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Embracing the Bubble

Completely unsolicited advice from a fourth year

My three years at St Andrews have been quite the whirlwind. I arrived in JBH fresh out of school and lockdown what feels like, at a conservative guess, three seconds ago. Yet here I am, about to embark on my fourth and final return to Fife after the long summer holidays. It’s a somewhat bittersweet prospect (and one I am entirely unenthused about acknowledging), one I’m confronting by compiling a list of everything I wish I had known before I crossed the border for the first time. A how-to: St Andrews, if you will.

Do not sleep with someone from halls. I know, I know, you’ve heard it time and time again, but for good reason. It might seem romantic, but trust me, it isn’t. It’s going to make mealtimes really awkward for the next year, and I can guarantee he’s not worth it. Taste has the best coffee in St Andrews, but Rectors’ is the cheapest. Black Sheep Coffee has the friendliest baristas and Spoiled Life the most immaculately ‘I’m better than you’ vibes (I mean that in quite literally the best way possible). Get a Pret subscription. Or don’t.

Finding your people doesn’t constitute your changing to fit in with a group. Finding your people looks like being at a dinner party halfway through third year and realising you can see every single one of them still being in your life in five years time. It looks like impromptu pub sessions, late-night teary phone calls when things are overwhelming, and nights on the sofa giggling over the bits in Spare where Prince Harry talks about his willy. It looks like putting the world to rights with the unspoken agreement it stays between the two of you, morning debriefs in bed with a coffee, and un-asked for hugs when you need them most. There’s sadly no magical time frame for it, but I promise you, you will find your people.

Fall in love with St Andrews — I cannot stress this one enough. Take a million pictures of the sunset over Castle Sands, each and every one identical to the last. Go skinny dipping (sober, let’s not be irresponsible, thank you very much) and snog someone embarrassing in 601 (probably less sober). These are equally important rites of passage. Do a pier jump. Buy a gown. Make the most of the few academic obligations at sub-honours, it really is okay to focus on making friends. Whatever you do, join some societies, even if it’s not hockey, or rugby, or clay pigeon.

Date people. Or don’t. It doesn’t actually matter either way. But at the end of the day, it’s either the first pint you ever had together or a good story — what could you possibly have to lose? Go to Dundee. And Edinburgh. Go to the beach. Do another pier jump. Offer to buy the first round. Know when to say, “Don’t worry, I’ve got it” and when to ask them to pay you back. Learn the difference between “We should grab coffee soon!” and “Can we please get coffee?”. Register with Lawson Thompson.

Get a Young Scot card. And a Clubcard. If you feel completely alone, go for a walk along West Sands. I don’t understand the hows or the whys, but what I do know is that turning around to see the town again from a distance somehow magically restores your faith in humanity. Befriend your academic parents. Call your actual parents. Eat Cromars on the beach. Go to Tanon. Message that person in class you share an awkward smile with. Sometimes soulmates are platonic.

I don’t care how drunk you are, take your makeup off before bed. There are few things worse than being woken up by your own hangover, head pounding, stomach churning, to realise last you never did get around to taking off that mascara.

Pick up The Saint every second Thursday. Opening Ball is neither here nor there, but Welly is a must. Be kind — our town is too small to screw anyone over. Admit to your mistakes. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Ask for help. Uni can be a really lonely place sometimes. That’s natural, and very, very normal. It passes.

A bottle of chicken wine (La Vielle Ferme if you’re interested) and your best friends can get you through anything. Get out of St Andrews every so often. Eight semesters isn’t as long as it sounds. Don’t, whatever you do, wish it away. Your friends at other universities are having a very different experience. Don’t compare it — St Andrews is so different to anywhere else, but that’s what makes it so bloody special. Grab your best pals, your copy of Everything I Know About Love, and some fresh air — because you will get through that breakup.

Master a good spag bol (the secret is Worcestershire sauce). Eggs go in the cupboard, ketchup in the fridge. You don’t have to live with your best friends. Make time to read a book every once in a while. Ignore whatever your teachers told you uni would be like.

Don’t underestimate the power of a good pair of sunglasses. Layers are key. Learn how to reel. There’s no hangover that can’t be solved by a few hours of sleep, two paracetamol, and your body weight in both water and Lucozade. Oh, and the sooner you accept that you actually do quite enjoy a night spent in Aikman’s cellar, the better for everyone really.

You might have guessed by now that I think St Andrews is one of the best places in the entire world. That’s because it is (I’m never wrong). There will be days that are miserable; when the deadlines feel never-ending, when the weather is truly, truly terrible, and when home feels further away than Mars. Lean into it though, because for every one of those, there are two when it’s sunny. When our town is the most beautiful place you’ve ever laid eyes on, when you’re two pints in with your forever friends at 1pm, and you feel more like yourself than you knew was possible.

Uni doesn’t have to be the absolute best four years of your life. I stand by that, I really do, but fair warning: it’ll come pretty damn close.

Illustration: Isabelle Holloway

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