It was Christmas Eve. I woke up at 3:45 a.m. and lay awake until 7 a.m. when I admitted defeat. I descended the stairs and saw my older sister, Alana, who greeted me with “Merry Christmas Eve!”
I responded by bursting out crying in a temper tantrum induced by sleep deprivation.
For the next half hour, I cried uncontrollably for no other reason than that I was frustrated and tired, and I didn’t understand why I simply couldn’t adjust.
The first few days home after my exhausting transatlantic transit were about adjusting, as most things are in the Joint Degree Programme between the College of William and Mary and the University of St Andrews. My first day back in the good ole’ USA, I spent hours in the capitalistic stronghold of Bass Pro Shops buying my grandfather bullets for Christmas. My eyes had to readjust to sunlight, but more than anything, it was that damn seven-hour time difference.
Although each night I went to bed at around midnight, indulging in sleep aids when I pleased, it didn’t matter. I woke up consistently at 3:45 a.m. Wide awake. I would try reading to fall back asleep; I would take more Sleep II; I would punch my pillow in frustration, all to no avail. Hours later, I would stumble down the stairs with increasingly darkening circles around my eyes. I could not adapt back to Colorado time.
The difficulty of adjusting was the theme of my fall semester at St Andrews. I had successfully navigated freshman year at the College socially, academically and mentally, and I fully expected to have the capacity to adapt to St Andrews with the same confidence and excitement I brought to Williamsburg.
But my transition to St Andrews utterly failed.
I found myself more isolated than I had ever been. Arriving at a new school, not as a freshman nor as a study abroad student and not quite as a normal second year, I lacked a common identity to exploit to create bonds. There was no summer camp orientation. Only me and 24 other students in the Joint Degree Programme each independently coping with our own doubts and discomfort. We were isolated from each other, spread across campus in different halls, with few opportunities to even share a meal. Coordinating FaceTimes with family across a seven-hour time difference was taxing and trying desperately to keep in touch with my incredible friends from freshman year often left me feeling more despondent than reanimated.
Academically, I was isolated from my professors, stuck in lectures of over 300 students. My IR professor verbatim began the semester’s first class by saying “Don’t email me unless necessary — there’s 300 of you, so I don’t really care.” St Andrews is an independent self-help system, and I just couldn’t adapt and help myself escape my rut. I felt stuck.
By the point of my tantrum on Christmas Eve, it wasn’t unusual for me to cry with little provocation.
I was unable to handle what life was throwing at me.
For my family however, this new me, this me who couldn’t adjust or deal with uncertainty, was a disturbing shock. Alana, after witnessing my tantrum, delivered a sisterly slap and the demand that I “pull myself together.” Little did I know this would motivate a complete change in perspective, attitude and strategy which has ensured my newfound success at St Andrews.
That’s what being a student in the JDP has been for me: an act of pulling myself together. The program is designed to challenge and make you uneasy in every way.
The personal growth I’ve experienced in the last months is unprecedented in my life.
St Andrews was my prison in the fall, but through adapting my approach and expectations, I have filled this semester with nothing but joy.
Aubrey George is a student participating in the St Andrews William & Mary Joint Degree Programme.
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