Between intensive revision for my exams, Yuletide festivities, running, and horseback riding, I have barely had a moment to relax! In exactly six days I will be flying back home for the Christmas holiday, and I could not be more excited. This semester has been particularly taxing, so I am very eager to once again be in the comforts of my own home surrounded by those I love.
I had my first exam of the semester last Wednesday for Comparative Literature. The exam venue was Lower College Hall, located in St. Salvator’s Quad. So whilst furiously scribbling about The Song of Roland I was surrounded by imposing portraits of various St Andrews dignitaries. Only in St Andrews! My next exams are Tuesday the 17th for Ancient Philosophy and Wednesday the 18th for English, then I am free! Immediately following my last exam I will be heading to Edinburgh to spend the day at the annual Christmas Market with my good friend Catriona, so photos to come! Then it’s a day of cleaning, laundry, and packing, then I am off to the airport to begin the trek back to the homestead.
Meanwhile, St Andrews has been garbed in its most resplendent holiday finery. Lights are strung across Market Street, the fountain is all aglow, and each shop window has its own unique and festive display. It is so magical! The only thing that could make it even more perfect would be snow, but alas, it has been quite temperate the last week so one can only dream!
Perhaps what I love most about Christmas though is the opportunity to give gifts. I enjoy hunting for unique treasures that remind me of people who are important to me. However, I received a very unexpected surprise: my closest friends all purchased gifts for me, and not just for Christmas, but for my impending twentieth birthday as well. Here is a sampling:
For as long as I can remember, I have been the friend that would cross oceans for people who would not even think to hop a puddle for me. Often, I care so much for others that I am left with absolutely nothing. This has led to some very saddening trust issues. Yet the generosity of the friends I have made here at St Andrews astounds me.
Sometimes it feels as though our modern era of Facebook, Instagram, and other digital platforms has diminished what it means to genuinely know others. Gone are the days when one had to earn intimate knowledge, such as someone’s wildest fantasies, for all are packaged so neatly onto various social media websites. I feel as though this deluge of information somehow renders others clueless, since such is so readily accessible that they rarely take the time to actually learn wee details about others anymore.
Yet this simple act of gift giving has restored my faith in others a bit more. Never before have I had friends, people without the ties of blood to bind them into paying attention, evince such kindness. So small a gesture as taking the time to place me in my favorite book, for example, shows a thoughtfulness I have yet to know in my peers. I am so used to going to great lengths for others while they only show me cruelty and rudeness in return that I almost cannot accept these wonderful gifts of kindness my university friends have given me.
Going beyond just the material aspect of these gifts, this holiday season at university has been a completely new experience for me. This time last year, I was alone in my cold and impersonal dorm room, counting the agonizingly long hours until I could be in my mother’s arms once more. While I do love being at St. Andrews, the holiday season really brings out how much of a homebody I am, turning me into a homesick and grumpy mess of yearning.
However, something has changed. I am now beginning to see the value in friends as being a surrogate family. The kindness my friends have shown me this semester is almost unparalleled in my life, as I am so used to having others mistreat and manipulate me simply because I’m “the nice girl.” I seek refuge from this in my family, yet being so far from them has left me a bit lost. Yet for the first time in my life, I am now beginning to see that friends can be genuine people and as trust worthy as one’s own family. We are all in the same situation: miles from home, attempting to navigate this foreign world of young adulthood, and all the while trying to successfully obtain degrees. This sense of community amongst my peers is something I have never before experienced, and while it still makes me a bit hesitant, I am slowly beginning to trust others, appreciate their generosity, and see them as honest and genuine people.
So to all of my wonderful friends who have helped make my time at university better, I thank you. Though I do my best to hide it, being so far from home is a daily struggle: when I am upset, I have to wait until it is a reasonable hour to phone home. I cannot go home or see my parents whenever I wish. I have to remain poised and graceful despite feeling anger and hurt when others feel the need to tell me how “stupid” my accent sounds. Sometimes I feel like I just plain don’t belong. However, the time and effort you have all taken to make me feel welcome is appreciated beyond measure. For the first time in my life I feel as though I truly belong to something which is not established by my parents, but my own. Thank you for being there.
Originally written 15 December 2013