St Andrews offers unparalleled social options compared to Williamsburg

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ALAN ZHENG // THE FLAT HAT

The College of William and Mary has its strong suits. Unfortunately, night life is not one of them. With draconian alcohol laws, it would seem that our country is doing a good job at honoring the legacy of our puritan ancestors by making sure that nobody has any fun at all. This, my friends, is precisely why the St Andrews Joint Degree Program was created.

The University of St Andrews, founded in 1413, is a public university in Scotland, a nation where the drinking age is 18 and its citizens regularly consume more alcohol per person than in Russia — and who can blame them? St Andrews is farther north than Moscow, and only 3.5 degrees south of St. Petersburg, meaning that during the winter months the sun sets sometime around 3:30 p.m.

It is widely agreed that St Andrews once had the highest number of pubs per capita in the United Kingdom. Compared to Williamsburg’s stunning bar scene (all three of ’em) St Andrews is like another planet. You haven’t lived until you’ve been harassed by a Turkish man for stumbling into his good Halal establishment at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday night and making a scene. Which brings me to my next point.

Forget Saturdays — but don’t forget the boys — in St Andrews, the biggest night out is on Wednesday. “Why Wednesday?” you may ask. Good question. It all revolves around sports clubs, some of which have games on hump day. And knowing St Andrews students, games must be followed by socials, cultivating the time-honored tradition of getting hammered during the middle of the week.

Because St Andrews is the Mecca of organized golf, I decided to join the Men’s Golf Club, the oldest of its kind in the world ­— or so I was told. I brought my semi-respectable handicap of 14 to the Ham’s Hame pub, where I met some of the greatest student athletes known to man. These fine gentlemen, in their dinner jackets and uniform red-striped ties, had more experience golfing and chinning pints in their little fingers than I had in my entire being. No fraternity party could have ever prepared me for the sheer amount of culture shock and good-natured malice involved in typical British drinking games.

After these socials, every sports club converges on one spot: the Student Union. Now you might be thinking, “Huh, that’s odd. Why the Student Union?” Well I’ll tell you why. The Student Union has three bars. Three — as in one, two, three separate bars. Plus, a nightclub with its own bar. That’s four places to buy alcohol. This state-sanctioned boozing is perfectly normal in the U.K., and it offers some of the cheapest drinks in town.

Observant readers will recognize that I’ve neglected the subject of schoolwork for six paragraphs. This is because class time, unlike drinking, is not a strong suit of the University of St Andrews.

Observant readers will recognize that I’ve neglected the subject of schoolwork for six paragraphs. This is because class time, unlike drinking, is not a strong suit of the University of St Andrews.

For starters, everyone signed up for a class is put into one massive lecture group, which are often taught by dry British professors. This becomes very dull. In the U.S., especially at the College, there’s much more of an attempt to entertain students, to be lively and engaging. This is not the case in the U.K., where students have their field of study relatively fixed. By contrast, U.S. college students arrive undecided about their major, so American professors teaching introductory courses are often putting their best foot forward to get students to major in that particular school.

The College challenges students through structured class time and assignments, which certainly have their benefits. The University of St Andrews, where assignments are infrequent and class time is a minimum, forces students to study independently — there are even whole weeks dedicated to independent reading. Nobody cares if you go to lectures or not. There are no cute little discussion posts on Blackboard to make sure you’ve been doing the readings. You either pass the exam or you don’t. As a whole, St Andrews offers a hands-off approach to teaching, whereas the College is very much hands-on.

Ultimately, St Andrews fosters more independence and individuality than the College. As with most American universities, the College is overly clogged with administrators and bureaucrats — so there’s always someone there to hold your hand. There’s always a board or office to push papers and answer your phone calls. As a result, adults are treated like children. Look no further than freshman orientation — a glorified summer camp. In this light, the College could learn a thing or two from our British relatives across the pond.

If the College is a tiger mom, St Andrews is the cool dad that buys his kid beer. And that’s sort of what being in the Program is like — our parents are divorced with joint custody. Living with dad is great, but living with mom is also worthwhile. I just really can’t wait to go back to dad’s place, even though his cooking sucks.

Email Christian Borio at cmborio@email.wm.edu