It’s been almost two weeks since arriving here in St Andrews, but it’s felt like so much longer. Orientation (or Fresher’s week, as they call it here) went by in a blur, and it could not have been more different from orientation at the College of William and Mary. Whereas last year I was led around by my two wonderful, neon-clad OA’s, this past week I’ve been left mainly to my own devices. Really, once you move in at St Andrews, your time is yours. The days are empty, there are no scheduled alcohol safety and plagiarism seminars to be shepherded to, nor are there awkward mixers with another floor in your hall. Instead, you choose what events and ceremonies to go to, or whether to go to them at all. The nightlife is also incredibly different. While the College hosted acapella showcases and movie nights, the most popular sources of entertainment in St Andrews are the pubs, which open their doors and brace themselves to welcome the new set of students (and their business).
I’ve spent most of my time getting to know the town, walking along West Sands Beach, popping into the many little stores to stock up my dorm room, and meeting up with other WaMStA friends. In a way, the independence and freedom to choose is liberating and much more relaxing than college orientation. However, I did find myself missing structure, and it was all too easy to get tired of socializing and retreat to my room with Netflix and Cadbury.
While their orientations are extremely different, the shared emphasis on tradition between the schools is very strong. A major tradition at St Andrews is the Pier Walk, a Sunday morning stroll along the Scores and onto a pier that juts into the North Sea. The Pier Walk is traditionally done wearing red academic gowns, however my gown hadn’t been delivered to the school store in time for my first Sunday here. Luckily, I did have a red fleece throw blanket that I brought from home, and with some clever knot tying I managed to fashion it into a knock-off gown. I have to say, I blended in pretty well, and nobody seemed to notice.
The Pier Walk did turn out to be a more intense ordeal than I was prepared for. Once at the end of the pier, the mass of red-gowned students bottlenecked to climb up a rusty ladder onto the upper part of the pier. A good story taller than the lower section of the pier, the upper level is full of uneven cobblestones and has no hand railing whatsoever. Scrambling up there was definitely worth it, however. When my life wasn’t flashing before my eyes I saw gorgeous views of the crashing sea on my right, the bright crimson of students on my left and the ruins of St Andrews cathedral looming straight ahead.
Walking down that long, narrow, catwalk-like pier in the middle of the sea, cold wind blowing every which way, it was hard to believe that just one year ago I was tripping over my first bricks and melting in Williamsburg swamp heat. If the first week has been any indication, I can tell already that everything will be completely different here compared to my first year at William and Mary. However, between the two schools one thing has stayed constant: freshman/fresher’s flu. It doesn’t matter what continent, campus or precautionary vitamin C multivitamin you take, that plague will find you, and it will destroy you.