“The Road Goes Ever On and On”

Sometimes I wonder how Alice felt after leaving Wonderland and her mad companions. Or Wendy parting with the mermaid coves of Neverland for the mundane streets of London. As I awoke this morning, the soft summer sun streamed in through my window, a realization that I was finally home. While laying in my own bed after months of being cooped in David Russell Apartments, I finally had the opportunity to calmly reflect on my final semester of first year.

I cannot even begin to comprehend that I have finished my first full year at St Andrews. As trite as it may sound, Fresher’s Week feels like it only occurred a few weeks ago, not nine months. How overwhelming it all was, my trepidation at finally leaving my door for this unknown, and how frightened I was are as clear as the sense of peace I currently feel.

Second semester, though, was by far a more incredible experience than the first. I began my time at St Andrews feeling small, scared, and alone, never knowing what to expect or just what to feel. Yet with the help of some amazing friends, the second half of this year passed as smoothly as a summer’s breeze. The people I met for the spring semester were truly incredible, and I am so thankful to have made such wonderful friends. Being quite shy and generally nervous in social situations, I am amazed that so many interesting, intelligent, and witty people have gathered around me. They have made this transition from quiet homebody to intrepid adventurer all the more exciting and easy.

My spring was also spent on very incredible journeys. Two forays into the Highlands, quaint harbor towns, castles, and my beloved Lake District made this first year at St Andrews all the more memorable. Though I have already endlessly praised the Lake District, words cannot really encompass all that I feel when I recall my time there. Visiting such a wonderfully quiet and peaceful place topped this year as my favorite experience, and I can only hope that I will return very soon.

This year, and particularly this semester, also helped truly cement what it is I wish to pursue with my life. Enrolling in the English module second semester made my school work all the more bearable, and I actually enjoyed myself as I studied Frankenstein and The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. This course of study made me rediscover my love of learning, which years of public schooling back home had stamped out of me. I truly enjoyed writing essays on my English texts and plumbing the depths of the various poems we were assigned. My foray into English helped me rediscover reading and writing for knowledge’s sake, not just the marks on the paper or the grade on the exam.

At this time, I am just at a loss for words on how to accurately describe my first year at St Andrews, which is a rare occurrence for any who really know me. Though I very much love the comfort of my own home, tucked away amongst my books and leather arm chairs, deep within my heart I yearn for a real experience of the places I usually only read of. This first year at St Andrews has done just that, opening a new world of incredible adventures filled with a motley cast of characters. Looking back on all that has occurred since September, I am so thankful that I did not hesitate at the last moment. Leaving my front door for this new world has been the best decision of my life, and I cannot wait for what mysteries the next three years holds for me. This hobbit has had her first taste of adventure, and though initially unsure, is now addicted.

Originally written 29 May 2013

Ceilidh in the Castle

At times, when I am slogging through the mire that is my coursework, I tend to forget that I am studying abroad. Accented words and foreign tongues simply blend into the background, while the wee quirks of the United Kingdom are simply every day occurrences. Occasionally, I am saddened by this fact: I feel as though I put too much effort into my coursework, electing to stay within my dorm and labor day after day, when I should be out in the world, making the most of this experience abroad. However, this sadness was somewhat sated by the events of last Sunday.

Last week, St Andrews hosted the On the Rocks Festival. Each day was dedicated to various events of artistic expression, whether it be poetry readings, play productions, or art galleries. I actually went and saw a student production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, followed by a comedy show titled “Colin Mirth” (that may have been the only reason I went. I am a sucker for puns.) A few friends of mine are members of the group that put on the show, and the final act of dancing to Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights was a treat.

To conclude the On the Rocks Festival, though, was my favorite event: the Castle Ceilidh. Held in the castle ruins upon the seaside, a ceilidh is a traditional Scottish folk dancing event.

Kilts, fiddle music, castle ruins by the sea, and a gorgeous Sunday evening all made the event a remarkable experience. Grace is not a virtue I possess, so early on I gave up attempting to perfect the intricate dance steps and simply went with whatever my bumbling self thought resembled the steps. Though I probably looked like a fool, I cared not, for many others were ceilidh novices as well. I simply enjoyed participating, and I recall a great deal of giggling on my part.

Below is a video of what one of the dances looks like, taken at the exact event I attended! Unfortunately you cannot see me look like a bumbling fool.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYkuvyb9uvI

I think my favorites were The Witch’s Dance and Strip the Willow. The first involved, as the kilted emcee described, “bewitching” the men by turning circles about them. I think he also said something about eating their souls at the conclusion of the dance. As anyone who knows me well enough can attest, this influence of magic and folklore was right up my alley, and the mood was only heightened by the gorgeous castle ruins. The second, Strip the Willow, was one of the most intense things I have ever done. It is so difficult to put to words: all one does is spin down a very, very long line of people. Yet “spin” is a gentle term: you are more likely to be hurled down the line by all the participants.

