Hannah Shiblaq reflects on her experiences of culture shock since starting university at St Andrews.
Since submitting my application to UCAS last fall, I’ve fully embraced life at a Scottish university.
I must admit, however, that no amount of CV experience could have prepared me for the culture shock of European nightlife. Whilst school presented me with a fair share of opportunities to socialise, the legal American drinking age is twenty-one. Back home, taboo teenage alcohol consumption consisted of scouting out sketchy gas stations that wouldn’t check IDs, scraping together bottles of alcohol for social occasions, and, of course, doing everything possible to make sure that you wouldn’t get caught.
You can understand my shock, therefore, at discovering my newfound (and legal) ability to order a drink in public. Suddenly, alcohol has transformed from a once unspoken beverage to a far less severe concept. In conversing with friends of mine, both American and not, it has become clear that many of us hit the ground running during freshers week. Whilst not complete strangers to alcohol, the nightly ritual of heavy drinking and club-going was certainly a foreign concept.
I remember timidly tagging along on my first night out at St Andrews with my new group of friends, many of whom brought a myriad of street smarts to the table. My new European friendships provided me with realistic expectations for the night and beacons of confidence to cling to. On reflection, my lack of experience was probably painfully obvious to the rest of the dancefloor.
Even if freshers week has ended, the partying doesn’t appear to have slowed. Even on a Wednesday night, with nine o’clock lectures the next morning looming, the promise of Sinners is enough to encourage students into the 601.
One aspect of university that I never anticipated was the crushing weight of the fear of missing out, or “FOMO.” This fear is enough to force me out of my bed and onto a cold and rainy Market Street, insistent that I will miss out on a critical highlight of my university experience by staying in my room to do my reading. I have come to understand that this devil versus angel internal conflict translates into an even scarier notion of the loosening grip on childhood. In the United States, the older drinking age maintains a sense of youth, as if adulthood doesn’t fully develop until you take that first, legal sip.
On the contrary, my European friends seem much more adult than me. They know just how many drinks they can have before reaching their limit. They know how to balance their academic workload and desire to socialise. They know how to be an adult more than I do, despite our being the same age. With time, it’s gotten easier and much more fun to participate in events. Fortunately, going out culture welcomes inexperienced freshers with open arms and promises a good time. I’m ever-so-slightly catching up to my more knowledgeable friends. The real test of my progress will be back in the US, when I dazzle my old circles with a newfound wisdom of nightlife, even if it is not something they can utilise legally for another three years.
Of course, alcohol is just a central nervous system depressant with certain legal restrictions, heightened by the adrenaline rush of many dancing bodies in a clubbing venue. I’ve come to realise that it’s not as scary as I once thought: but a preemptive introduction into adulthood definitely is.
Illustration: Liza Vasilyeva