A somewhat bizarre feeling came over me as I worked my final Visitor Days as an ambassador for the year. As I joined the barrage of red gowns converging in Sallies Quad to help out the hundreds of visitors coming to St Andrews, many for the first time, I was reminded that the visitor day in question marked a year to the day since I myself clapped eyes upon St Andrews for the first time. I was reminded of the fact I very nearly set Durham University as my Firm Choice over St Andrews due to its lower offer of ABB over St Andrews’ AAA (shame on me). However, what steered me away from that elitist haven towards this slightly less-elitist haven was very much the visiting day. The offer-holder day on 18 April 2018 was my eureka moment, you could say — the moment when I realised, for all Durham’s charm, St Andrews was just better in every way.
I’m not going to go as far as pretending I ‘fell in love’ with St Andrews, as many say they do; I was still in many ways conflicted. The distance from those closest to me was an issue, the worry of having to choose IR over my then-beloved Politics, and yes, watching the tour ambassador — bless their cotton socks – wince slightly and pause for thought when someone asked “are the balls expensive?” had me worrying, like many freshers do, whether I’d actually fit in here.
But anyway, I gave St Andrews the benefit of the doubt and chose it over Durham, somehow managed to get decent enough A-Levels, and fast-forward to 9 September 2018 and here I was. A small fish in a very, very big pond. To say I had a few teething problems is a bit of an understatement; it didn’t take long before I found myself turning to Nightline for some company. This was my first genuine minor gripe about St Andrews. Nightline does a fantastic job, but it cracks itself up to be something it isn’t. Whether it was the speech its representatives gave during orientation talks, the subject talks or their posters, it gives off the impression it was some form of a counselling service, there to help you solve all your problems, give direction and generally just make you feel better. Nightline doesn’t do this, and that’s fine, but they should do more to make it absolutely clear it doesn’t do this, and direct people who need forms of help other than ‘active listening’ a lot quicker. It took far longer than it should’ve for them to direct me to Peer Support, which is where I needed to go. This brings me onto my first truly good encounter at St Andrews: Peer Support are absolutely brilliant people and helped me and many others emerge from their proverbial shells and continue to do so. They’re definitely something that I would say the university gets right.
One hilarious memory I have of Fresher’s Week was at the UDS (Union Debating Society), when quite literally the most Southern person I’ve ever met tried to persuade me and a friend, who was from deep in the Yorkshire countryside, of their claim to be Northern… due to their ancestral Great Aunt being from Derbyshire. I’m sorry but I’m afraid Derbyshire isn’t even Northern, my friend. Speaking of this encounter, I might as well fling some mud at the UDS while I’m here. One thing I hope Toni Valencia does is ensure that the public debates’ subjects are genuinely spicy and interesting year-round. The first and second debates of this year, a ‘no-confidence in HM Government’ and ‘sever ties with Saudi Arabia’ motion, were biting, controversial and, most importantly, fun! Since then, there must’ve been only one or two debates that I’ve looked at and thought, “You know what, I might consider going to that.”
My first brush with the extraordinary cost of living and being a student in St Andrews occurred during the following weeks. The first of which is the one I documented in my Wetherspoons piece, when I nearly had a Del Boy-esque fainting moment when the bloke at the Whey Pat said £9.60 for a pint and a single Gordons and Lemon.
Second was my encounter with Saints Sport — for all they go on about how they want to make sports accessible and available, you’d think they wouldn’t expect a student to fork over £100 upfront just to take up a new sport as I wanted to do. It wasn’t so much the cost but rather its upfront-ness, no qualms would’ve been had if it were possible to pay a tenner a month across the year. This is something that I personally asked AU Candidate and now President-Elect Leah Allock when she came to my Hall Hustings — we’ll see if Saints Sport actually care about improving access as much as they say they do next year.
Something I, and doubtless many others, quickly found it out is that the first round of coursework comes around faster than a smack around the chops. Before I knew it the intoxicating fantasy cloud of St Andrews had worn off and the reality of being a student with actual responsibilities hit home. Thankfully, the Schools of IR and Classics give Sub-Honours the word count they deserve for summative essays, but my third subject was not so kind. In both the first and second essays I found myself incredibly frustrated at the meagre 1,500-word limit as I crammed as much as I could in the space, still finding myself unsatisfied at the amount of analysis I could put in. Then the department had the bare-faced cheek to mark me down because I hadn’t gone into enough detail. When, after two days of removing excess verbiage, I’m still 200-odd words over the limit, perhaps the fault for that issue lies somewhat on your end, un-named department.
And so, before long the first term was over, and it was the time to be oh-so-festive. Christmas can be an especially strange time for those who don’t travel home during term-time. As an only child, I relished the independence that student life brought me, and I was shocked to realise how much day-to-day stuff my parents were happy to do for me. The thing is, I hated it. As much as Circuit Laundry might be a pain in the arse sometimes, there comes a strangely positive feeling about doing it yourself. It’s indescribable but I’m certain other freshers (and students generally) feel the same thing. Similarly, having a fridge with food in it is equally bizarre (firstly, because John Burnett Hall is catered and secondly, even when I’m not catered it’s rare I actually buy enough provisions to live as comfortably as at home.) But in a sense, I admire the self-control that develops when living independently. It reminds me of a saying, “When it’s not your money, you’re happy to spend it.” As well as this, I now appreciate more the fact that “Fridge-Pickers wear big knickers,” considering, by Christmas, I found every single pair of my jeans woefully oversized.
Here we are, Candlemas semester. Refresher’s Week was a bit pointless if I’m honest. This was because we’re trying to be eased in nice and slowly by the Union while deadlines, lab reports and class tests wait in ambush right around the corner — and students are aware of that. Personally, I believe, if the University want to make Refresher’s Week more of a worthwhile venture then they have to cut the Christmas break back a week and ensure it occurs with no teaching, just like Fresher’s Week does. It’s hard to get in the “Refresher’s Spirit” and go out knowing you’ll find yourself in next morning’s 10am nursing a seriously appalling hangover.
It was about three or four weeks into Candlemas when I sadly got the feeling that St Andrews’ magic was beginning to fully wear off. Thrilled at the prospect of spending actual free time in my beloved bubble, during the Christmas break I made the decision to spend the second week of Spring Break in St Andrews and booked my train tickets accordingly. Too stubborn to realise this might’ve been a bit of a mistake, I gave it a shot. Spring Break, in a deathly silent and strangely empty John Burnet Hall, was, I think, an unhealthily solitary time. During this time, however, I am proud to say I accomplished the impossible of steamrolling through seven series of Sons of Anarchy in just five days — just shows what grit and determination can do. In this week I also discovered my newfound affection for Ron Perlman. Ron, if you’re reading this, I know you love a round of Golf and, as much as I despise the sport, please, please come to St Andrews.
This brings me to the lead-up to the May exams and, I’ll be honest, it’s been a strange year of ups and downs. The second-half of the year has certainly been more subdued than the first and a lot less ‘magical,’ but I don’t doubt that’s mostly a natural consequence of the new-town feeling wearing off. While a great deal more has happened than I’ve outlined in this piece, to document everything would take up half the paper. Ultimately, alas, here ends the tale of my first-year in this bubble, it is with all the eager anticipation in the world that I am looking forward to next year’s Fresher’s Week to enjoy my seniority, lower my gown just a tad, and pray that the soon-to-be freshers in my hall don’t swirly me down the toilet.