As I look back on such a jovial evening, it really makes me appreciate the fact that I am able to study abroad. There are times when wee rivulets of homesickness trickle into my hearts, especially if I see photos of my friends all gathering together to enjoy the little quirks of my hometown, such as apple orchards in the fall or driving in the country on the first warm day. These moods sometimes make me question if I made the right decision to buck the “traditional college experience” and leave the country for the unknown. Yet when I partake in events, such as the Castle Ceilidh, I remember why I came abroad. These experiences are ones I would never have even dreamed of if I stayed at home for university. Prior to arriving in St Andrews, I never knew what a ceilidh was, much less how to pronounce it (hint: kay-lee), or some of the other little cultural differences Scotland has to offer.

I am so thankful that I get to spend four years in such a special place. Though the year is 2013, the magic of ancient times has not yet passed, for it has retreated to Scotland, tucked within castle ruins or drifting upon the notes of a fiddle. As the semester is nearing its close, I will miss my second Scottish home as I return to America for the summer vacation.

Originally written 20 April 2013

To My Parents

Unexpected visits often become the most welcome. In exactly one month, my father will be heading up to St Andrews for a short vacation before heading to London on business. At the start of the term, I never even dreamed that this would occur, and now that he is so close to calling, I am so happy.

My excitement for his impending stay spurred some late night reflections. Uncharacteristic of my age, I actually enjoy spending time with my parents. Sometimes I prefer their company to my friends, whether it be watching a period film with my mother or going for a drive in the country with my father. Though I adore my friends, these are the memories that truly resonate with me, and the ones I keep closest to my heart.

Coming to university has greatly increased my appreciation for my parents and all they do for me. Yet going beyond their support of my passions, their financial assistance, and willingness to let me roam wild, I think I am most thankful for the fact that they accept me for me. While I try my hardest to be wholeheartedly Maggie while meeting new people, my social anxieties at times take over, and either crippling shyness or off-putting eccentricity bubbles to the surface. While I have grown a lot as a person since my teenage years, I am nowhere near figuring out exactly who, or what, I am. Adding this to the task of meeting new people in a foreign country, and I begin to feel overwhelmed.

Perhaps this is the reason why I cherish spending time with my parents. Pretenses melt away and whomever I feel like being for the day is not only accepted, but loved. While I try my best to be outgoing and friendly, I am an introverted person: I like to be quiet and to think. A lot of my friends are not used to this side of me, and assume something is wrong if I am not the chipper and smiling Maggie they befriended. Yet around my parents, they simply exist in the contemplative silence with me, which I find refreshing.

My parents also love me for my unusual side, which I am so incredibly thankful for. After almost two decades of people consistently bullying me and being cruel to me for my fanciful nature, it is nice to be reminded that my quirks are a crucial part of who I am, and to never suppress them. My mother and father indulge my belief in magic, listen to my outlandish stories, and encourage me to find joy in the simplest of things. While one may think that these nudges of approval are not monumental, they mean so much to me, since I sometimes question if I am in fact wrong for being my odd little self.

So I eagerly await my fellow Hobbit’s arrival into the Shire, for the adventures we will embark on will be splendid. It will be refreshing to dismantle a few of my barriers and allow myself to be truly uninhibited, simply with my father’s encouraging presence. I do not doubt that I will look back on his wee visit, which we are planning with culinary conquests, pub-going, and frolicking in the magnificent scenery, with the warmest regard.

Originally written 19 March 2013

Simplicity

I brake for birds. I rock a lot of polka dots. I have touched glitter in the last 24 hours. I spend my entire day talking to children … but that doesn’t mean I’m not smart and tough and strong.

 Jess Day, New Girl

Recently, this quote has inspired me as I face a challenge of entering the adult world. Often I find myself at a loss when adults, and even some of my peers, do not respect me because I choose to indulge my imagination. I find this quite saddening.

Particularly in today’s society, those with immense imaginations and who remain true to themselves should command the most respect. In an age of efficiency, fact, and structure, we tend to lose sight of what makes us human: the capacity of contemplating and giving meaning to the beauties of life. Any who are willing to believe in fantasy, romance, and idealism despite this ever-chilling world view should be applauded, for they are able to see what many no longer can, and that is a rare gift.

