At the end of last summer, I visited the College of William and Mary to say goodbye to my friends and the place I had called home for the last year. It was a surreal experience—I sat in on my friends’ classes, ate at the dining halls, and explored the Matoaka Woods when everyone else was busy. It was like I had returned to the College for sophomore year, except for the very important fact that I hadn’t. My plane for Scotland left in a week, and I was terrified. I told my friends that I’d probably see them next semester because I was convinced I was going to drop out of the Joint Degree Programme after a miserable few months at St Andrews. I loved the life I had built at the College, and I was terrified of starting all over again.
As I reach the end of my first year at St Andrews, I know that I made the right choice in deciding to be open to life in Scotland and the possibilities of what was, essentially, a second freshman year. I’ve been lucky enough to make friends from both America and Europe, and they’ve shown me perspectives I never saw last year. For example, my roommate is from Norway, but she spent most of high school at a boarding school in the United States. Another friend from Hungary attended a language school where most of his lessons were taught in France. Even my American friends draw on very different backgrounds, including a Miami arts high school and a fashion internship in London. These educational experiences are a far cry from my public high school in Northern Virginia, a background that I saw replicated in many of my classmates at the College.
The friends I’ve made at St Andrews have also taught me lessons I wouldn’t have learned otherwise: on a lighter note, how to curse in Hungarian and pilot a submarine in Grand Theft Auto, and on a more serious note, that American visions of Great Britain align more with fictional TV shows like Downton Abbey than the realities of contemporary life in the sea county of Cornwall or ex-mining communities of Durham County.
In addition to meeting a set of very unique individuals, I’ve expanded my academic interests. I decided to take an art history module on a whim, and I discovered that the subject is basically my life’s passion. Few things make me smile as much as feminist performance art pieces like Carolee Schneeman’s Meat Joy, in which men and women cover each other with paint and raw meat roll in a celebration of the female body and unrestricted sexuality, or an in-depth investigation of the ridiculous punishments undertaken by sinners in Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights.
In another one of my modules, social anthropology, I’ve been able to conduct research on a topic that’s defined my life since the end of high school: the Joint Degree Programme and how it affects overall university experience. Thanks to my ethnographic encounters project, I’ve been able to interview almost a dozen WaMStAs about their experience with the Programme, and hearing the differences between their experiences and mine has been one of the most interesting parts of my semester.
Add in the elements of daily life that make St Andrews such a wonderful, eclectic place—living within five minutes of three different beaches, engaging in lively lunchtime debates, hearing about a new ball or fashion show every other weekend—and you’ll understand why I’m so glad that I decided to come here. Leaving the College was one of the hardest choices of my life, but being able to build lives on two different continents has somewhat made up for it.
I still miss the College every day. I see photos of my friends at Holi or on a night out, and I wonder what it would’ve been like if I was there with them. I read The Flat Hat every Tuesday. When it’s 50 degrees here and we’re lucky to have such “warm” weather, I wish I could experience a sweltering August day in Williamsburg, just for a change of pace. In the end, one of my anthropology project sources offers the best advice for dealing with the constant battle between missing the College and embracing a new home: “You can think, ‘Things keep happening at William and Mary. Am I missing out?’ But things are happening at St Andrews, too.”
The Flat Hat, April 20, 2016