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Commuting Students: A Unique University Experience

A recent poll on the Facebook group St Polldrews asked commuting students to share the “worst thing about the uni’s treatment of us this year.” The deluge of responses that followed underscored the frustration felt by many commuting students, “Study space is cold, dark, and has about three power outlets in awkward places,” reads one popular response, “Being completely ignored by the uni in general,” said another.

For Vicky Tysoe, a third-year modern history student who lives with her parents at their family home in Dundee, transportation hurdles have made participation in clubs and societies especially difficult. She says that during the COVID-19 pandemic, bus services to and from St Andrews have become increasingly erratic. Late night buses cease service for long periods at a time, and buses in the city centre run “irregularly.” The result, says Tysoe, is that “most events are completely impossible” to attend, since “groups hold events in the evening.”

Moreover, commuting students face difficulties when trying to secure study spaces — a problem exacerbated during the pandemic. According to Tysoe, the study spaces in Beacon Bar were supposed to be solely for commuter students, yet they are available to everyone, making it hard to find space. Additionally, the commuter room on North Street, with food and study spaces expressly for commuting students, was closed during much of the pandemic. That only made matters more difficult, Tysoe says, as “the cost of food… adds up quickly when you are spending much of the day in St Andrews and aren’t eating in a dining hall.” It is also now increasingly difficult for students who commute to spend the time between classes in the library, due to the booking system. Students can only book a seat in the library so many times a week, making it much more difficult for commuting students to find a seat to get some work done.

According to Tysoe, commuting students who want to get a job in St Andrews have limited prospects, as “jobs at bars or restaurants usually end too late.” Furthermore, she laments what she sees as an attitude of disdain toward commuter students, “There is a stigma sometimes associated with us,” she says, adding that “the conception of Dundee as a ‘badlands’ can lead to people deciding we’re not worth engaging with if we’re not part of the ‘three street system’”. She emphasises the eclectic backgrounds and circumstances found among commuter students, “Some are older and married, others do it for cost purposes or in my case, went to university, took a year off, and went back.” That being said, Tysoe is quick to point out some advantages of being a commuter, “I like the convenience of having my own room, my own space” she comments, a benefit that was especially appreciated during the lockdown. Tysoe also likes that commuting into St Andrews to attend classes and work on assignments allows her to keep her two worlds — home life and university life — mostly distinct, “The separation of study and home, having that distance puts me in a better headspace.”

That observation of the advantages of commuting is echoed by Duncan Hamilton. Hamilton, who is a second-year psychology student, lives in The Hub, a private hall for students in Dundee, with two fourth-year students from the University of Dundee. He describes an experience of “dual social worlds,” with friends from both St Andrews and Dundee, “Being in Dundee has actually been better for my social life,” he laughs. Hamilton notes, when going to St Andrews, “I have to make a day trip of it, which pushes me to find things to do and get involved.” He remembers living in halls, during the previous year, and “having that space so close by meant that it was all too easy to go back to my room in Agnes Blackadder Hall and be insular.”

Hamilton, who speaks of his tendency to procrastinate, began looking for private accommodation in St Andrews during the summer, without success. As a member of the Boat Club, early morning training sessions present a challenge for him, as the buses from Dundee do not start operating in time to make it to St Andrews by 6:30 am. “On those days, I usually stay the night with a friend in St Andrews,” he says.

With an eye towards thriftiness, Hamilton says that he’s been looking into getting a motorcycle for the commute. Figuring that no longer having to buy bus tickets would make the commute less expensive in the long term. He also acknowledges that this purchase would not be solely motivated by financial concerns, “It would be awesome because I’d get to ride a motorcycle.”

For Katarína Karáseková, who is in second year, studying sustainable development, the financial advantages of living in Dundee were what convinced her to stay there. Karáseková also lived in Dundee during her first year, saying that living there has saved her a lot of money that she would have otherwise have spent on more expensive accommodation in St Andrews. She adds that the “nightlife is more accessible in Dundee. In St Andrews, I find it difficult to find a table at a café, which is not a problem in Dundee.” Duncan Hamilton also lauded this aspect of the experience.

Having grown up in New York City, the bustle of Dundee, at least when compared to St Andrews, is familiar, “There is way more of a nightlife and tons of clubs,” says Hamilton, “I like that there’s always something going on, that there are a lot more people.” Katarína Karáseková notes that students looking for a job have an easier time in Dundee, “There are way more opportunities for part-time employment.”

As Karáseková describes her typical day, it is clear that tasks requiring little forethought for students in St Andrews demand much more of commuters. She notes, “When I have an in-person tutorial, I have to go one hour ahead, factoring in the bus ride and the possibility of delays.” Though Karáseková enjoys the bus journeys in themselves, using the time to listen to audiobooks, the necessity of planning has an impact on other aspects of her life. When it comes to seeing friends in St Andrews or going out, “there is very little in the way of spontaneity, though I still attend all the clubs and societies that I want to.” Karáseková notes that she does not engage in social life as much as she would if she was living closer, “It is kind of hard to make friends, not in the sense of meeting people. It’s hard to follow up. The distance often makes that difficult.”

Karáseková pointed to the cost of university accommodation, prohibitive for many students, as a common reason for her and others choosing to live in Dundee, “I accept that the university has little ability to affect the private accommodation prices in St Andrews,” she says “but they do have the power to make university housing less expensive.”

Illustration: Liza Vasilyeva

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