Over the past weekend, I received more Snapchats of my friends’ pets than I can count. It was fall break at the College of William and Mary, which meant that while I was working on my first St Andrews essay, my friends were back home for a well-deserved break from midterms.
I’ve reached the point in the year where I miss everything about the College, especially little things I under-appreciated last year like Swemromas’ hot chocolate, hidden study nooks in Andrews Hall and ice cream runs at the Tribe Market.
Most of all, I miss experiencing fall at the College. My favorite memories from freshman year include walking on the trails to the Lake Matoaka dock and pausing to appreciate the Crim Dell in all of its autumnal glory. Even though I think St Andrews is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, nothing matches my love for Williamsburg in October.
While I am enjoying St Andrews, everything here is just the slightest bit different than the College.
For example, we have some form of potato with every meal (I’ve learned that dipping fries, or chips as they’re called here, in mayonnaise is a suitable replacement for ranch). Cars rarely stop for pedestrians, which means that trying to cross when there’s no light consists of racing across the street as a car speeds toward you with no intention of slowing down. Although you’ll definitely see students wearing sweatshirts and leggings to class, they’re in the minority compared to those wearing fancier attire.
Most of these differences aren’t negative. They are just several of the many little things that lead to culture shock when moving to the United Kingdom.
Language is one of the main contrasts. Although individuals from the United States and the United Kingdom both speak English, pronunciation and ways of using the language vary. Since many of my friends here are from England, Scotland or other parts of Europe, our lunchtime discussions sometimes turn into disagreements over how to pronounce mocha, banana and aluminum, or whether the correct term is porridge or oatmeal.
In terms of non-food related items, there are well-known differences like jumper instead of sweater or trainers instead of sneakers, as well as ones that surprised me, including the relationship between pants, underwear and trousers. American pants are U.K. underwear, while U.K. trousers are American pants. After learning this, I understood why a girl I met during Freshers’ Week seemed surprised when I complimented her pants.
The social environment at St Andrews differs, too. British people, or at least the ones I’ve met, can be reserved, meaning that while I’m considered introverted at home, people here find me extroverted. It’s been odd going from being the quietest person at the dinner table or the person in class who never raises her hand to being the one who fills silences.
Another change is the variance in drinking culture. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, drinking was a major part of my St Andrews orientation. After Freshers’ Week, this trend has continued, as it’s common for students to drink almost every night of the week besides Sunday and Monday. The nice aspect of drinking here is that the goal isn’t always to get extremely drunk. For example, this weekend I went to a dinner where wine was simply an accompaniment to our shepherd’s pie, not the main focus. From my experience in the United States, this kind of drinking restraint is typically found amongst those who are of the legal drinking age.
Next weekend, St Andrews will celebrate one of its most famous traditions: Raisin. Essentially, freshers spend Sunday drinking with their academic families (third years act as academic moms and dads for incoming students), and on Monday they participate in an enormous foam fight on St Salvator’s Quad, the equivalent of the College’s Sunken Garden.
I’m excited to take part in Raisin Weekend as it’s a quintessential St Andrews experience. At the same time, I can’t help missing the College and wishing I could see it at my favorite time of the year. Fall doesn’t seem to be quite so colorful at St Andrews, perhaps because we lack the miles of forests Williamsburg has.
In the end, I’ll simply have to listen to the advice I gave one of my new friends here: When you’re having a bad day, just go for a walk around town. If walking ten minutes from your hall and being able to see the ruins of a 12th century cathedral doesn’t remind you that St Andrews is one of the most breathtaking towns on this side of the Atlantic, I don’t know what will.