Some Scottish Wedding Traditions

Just like many other parts of the world, here in Scotland we have lots of wedding traditions. A few of the best known are the “Scramble,” where after the wedding has taken place, and as the bride is about to get into her wedding car, her father will throw a handful of coins for any watching children to scramble for, which just means they rush around excitedly trying to collect as much money as possible. This is supposed to bring financial luck to the newly married couple.

Another Scottish wedding tradition, more common in the east of the country than in the west, is for the bride to have her feet washed, either by a woman who has been married for a long time or by her friends, using water in which the long-married woman has dropped her wedding ring. There is also an equivalent tradition for the bridegroom, where he has his legs blackened with coal or soot and water. Sometimes, if he’s really unlucky, he’s made to sit in a tub of water too!

Yes reader, I married him! Sichuan to Scotland.

Sichuan, China

Lily Li was one of the earliest students to attend Glasgow School of English, way back in 1998. She is still here – not at the School, but married to a Scot and working as a paralegal specialising in immigration in her husband’s legal firm. She very kindly took some time recently to speak to me to tell me about her experiences when she came to Scotland and how Glasgow School of English was able to help her as she settled in what was then, for her, a very strange land…

“I am from Chengdu, the capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan province. My father was a professor and I came to Scotland because my brother-in-law’s older brother was a lecturer at Glasgow University. This was in the 1980s and he offered my sister the chance to come to Scotland. She was not sure if she wanted to, so, in 1988, I took her place!

“My relatives in Scotland knew Andrew Lennox, the gentleman who had founded Glasgow School of English the previous year, and suggested that I go there to learn the language. They helped me get the necessary visa to stay in the country and I started in the foundation course, with Steven as my first teacher. His wife was Chinese; she is also called Lily and she too taught at the School (and still does to this day!). I used to speak to her in Mandarin after classes. Steven was a very good teacher and his classes were interesting, academic and never dull. He helped me pass the Level 3 exam and I got an offer to go to university. However, I didn’t fancy that at the time and instead went to Stow College to do an HND in Business & Administration. I soon realised that was not for me and when I was looking for a job I was offered the chance to work at Global Connects, Andrew’s translation and interpreting company, as an interpreter.

“I remember my first job was to go to Maryhill Police Station, where the suspect was a Hong Kong Chinese who spoke Cantonese. I am a native Mandarin speaker, but I could get by in Cantonese and seemed to do all right on this first job, so Global Connects soon gave me more work. However, I quickly made the effort to become fluent in Cantonese as well as Mandarin. This ‘bilingualism’ is very useful for a ‘Chinese’ translator!

“Later in my career as an interpreter, I had to go early in the morning to a Glasgow police station to meet a lawyer and his client. The lawyer was from Edinburgh and very grumpy at having had to get up early to go to Glasgow. We worked together on this case for some time, but the person was found guilty and imprisoned. We, the lawyer and me, got life sentences. Yes reader, I married him!

Glasgow, Scotland

“I’m often asked what it’s like for someone from abroad coming to Scotland to learn English. Well, for me, it was very different. China in those days was not like it is now. Today, I’d describe China, which I visit once a year, as like a fizzy drink, sparkling with so many commercial colours. Scotland in contrast, is a simpler country. But both are very friendly places, with nice people who will usually help strangers. Scotland is an especially beautiful country and the longer you stay here the more you appreciate the countryside and nature around you. I would really recommend that if you want to come to learn English in the UK you should come to Glasgow School of English.”



So, what was it like back in 1997?

Other than Andrew Lennox, the School’s President, there is only one other person who was around back then. Her name is Lily McPake, and she was one of the two original teachers when Glasgow School of English opened its doors back in August 1997.

Or rather, as Lily explains, we didn’t so much as open our doors as hired a couple of rooms for the eight students who were the first to study at the School. These students were all from China, as is Lily. Her husband is a Scot who was teaching English in China, where they met and married before coming to live in Scotland.

When she arrived in Scotland, she had a job teaching Chinese at the University of Glasgow while her husband was working at St Andrew’s College of Education in the city. Andrew Lennox was, at that time, looking for teachers of English for the Chinese students he had coming to Glasgow to study the language and Lily’s husband was recommended to him as someone who could speak both Chinese and English. He, naturally, also recommended Lily! However, we’ll let Lily take up the story at this point…

“Our first classrooms were just plain rooms, not at all like the modern rooms and facilities we have now. There was no wifi, no interactive TV, some tables and chairs and a cassette player rather than the CD players we have nowadays.

“Because we only had two rooms, we were not able to split the students into more than two different levels of ability, so I was teaching a beginners/elementary class while he was taking the more advanced students.

