the start of a weekend which will be one of my best opportunities to do some research. For all, however, it is a beginning of their last weekend here, a reason to get out and celebrate. The rest of Scotland will be officially celebrating as this weekend is the Diamond Jubilee- a celebration of 60 years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign.

I talked to my parents earlier in the day, and they expressed their concerns that I remember this is not a vacation, but a summer course, with grades and all those things as well. I assured them that I was prioritizing getting my research done in my time remaining here. With five days left before our return, it is increasingly becoming a struggle to devote the majority of time to research, while still leaving time and energy to go out and do other things throughout the city. Reflecting on time, it is startling for me to realize that five days is the average length of vacations most people take, and certainly the average amount of time I have traveled for on any occasion before this trip. Upon returning, it will be interesting to compare the effects of traveling for two such different lengths of time.

With so little time left, I find myself ranking what I feel is most important to accomplish before returning. Of course, completing my research is at the top of the list, but beyond that, all other goals seem to have a similar thought in mind. Before leaving Scotland, it is my wish to recount all the highlights of living here, and experience them one last time before leaving. This could mean different things to my fellow travelers than it does to me. For example, for tavelmate Laura Kuisle, this would involve drinking lots of Irn Bru, a soda that taste surprisingly like bubble gum. For me, however, it will mean taking advantage of a place with such a rich musical scene, and living under a sunset that just begs you not to go to bed too early. I hope that all my companions on the trip can fight the weariness of a long journey, and get out to see a few last things as well.

On that note, I better finally man up and try some haggis.

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Let’s talk about food!

Since coming to Scotland we have experienced a wide variety of foods and eaten out more than I would like to reflect on. We have had traditional Scottish chicken stuffed with haggis,   less traditional burgers, spaghetti, curries and curries and curries, Japanese, Chinese noodle bars, Laura, Justine and I tried to find a Greek a couple of days ago. While in Glasgow we have the kitchen to prepare our own food, I still find myself eating out more than I should. Is it because it’s convenient? Because we are in a large city with new options that we’ve never tried before? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because eating is a big part of our culture, as are restaurants. Any large city will have restaurants with cuisine from all over the world.

I first began thinking about portion sizes in Edinburgh when I would come to an end of a meal out and have food  left over but no fridge to take then home to (another bonus of having a kitchen in Glasgow!). Coming to Scotland, to Europe even if not mainland Europe, I thought the portions were going to be smaller than in the United States. I had this view in my head that despite their smoking habits, Europeans were healthier (a very vague term, I know) than Americans. But their portion sizes at restaurants are just as large as in America. I have experienced this in all of the places we have visited.

So I decided to confront my ignorant view of Europe and therefore Scotland as healthier with some facts. According to the National Health Service, 63.3% of adults 16-64 are obese in Scotland and 32.5% of children ages 2-15 were outside the healthy BMI range (

Scotland is trying to combat rising obesity in several ways. It has started eight communities on the Healthy Weight Communities program, several healthy weight intervention programs for children, and Take On Life, a “national social marketing campaign [which] aims to tackle unhealthy weight, prevent long term illness such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, and make people feel more positive about themselves, by motivating behaviour change in healthy eating, physical activity and alcohol moderation habits.” ( I have not seen any of the campaign advertisement myself, but here is a picture off the internet

Obesity is more than a national problem for the United States. Many countries around the world struggle with it, just as many countries around the world struggle with starvation. I’ve found many of my preconceived notions about Scotland to be very off. It’s important to not rest on these notions, but go out and find more information.

The more you know.


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Scotland 2012: YOLO (sorry…I had to)

As we approach the end of our stay in Scotland, one week from today, I find it especially pertinent that I take this time to reflect on my experience as a whole. The 23 days abroad have provided me with a learning experience I will not soon forget. Last year, I did a similar program under the instruction of Sociologists Andrew Lindner and Matthew Lindholm in London and Paris. Due to that fantastic experience, I decided to study abroad again in the UK. I was criticized by some friends for returning to the same area of the world and chastised by others for not saving the money for grad school. To all my haters, you were wrong! I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world.

(I don’t have a theme for this post, other than that of an overall reflection. After having a Scottish delicacy, a deep-fried Mars bar [just like a Milky Way], my brain is feeling a bit overwhelmed with happiness and fat…pure fat.)

While we discussed this idea many times in London, I didn’t fully understand it. After Scotland, I now more fully understand how we’re all ethnocentric. Basically, when someone assumes that their cultural is the norm and passes moral judgment on anything that deviates from that norm they are engaging in ethnocentrism. Driving on the left side of the road is weird; they use too many coins; kilts should not be worn by anyone are all examples of ethnocentrism. Even if isn’t said aloud, like that Scottish boy/girl’s outfit you’re looking at (they buttoned their top button…who buttons the top button?!), you’re still engaging in ethnocentrism. While seemingly unavoidable, we can all do a better job of fully embracing other cultures and attempt to understand rather than judge—an invaluable skill for not only traveling abroad, but life in general.

