St Andrews Syndrome: the lopsided twin to the psychological phenomena known as Paris syndrome. A condition where the culture shock and distressing disappointment of visiting the city of love results in acute delusional states, when the reality of Paris ultimately doesn’t align with their idealised expectations.
The syndrome, common enough that the Japanese embassy is fully equipped with therapists to talk tourists through the reality of the city’s petty crime, grime, pollution, and rudeness. Similarly, once confronted with the incessant rain, coldness of peers, and a shut 601, St Andrews students from abroad often do encounter a version of this. And whilst we may not have purse snatchers (the town confronts a much more airborne threat), the shock of it all is enough to send many international students into anxious shock and inevitable disappointment.
The pamphlets, lore and legend glorifying the school ‘to find your prince at’, lead each year thousands of international students to choose St Andrews as their pick of the Oxford-reject-litter. However, the misconceptions about this university border on the unethical, and it’s time we bash in the utter mistruths. Americans often fall victim to this St Andrews syndrome, as the cushy hand-holding of American universities leaves them unprepared for the distant approach of this school. First and foremost, the University brands itself as one of diversity — an international hub of sorts. Yet, the chances that as an American you find yourself “outnumbered” by the British, or even rarer yet the Scottish, are slim to none.
The University website brags, “From your first day in St Andrews, you will be supported by a host of professional staff”. Within even the first week of your acceptance you will realise what a deception this is. Between incessant strikes, and a general lack of staffing and uncoordinated departments, the University of St Andrews so rarely is able to help with any of your academic struggles (god-forbid you attempt to change your major). The school proudly boasts that, “life here is centred around an internationally-renowned teaching system”. However, any student, barring the medics, will attest that this is the most ridiculous of statements; painting the University’s academic curriculum as the epitome of rigorous labour, whilst the average student has enough free time to pub six nights a week, is laughable. Aside from one or two caffeine-laden-all-nighters, each peer ultimately spends more time pacing around, selecting which coffee shop or hidden building to study in, than working.
Any prospective student no doubt has some inkling of the financial burden they will take on upon their acceptance of the offer, however, even then it’s hard to truly understand how costly the town can become. Whether it be shopping at what is rumoured to be the second most expensive Tesco in the UK or paying insane rents for houses that couldn’t possibly pass mould inspections, students will pay exponential amounts of Daddy’s money. And even if you do manage to budget well, you will quickly be disheartened by how out of touch the rest of the students of this town can be. It gets old flipping through the reading week Instagram posts of your peers in Capri, or overhearing bragging about how much their bar tab was run up on a Wednesday night out. You can genuinely spend an entire day carrying out your tasks around town and never interact with someone who has less in their bank than you.
No one tells you that the second Daylight savings strikes, your days will be plunged into pitch darkness no later than 4 o’clock. This combination of endless nights, harsh winds and ever-present hangovers most certainly leads to the mounting insanity of the students in this town. And truthfully, if you’re searching for a welcoming crowd — grow up. Because if not insanity, the quip rudeness of your peers (British culture at its finest) will most certainly get you.
And even if you manage to escape the insanity of St Andrews Syndrome, you will soon realise that it rains all the time. I suppose this school leaves us with the strength to weather storms — both metaphorical and meteorological — and a pass to say “when I studied abroad…”.
Illustration by Calum Mayor