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AN UNFORGETTABLE NIGHT: HANDLING SOCIAL DRINKING IN SCOTLAND

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Last night could not have happened. It was all way too perfect to have actually been real.

That is what most of the incoming students at the University of Glasgow have said every morning for the past week. It’s the last day of “Freshers Week,” the week where all of the new students settle in (think “Syllabus Week” without the classes.) The nightly activities of the first week at college in Scotland and the United States are essentially the same, except for one major difference.

In Scotland, and the rest of the United Kingdom, this kind of behavior is actually encouraged. Nightclubs and bars around the city lined up on University Ave. throughout the week, practically begging the incoming freshers and international students to come through their doors, offering student discounts like £2 shots, £1 mix drinks, and free entry (the pound is the currency of the U.K., hence this symbol: £). And the university was completely O.K. with it! Loud party music filled the streets of Glasgow, drowning out the voices of employees from the local Pizza Hut and Domino’s who were handing out free slices of pizza to try and win over the hearts of the students, who they hoped would order their food in a future drunken phone call.

Back to last night. It was a Friday and after a small pre-game a couple of my new American and Swedish friends hopped on the subway to go to Glasgow’s “City Centre,” where the city’s best nightlife scene resides. Because of a flier handed out to us along University Ave., we learned of a massive Harry Potter-themed party at a club called The Garage. Scotland takes huge pride in any contribution it has made to the world, so they really overdo the “Harry Potter” obsession since the series’ author, J.K. Rowling, sat down to write the first novel in a café in Edinburgh, the country’s capital city. As an avid “Harry Potter” fan, seeing dementors hanging from the ceiling amid clouds of eerie smoke as my friends and I danced our butts off was something I never imagined I would do. If you know me personally, you probably know I’m not a big partier because I’m really conscious about what I put into my body and the amount of sleep I receive each night. I declined the opportunity to purchase a £65 Freshers Week pass that would earn free entry into the city’s biggest parties for the week because I knew I wouldn’t go out every night. It’s just not me, and I’m not going to pretend to be someone I’m not just to impress other people. Many of my friends did purchase the pass and had a great time staying out until 4 a.m. every night, waking up at noon the next day, and then spending all day preparing to do it again. But again, that’s just not me. And I really don’t think everyone else wants to be that way either.

But as I’ve gathered so far, this is how the British do it. They are very passionate about their alcohol. Every school club I joined the e-mail list for has its social events at a bar. The casual end-of-the-day beer or glass of wine is a daily ritual for the natives. And the students go out several nights a week to the pubs and clubs around the city. All of the places offer student discounts during the week but not the weekend, because that’s when the more affluent adults come to unwind after a long work week. It’s really the opposite in America. Students don’t go out that much during the week because of an early start the next day or because of a test the following morning. It doesn’t work like that here. A student here will take two tests MAXIMUM in one class for the entire semester. It’s a much more independent learning style, meaning there is more weight on students’ shoulders to make the right decisions. It’s a style I’m excited to tackle once classes start.

But what I’m really alluding to here is the difference in the college drinking culture between the United States and the United Kingdom. In the U.K., it’s heavily encouraged, even forced upon you. The social life centers around it. It’s how you meet people and make new friends. If you don’t go the pub at night for a round of beers (you can get a glass of water or soft drink if you watch your intake like me) then you aren’t trying to socialize.

Would this be the case in the U.S? Never in a million years. The effect of alcohol upon college students presents one of the bigger headaches a school’s administration has to deal with. It can lead to crimes such as vandalism and different forms of assault. Because of the higher drinking age, schools across the country have demonized students’ drinking so much to the point that students commit dumb acts as a form of rebellion. It’s common knowledge for parents and lawmakers alike that if you try to take something away from a kid or label it as “bad,” then it will only make the child want to pursue the act even more. That’s where schools run in to issues with their students.

But here? There is trust. There is understanding. It’s not illegal so no one feels the thrill that comes with doing something that is forbidden. Inevitably there are flare-ups from time-to-time, but not in comparison to the U.S., where underground, unsupervised house parties run rampant. It’s a safer and smarter system here, at least in terms of this aspect of the college lifestyle.

This issue doesn’t mean that much to me because I’m not the biggest fan of going out and drinking anyway. But because of the antagonizing of college drinking, I haven’t been able to go out in Albany too often without the fear of getting caught. I’m not singling out Albany; this would happen anywhere. I don’t have many fond late-night memories from my college years, unlike my parents who could legally drink at 18. I’m running out of time, but I’m thankful I was able to experience the unforgettable night yesterday without any fears or cares in the world, exactly how a college student might want to live on a Friday night.

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