“After a couple of years, my husband was offered a job at one of the big Glasgow Further Education Colleges. He’s been there ever since then, and I’ve remained here!

“I’ve had chances to go elsewhere, but I didn’t really fancy them. In particular, I was offered a job in London. I’d gone down there for the interview, but while the job seemed good the people there were not very friendly or helpful, so I turned it down.

“I think that last point is important. One of the reasons why I think Glasgow School has been so successful is that this is such a friendly place. The vast majority of people in Glasgow are really nice and someone will always talk to you or help you if you need help. We are much more welcoming than people are in London. After all my years here in the UK I’ve developed lots of good friendships and I also have many friends from abroad. They all say that when they come to Glasgow they are amazed at just how friendly everyone is – even though I tell them that before they come here!

“Admittedly, the weather here can be a bit rainy at times, but that’s more than offset by the warmth of the people. My experience over the last 20 years is that no-one is put off by a bit of rain, but they won’t be happy if the teaching is not of a high quality or the school is not helpful and welcoming.

“English is so important across the world. Obviously, that’s why Glasgow School of English succeeds, but I think there are other, equally important reasons. Firstly, we are a small, privately owned school. We don’t have big classes and once a class gets over 15 people we create another class. At the college where my husband teaches they have a lot of asylum seekers and classes of 20 and over. Our smaller class size means that we, as teachers, can give more attention to the students and there is more time for individuals to speak the language.

“Finally, you asked me ‘what’s the best thing about the School?’ Well, I’d say that there are several ‘best things’! Firstly, Andrew Lennox, who set it up all those years ago, is amazing. He goes all over the world and works so hard to market our School. Secondly, because we’re not too big, there is not too much bureaucracy: rather there is much more flexibility and if you need time off (for a family issue for example) then there is usually some way to allow this. We all work together for the good of the School and that shows in the feedback we get from the students. It’s a great place – otherwise I wouldn’t still be here, 20 years after we took our first, tentative steps with those hired rooms and eight students!”

Two decades of educating foreign students

Andrew Lennox is the founder and the driving force behind Glasgow School of English, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this week on Friday, 1st September.

After leaving School in 1954 at the age of 15 for an apprenticeship in engineering, Andrew, left Honeywell Controls in his mid-20s for Strathclyde University. Graduating with a First in Mechanical Engineering, he then spent a lengthy career in industry (including a return stint at Honeywell) and Further Education. During his time as Depute Principal at Central College of Commerce, he travelled extensively around Europe, Russia and, eventually, China. He was the first person to bring large groups of mainland Chinese students into Glasgow and the West of Scotland in 1996, before taking early retirement from the College in December of that year, at the age of 57. His old career might have ended, but a new one was just beginning.

Inspired by his travels and with a clear appreciation of the value of bringing foreign students to study in Scotland, Andrew set up Glasgow School of English with two teachers, two classrooms and 25 Chinese students. Since those small beginnings, the School has grown and grown, helped by the increasingly diverse community living and working in Glasgow, the attractions of Scotland’s traditions and history and the vibrant new shopping and cultural amenities that are very much part and parcel of the modern city’s life.

As Glasgow School got busier with more students coming to study EFL (English as a Foreign Language) here, opportunities for expansion became apparent. In 2010, Andrew established Global School of English in Edinburgh and in 2012 the company bought Hamilton School of English to grow the numbers of young (school age) learners.

There are now over 50 different nationalities studying at Andrew’s Schools every year, with some 1200 students visiting Scotland and leaving with happy memories and, crucially, an enhanced knowledge of English that will serve them well in their careers both in their own countries and throughout the world.

Impressive though these figures are, what is particularly interesting is that, as Andrew recounts, in the early days the problems for the sector were similar to those today. Student visas were the big issue and back then the Westminster Government was concerned about the numbers coming into the country and trying to put pressure on the EFL sector in an attempt to reduce the migration figures.

Today, of course, the big issue is Brexit. The value of the pound certainly helps attract students, but worry and uncertainty about whether they will gain access to the UK is, Andrew believes, adversely affecting student numbers. In his view, the government does not seem to really understand the full economic benefits that overseas students bring.

Despite the considerable year on year declines in student numbers that the rest of the EFL industry reports, Glasgow School of English has as many students as in previous years. Andrew believes that there are several reasons for this. Firstly, even without the reduction in the exchange rate of the pound, the cost of living is lower than in many other cities in the UK, especially London. Secondly, the people of Glasgow are world renowned for being friendly to overseas visitors. Thirdly, the School has long-standing teachers – including Lily McPake, one of the two original teachers – who are immensely popular with their students and help their charges pass the accredited exams and then return to their home countries with their employment prospects considerably enhanced.