Academic families are one of St Andrew’s proudest institutions. At the start of each academic year, freshers are “adopted” by a pair of older students (traditionally third years) who help them find their way in St Andrews. For most people, academic families are a source of friendship lasting the whole of university and beyond – and sometimes more than friendship, but I’ll leave discussions of academic incest for another article.
However, the thought of academic families can also be a source of stress for some freshers. I’ve seen friends panic about their prospects of getting adopted, and I know I spent a good portion of freshers week trying to think of plausible excuses to explain why I’d failed to clear this social hurdle. So, in an effort to prevent future St Andreans from stressing themselves in the way I did, I’ve written this list of do’s and don’ts (mostly don’ts) for getting adopted in St Andrews.
- Don’t try to get adopted.
I realise that this is a bit of a curveball, but bear with me. By this, I’m not saying that you should forget completely about the whole thing or avoid bringing it up in conversation, but you definitely shouldn’t be going to events with the singular goal of getting adopted. There are no prizes for finding family quickly and you certainly don’t want to let the search for relatives detract from the fun of freshers week.
Also, from experience, trying too hard doesn’t work. On my first evening in St Andrews I decided I was going to make it my mission for the night to find a family. As a result, I spent my whole night not talking to my fellow first years and instead trying to insert myself into the conversations of older students. I managed to get myself on the receiving end of a lot of awkward silences, but that’s about it. Oh, and someone attempted to grope me and then puked on my shoes. Which was fun.
- Don’t overestimate the importance of nightlife in the adoption process.
I’m not entirely sure where the myth of the Union being the go-to place for would-be adoptees arose. Probably because alcohol plays a big part in academic family life (as it does in University life, too), and the Union is to student alcoholics as Pokemon Go is to those with too much spare time on their hands.
To be fair, the Union can be a great, cost effective place to enjoy the social aspects of St Andrews life, if loud music and hangovers are your thing (and you’re a student, so they probably are). But the Union’s Freshers’ Week lineup isn’t the best opportunity for adoption. If you get so smashed that you can’t remember what your academic parents look like the morning after, you’re probably out of luck.
If you’re going to use nights out to get adopted, events organised by clubs and societies are a much better way forward. Life is a lot easier if you have things in common with your academic families sober selves as well as their drunk selves. And, on a more cynical note, in a town as cliquey as St Andrews, having academic parents who are members of clubs and societies can be a useful in when you’re trying to break into the social circles that spring up around these groups.
- Don’t overestimate the importance of clubs and societies in the adoption process.
Like a lot of small universities, St Andrews has a bad case of committee culture. That is, a tendency by members of different committees to fixate to an extreme degree on the wellbeing and goings-on of their clubs and societies. This can lead to the formation of inward-looking cliques that, for many Freshers, seem incredibly important to break into.
To be clear, I’m not saying that every club and society in St Andrews is lorded over by a Mean-Girls style cabal (FYI: if you want to write for The Stand, we wear red robes on Thursdays). To be even more clear, I really don’t want to knock different club executives for the dedication they put into making their societies work. What I do want to say, however, is that having academic family who are members of a specific club or society does not mean you owe said club or society anything at all. Have a life outside of whatever club your familial ties might bind you to. If your academic family aren’t complete dicks they won’t mind.
And if they are… Well, then you’re stuck. Sorry.
- Don’t (for the love of God) panic.
Contrary to this article’s existence, finding yourself an academic family is not something to stress over. There will be more potential academic parents searching for children than freshers trying to get themselves adopted. If you want parents, basic arithmetic is in favour of you being adopted, as prospective parents will be as keen to find you as you will to find them. If you don’t manage it on Freshers’ Week, then you still have over a month before Raisin Weekend and plenty of events in between (Opening Ball, anyone?).
Even if worst comes to absolute worst and you find yourself struggling to socialise then there are ways of finding help, both through the university and student-run groups. You’ll be fine. Honest.
- Do act natural.
If you’ve made it this far in the article (thanks), you’ll have noticed that I’m almost finished the list, and I’ve only just made it onto giving positive instructions. That’s because there are few hard-and-fast rules about what to do to be adopted.
Ultimately, the best piece of advice I can give you about finding academic families is to go about your St Andrews life the way you normally would. Meeting like-minded people is not difficult at University. Go to events that interest you. Avoid the ones that don’t. Adapting your personality to what you think will impress potential adoptees is not the way forward. You can’t meet people you click with by not being yourself, after all.
Ok, that last bit sounded much less cheesy in my head, so I’m going to dispense with the cringe and end on these words of encouragement: I have the social skills of a coked-up octopus. I’m so much fun that I thought hair of the dog was something people were allergic to. My current phone wallpaper is a former Labour Shadow Minister sitting on the Iron Throne. If I can get adopted, you can too. Good luck!
More Freshers’ coverage to come. Like us on Facebook for updates!