We have discussed the Scottish people’s strong sense of national identity extensively in class. This attitude is omnipresent in Scotland while people in London seemed rather ambivalent about England, the UK, etc. Until having time to think about it, I’ve had no idea how to approach this idea and still am rather perplexed. But after thinking much more about football (soccer), it makes sense to me. In sports, many of us cheer for the underdog. In my mind, Scotland has an underdog mentality.

Their 5,000,000 people pales in comparison to England’s 50 plus million population. They rely on their sense of community and identity in all aspects of their life. They do not want to be lumped in with the majority. In part, this strong identity, has led them to develop the ballot initiative in 2014 to potentially separate from England. They are an underdog country and I think they prefer it that way. I admire their sense of pride. It’s a feeling I’ve never had about my own country. While I think I should be proud of many things, my country never tops that list. But after being here, I think it’s something that we should work toward, because as evidenced by the people here, it’s definitely worth it.

Bob’s your uncle.


Scotland 2012 “The wine flowed endlessly; and of course, there were always, the pipes. ~Scottish guy narrating video playing at Dunvegan Castle

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Day 22? I feel like I just got here.

With only about a full week left of our time in Scotland, our class is working hard to get enough interviews and hours of observation in for our selected groups. For some of us, the process has gone fairly smoothly – but for others not so much. Choosing a group of interest was the first task and probably the easiest part of the whole project. All of us started with high hopes and started to try to research but soon found out that the ethnographic process comes with quite a few hurdles to jump.  A few of the problems we have encountered have been people not getting back to us after we email or call, having to deal with security issues and not having enough time in two weeks to get through them, facilities being too far away (my first plan of studying a Synagogue was changed due to a 40 minute commute both ways- not feasible with how little time we have), and groups saying no due to their own busy schedules.

Although this has been frustrating, our professors have been assuring us almost daily that this is normal for social research. As annoying as problems may be, I’ve come to learn that encountering them isn’t always a bad thing.  Because my original plan fell through, I ended up finding a great coffee shop/second-hand book store nearby who were more than willing to let me interview them and spend time at their business.  I have also come to learn that to do this type of research you have to make yourself outgoing if you aren’t already, and you can’t be afraid to be nosy and ask questions. I personally found this a lot more challenging than I would have anticipated. I have done interviews before and have written one other ethnography, but I still found it nerve-wracking to approach a group as a stranger and ask for permission to study them. I was so nervous at first I’m pretty sure I came across as creepy and/or a weirdo when I first talked to the owner of the shop about possibly studying them. Whoops! Thankfully she said yes! Fellow classmate Lauren also said she was nervous to approach her group initially. She said the nerves went away after realizing how friendly and helpful everyone was.

I must say my time spent in Glasgow so far has been great. It’s been a big change from Edinburgh and the Highlands, but it’s been interesting to finally get to know some of the people who reside here. When I started to get to know some of the locals, especially through the coffee shop, my whole perspective of the city started to change. All of a sudden I don’t feel like such a tourist and an outsider. I know people by name and they know mine.  I am slowly gaining inside knowledge of a small part of Glasgow, which is something I won’t soon forget.

Blogged by Tansy.

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And of course, there were the pipes.

Today marks the one week anniversary of our arrival in Glasgow! Because there hasn’t been a blog for the past couple of days i’ll fill you guys in on some of the stuff that has happened. For starters about half of our crew have become ill, luckily I’ve avoided the plague thus far, and the heat doesn’t help. The past few days have felt like we took a trip to a subtropic island with high temperatures and even higher humidity. On a lighter note, many of us have chosen our ethnography groups and have begun to do research. I chose to study the congregation of St. Andrew’s Cathedral and so far have spent a total of 7 hours in mass.

Moving on, Glasgow has a different feel to it than Edinburgh or the highlands. Here the facade of the rough and tumble kilt wearing Scotsman is almost no where to be seen. There aren’t the ultra touristy shops along the road advertising cheaply made kilts or dozens upon dozens of tartan trinkets. Glasgow seems to be a different place all together. Instead of being an ancient city with history that goes backs hundreds upon hundreds of years, Glasgow only rose to prominence during the industrial revolution because of its ship yards. Here the streets are laid out in grid format and the buildings of major corporations are clustered along the Clyde river.

While the lack of touristy shops and a modern feel with a vibrant music scene might be the cup of tea for some of us on the trip, it’s not for me. Instead of walking on sidewalks, i wouldn’t mind climbing another highland mountain or two. Regardless, were in the home stretch with only 9 more days until we fly back to the states. So at least for myself i need to dig in and enjoy what little time we have left in Scotland.

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