So often in my life I have encountered opposition to my fanciful nature, which is altogether disheartening because it is really the only thing I fancy about who I am. However, it has grown into more of a plight as I age. Many tend to write me off as a “dumb blonde” or a simpleton for the sole reason that I find wonderment in the everyday. Yet is not such idealism what inspired some of the greatest art, music, and poetry, an exposé on the everyday in order to enhance human existence?

Indeed, I will vehemently defend the existence of dragons. All of my clothes are floral or polka dot dresses. Flying a kite sounds like time well spent. It is my goal to stop and pet every puppy I see on the street. However, I also work very hard to achieve my goals. I am capable of an insightful discussion on literary works. My independence is something I pride myself on. One must never forget that there are two sides to every coin. I simply choose to laugh easily and be awed by life’s simple pleasures because it makes me happy. Happiness is a virtue, yet somehow it has been debased and warped by the cynicism of today, which casts an immense rain cloud on the human parade.

So here is my advice to you: applaud the romantics, the dreamers, and the idealists. Stop to have a conversation with them and listen to what they have to say. You may find yourself with a new perspective on life that you were previously missing in your haste. Personally, the individual who is content to watch the clouds and make up fanciful stories about what they see seems a very worthwhile companion. Go, surprise yourself, and live a bit simply.

Originally written 8 March 2013

First Semester Reflections

In six days I will be homeward bound. I almost cannot even fathom that an entire semester has passed since I last laid eyes on my home, Bear, and all that was familiar to me. I can honestly say that these past few months have simultaneously been some of the most challenging yet rewarding of my life.

Some days, when I am feeling rather lonely, I remember the fact that this time last year, attending St Andrews might have been a fantasy. The emotions and frustration that time conjures makes me appreciate every breath of Scottish air I draw. I am thankful that I have the opportunity to explore such a beautiful place while attaining a world-class education. After so many years of being dissatisfied with my high school education, St Andrews, at times, still feels like a fantasy. The students, the locals, the architecture, the classes, and the sea all blend in a glorious harmony that I get to call my life. It is almost as if I am living one of my stories, and I cannot believe it.

Though I have faced some challenges, such as initial homesickness, anonymity, loneliness, and challenging coursework, I could not have asked for a better first semester. Yet unfathomably, everyone asserts that your university experience gets better as the years pass. As ineffably happy as I am today, I do not know if my heart can accommodate any more wonderful experiences.

So I eagerly await what is to come. Yet unlike my high school self, I do not wish for today to end. Instead, I revel in each and every sunrise, smiling gleefully to myself that I am here. I could not have asked for a more rewarding and lovely experience as a St. Andrews student, and I am already ravenous for more.

To quote my favorite hobbit, “The road goes ever on and on…”

Originally written 16 December 2012

Raisin Weekend: A St Andrews tradition

St Andrews is an historic university noted for its varied traditions. Raisin Weekend is one specifically targeted toward the newest class of students attending the university, intending to welcome the first year cohort to the university and encourage them to feel at home in the wider academic community.

Historically, an upper-class student, typically in their third year, would be partnered with one or two first year students as a sort of mentor. The upper-class student would tour the university and the town with the first year, answering questions and acting as a support system for the younger student. To thank the older student, the first year would present him or her with a bag of raisins, hence the reference to the dried snack.

As notions of propriety have evolved over time, so too have the festivities for this mentorship tradition. Today, an upper-class student will “adopt” one or several first year students (including older students who are studying abroad at St Andrews for a semester or a year). At times, friend will partner together to create an academic “family”, complete with any combination of “parental” figures, extended “family” groups, and so on. Raisin festivities begin with the academic “mother” hosting her “children” for a breakfast at her home, followed by a scavenger hunt for the first year students to better acquaint themselves with the town and its traditions. The first years will then move on to their academic “father”, being taken to various homes for different house parties for the opportunity to meet more students and socialize. The following day, the first years are brought again to their “mother’s” home for breakfast. Later, they are dressed in costumes to be taken to a large shaving foam fight held in St Salvatore’s Quad. Along the way, the “children” must pick up an object, known as a “Raisin Receipt”, from their academic “father” to present as a means of entry into the quad.

For my Raisin Weekend, my academic mother dressed my siblings and I as Arthur’s knights of the round table and Merlin, carrying the Holy Grail to Arthur who lay injured in Sallie’s Quad. Raisin Weekend was quite a bit of fun, and I feel as though I should begin planning something just as memorable for my own academic children two years from now.

