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First Year in St Andrews

By Nicola Blackburn

In my view, an experience is made up of two factors: sentiment and memory. Whether the sentiments we associate with an experience are positive or negative, and whether our memories of it are good or bad memories, are enough to determine whether an experience is uplifting or not. I don’t need to reflect too long on my memories or feelings about my first year of St Andrews to know that it was the best year of my life.

How I felt about the move to St Andrews from Sydney can only be described as wild excitement. I finished school in October 2015 - so after enduring almost a year of waiting it’s safe to say my anticipation was pretty high (thank you, inconsistency between British and Aussie academic systems). But St Andrews exceeded my expectations in every way - seriously. I couldn’t anticipate quite how beautiful that town is! Tucked away in a little pocket of rural Fife, I’m convinced it is one of the world’s hidden gems. I was completely in awe of its beauty and its antiquated aura; yet within a few weeks I felt more at home than ever. Looking back, I have to attribute my sense of belonging to the accepting student environment – an environment that thrives on differences in nationality, belief, sexuality, appearance, experience, age, style, culture, economic background – you name it. I arrived from the other side of the world, with no acquaintances in Scotland, (embarrassingly) little knowledge of the place and many idiosyncrasies of my own – and I was welcomed with open arms. I felt accepted, I felt comfortable, and I felt completely and utterly liberated to be myself.

In the extremely academic environment of the town, I also felt incredibly inspired. There were wonderful moments I can recall of realizing my tutor was (casually) an alumni of Oxford and Cambridge and Harvard; another where my English tutor, after reading a passage about St Andrews castle in the 18th century Johnson novel we were studying that week, gestured out of his office window and said, ‘you can see what Johnson means’. Each week in my tutorials I was constantly in awe of the intelligent students around me: it was extremely cool and a little intimidating and inspired me to work even harder. Shout-out to the student in my English Lit semester one tutorial group who awed me with her periodic recitals of Ali Smith quotes – you know who you are!

As nerdy as it may sound – I loved the incessant reading and learning that first year of my course required. But the truly unforgettable memories are of a more recreational kind. My favorite memories of first year are extraordinarily simple - but I’ll treasure them forever. The events and nights out in Freshers week; the late-night communions of my friends in our humble hall bedroom; Friday nights at the union; lunch dates on Market street, watching the world go by. Cross country club runs along west sands, around the town, and out in to the countryside beyond; catching up with people over hall dinner, and the simple act of walking past a friend on the street and saying hi, that occurred every. single. day!

On reflecting on my favourite memories of first year for this post, I realized they all have something in common – they all involve a multitude of humans. And I was always surrounded by wonderful people, right from the first day when I met my roommate and we instantly clicked. St Andrews is graced with an incredibly close-knit community, and in my experience that’s definitely what made first year there so memorable. There are so many smaller communities catered to inclusion in St Andrews – halls of residence, over 100 societies based on sport, music and other interests, and other societies like Populus, literally created to just welcome you with open arms!

I’m going to finish up this happy reflection on my first year experience by sharing my favourite memory of all, which took place at approximately 3-5am in the morning. It was the morning of May Dip, and about 20 of my favourite people and myself had packed out a corridor in my hall of residence, chatting and bantering and having a laugh to forget our exhaustion, and perhaps fear of having to run in to the freezing North Sea at sunrise (needless to say, the dip turned out to be so much fun!). And how does the memory make me feel? Incredibly happy and just eager to go back.

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