I have been putting off this blog post for a rather long while now, so much so that I did not even take the time to reflect and write about completing my penultimate year at university. Time has consequently passed, and I now find myself in the thick of buying books, frequenting the library, and donning scarves against the oncoming chill for what very well could be the last time. As I saunter dreamily down what should be the familiar cobblestoned streets, I find that a new wind is blowing through this sleepy Scottish town.
For instance, I took great comfort as an underclassman seeing certain student faces around town. These were people I was not intimately acquainted with, but I somehow always saw them in passing for several years. They made me feel safe, comfortable, and like I was still at home. Yet such people, who held a special place for me as “friendly faces,” are gone, replaced by more doe-eyed and milk-skinned subjects. Rather suddenly I realized today that I have now come to fill this void left by my predecessors. It may be expressed by all manner of clichés: I’ve been around the block a few times, I know the drill, the wizened old sage, etcetera. In essence, I have reached my fourth and final year here at St Andrews and I’m left standing in a rather befuddled state trying to work out just how in the heck that happened.
While most of the sights remain the same – my beloved North Sea, the wee trinkets bedazzling my favorite coffee shop on North Street, the cascade of the river on Lade Braes – just as the faces I’m surrounded by have changed, I feel as though something inside me has altered too. Seeing the troupes of first years eagerly bounce down the medieval streets serves as a poignant reminder to what my first few weeks in this strange new world were actually like. I spent the better part of first year wondering if I truly had made a grave mistake. I religiously scoured social media, seeing all those I had left behind seemingly have the time of their lives without me. Yet I also desperately wished to fit in with my new peers who had had such illustrious educations at British private schools, who seemed so cultured and refined compared to my corn-fed and quaint Midwestern ways. If I happened to let slip some of my more absurd imaginings or opinions I would experience the occasional backlash, yet in this environment the barbs seemed a lot more painful because I was so eager to be just like everyone else: a cool, cultured, and collected St Andrews student. Consequently, I felt more isolated and alone than I have thus far ever felt. I ruthlessly told myself that I would never be able to make friends or build a life here. Even well into my second year, doubts plagued my mind and I truly questioned whether Scotland was where I was meant to be. I couldn’t wait to return to where I thought my home truly was.
These attitudes may have improved over the course of my third year, but the most radical shift in my mentality came this summer in which I spent the entire duration of May 26th to September 6th at home. While my life was quiet (how I usually prefer it to be), I was with my dog and my parents (whom I declare my best friends), and had not a care in the world (except whether Jamie Fraser would escape his latest peril in the Outlander series), I felt a wanting; nay, a yearning for something else. And finally I realized what that really was.
I’ve begun my final year at St Andrews rather dreamily, ambling along Lade Braes with a smile dancing upon my lips and my eyes fixated upon that wild Scottish sky. I walk through the rain blissfully, all c’est la vie rather than slouching along in my heathered trench coat with eyes trained to the pavement. Now more than ever I take the time to stop and appreciate each petal, each fleck of sea foam that belongs to Scotland, as silly and romantic such attentions may seem. In fact, I find that I am rather more romantic of heart than logical of mind as of late. While most of my peers are fretting about dissertations and postgraduate plans, this riptide they have all got swept up in has somehow passed me by. And yet I am quite alright with it, for such means I am truly plunging my hands deep into the combs of this place called Scotland so I may taste its richest and most ambrosial nectar. Simply put: I am in no hurry and all I really would like to do is stop.
While to some this may not be the wisest attitude for a soon-to-be university graduate, I think this is the most significant thing I could have learned in all my time here at St Andrews: to take the time to appreciate the now, the where I am rather than the where I am going, and to soak in through every single one of my senses the essence of that place. Most of my life has been a tour-de-force of wild ambition. Though I still retain many dreams that others would deem grand, the speed at which they are accomplished is no longer a priority. Scotland has radically altered my system of values, in which I esteem adventure and living thoroughly above all else.
I recall a conversation I had with my mother this summer which I think would be relevant to this musing. Obviously I am not immune to the pressures of considering postgraduate life; and indeed, my Type-A personality still rears its ugly head to send me into panicked attempts at planning the upcoming years. However, I remember wildly attempting to vocalize this feeling that developed deep in my heart over the course of this summer, and what I finally arrived at was this:
I desire to live an extraordinary life.
By extraordinary I do not mean “better than” your average Sally, Susan, or Sam. Nor do I need anything particularly outlandish to happen, such as being entrusted with a rather queer piece of jewelry that could alter the fortunes of men. Rather, my current life ambition is to have stories to tell, particularly when I am grey and a good deal shorter than I currently am.
I want nothing more for my life than to talk wistfully about the time I sat drinking in the whiskey-soaked sunshine on the Isle of Skye. I may or may not remember all the names or faces who existed with me there, but I will know deep in my heart they were kindred spirits. I want nothing more than to smell the tang of sea brine when I so much as hear the word “Scotland,” and be able to have a similar experience about other places in the world because I was brave enough to start here. And while I think going to Scotland in the very first place was the catalyst for this, that single step in no way made it completely so. Rather, I had to endeavor and indeed struggle to find my footing here in St Andrews. But ultimately, by really taking the time to let the essence of Scotland seep down into the marrow of my soul, I have become infected with this need to continue what I started.
So these are my thoughts on the final chapter of this great adventure called St Andrews. However, I have begun to think that maybe St Andrews shouldn’t be the entire book itself. Rather, my time in Scotland is a chapter wholly unto itself, with the rest of the pages of this story of myself waiting to be smudged, tattered, and messily covered in all the inks of life. I begin the year not counting down the days until I can return to my armchair, my books, and my Bear, but quite literally bursting out of the plane to run amok amongst the heather and the hills once more. I am most certainly not the same Maggie who wandered out her door that September day three years ago; I’m a little wilder, a little freer.
So much the better for it.
Originally written 14 September 2015