Originally written 19 November 2012

Cross Country Running in Scotland

Yesterday, a few of the cross country team members and I packed off to Glasgow to participate in the SSS XC Championships. In the three races I have participated in this season, this was by far the most challenging; not due to hills, not due to distance, but because of mud. There was also a really difficult back section to the course, into the wind, and through a marshy bog. Though it appeared as a straightforward piece of terrain, one’s feet only sunk deep into soggy, squishy grass. How tiring!

These races, though, are what I look forward to on my weekends. I enjoy the opportunity to spend time with some kindred spirits, being outdoors, and competing once again. I also take pleasure in observing how each adventure unfolds in a very similar way. We all start out a little quiet and shy on the ride there, but as the day progresses, we end up bonding and having a great time.

Joining the cross country team here has been one of the best decisions I have ever made since I arrived at St Andrews. Though I am still competitive at heart, the fact that these races are for fun, without the pressure of points, varsity places, and school records is very liberating. Everyone is simply in for the fun of it, and the chance to make some new friends.

Originally written 18 November 2012

Culture Clash

Perhaps one of the most interesting experiences I have had while being in St Andrews is the strong, often negative, reactions to my being an American student. While I am not naive enough to think that the entire world loves the United States and all its inhabitants, the fact that I have encountered so much negativity is both discouraging and disappointing. Often, my peers are fond of pinning the misdeeds of my nation on my shoulders, forgetting the fact that I am an innocent eighteen-year-old girl. Are we not all here for the same purpose?

However, no matter where we hail from, I think that all the international students deserve some respect and applause for their decision to come to the University of St Andrews, regardless of how long their stay is. Moving away from home to begin university is a huge step in the life of any young adult, yet adding the international factor makes the experience all the more daunting. It saddens me that some of my peers choose to speak so negatively of the American student population, without realizing the fact that many of us are here for the experience of studying abroad, learning about a new culture, and perhaps satisfying life long dreams to see such a beautiful country. How discouraging would it be for someone to essentially tell you to go home after you have waited your whole life to visit their amazing country? It is a saddening occurrence to say the least.

Finally, while I do not expect to be free from the many stereotypes that follow the American students, the way a lot of the other students go about expressing them is disheartening. I have been met with many questions that are inappropriate in their direct support of outdated, often rather rude, stereotypes. When I do not adhere to one, another is quickly put in its place, as if I cannot exist without some negative qualifier that confirms another’s suspicions about American lifestyles. Whatever I seem to say about my home, my upbringing, or my family, I am met with ridicule, which just altogether makes me uncomfortable.

Though I have made many friends here, many of whom hail from such diverse backgrounds, it simply disappoints me that I have met so much negativity simply for my national identity. I am in no way saying that that Americans do not subscribe to similar ideologies about other cultures. However, university is a place full of international students, a safe haven for scholars pursuing their dreams and discovering themselves. Personally, I find the European way of life appealing, and I have fallen madly in love with Scotland, so much so that I do not want to leave once my student visa runs out. All walks of life should be tolerated, and view points expanded while at university.

Originally written 6 October 2012

First Day Jitters

Fifteen years ago, I marched off to my first day of preschool, excited for the opportunity to, at last,  attend school. Today I will be embarking on my first day of university, and I am both nervous and excited.

My classes sound rather interesting, like Mind and Reality, yet I am not sure what to expect. In high school, I managed to graduate with high honors, despite never “studying” the material, as well as reading for pleasure while the teacher taught a lesson. While my primary education did not feel challenging, I feel as though I am not prepared for higher education, that the lectures will be over my head, and that I will be lost in the mire of coursework.

While I do not know what to expect, I hope that my time here at St Andrews will be so much more rewarding than any American university, simply due to the fact that I will be learning things more catered to my interests and what I wish to pursue later in life.

I leave my dorm today with an open mind, ready to fill in the blank page of this new life.

Originally written 17 September 2012

Settling In

Bustling about from place to place for the past few days, it seems as though I can never get a moment to simply sit. I’ve had such a relaxing summer that the pace of settling in to St Andrews seems frenetic.

Though I have just arrived, it has definitely been a learning experience. I’m having a bit of trouble making friends, since I tend to be on the shy side. Usually, I do not march up to people with a forward introduction. I know everyone is in the same position, not knowing anyone, but I find it difficult to simply reverse a personality trait so intrinsic to myself.

It seems so intimidating that everyone already has these groups of friends, walking around in packs, whereas I’m just wandering about all by lonesome. I am going to try to go to a few of the club meet-and-greets, simply to try and meet people with similar interests as me.

All in all, move in was alright. I am perhaps just overwhelmed, yet I’m hoping once teaching begins, I can actually settle into a routine and meet people with similar interests so I’ll feel more comfortable.

Originally written 10 September 2012