One was in Hungary. Another was in Spain. Pictures flooded my newsfeed of Italian sunsets and the endless, edible blue of the Mediterranean Sea. And I was in St Andrews.
It transpired that I had gained exclusive access to the club of students who, unlike their more adventurous peers, had consciously and willingly decided to spend their spring break (or half term, for the anglophile traditionalists) in no other place but St Andrews – the very same town in which we had spent the last seven weeks. Our reasoning for doing so varied. Some of us had work to catch up on. Others couldn’t bear the arduous journey home. I stayed for both these reasons, and a healthy clump of laziness on the side. But whatever our rationale, we had chosen to stay in St Andrews at a time when the town the very nature and character of the town seemed to transform, and at a time which many students never get to see.
In the first few days, the silence was striking. The familiar pitter patter of footsteps along the corridors subsided. The swarms of students outside the cafes, lecture halls, and library were reduced to a trickle. What’s more, the ability to call up a friend in an hour of particular boredom, or thump on their door to beg for food or notes was no more. It seemed like the very life of the town, both social and academic, drained away with the students as they left.
But then something remarkable occurred. People, real life people, began to fill the town’s shops and restaurants, meandering down the pavements and through the cobbled streets. Not that I doubt that students are themselves alive (although experiencing a 9 am Monday seminar may persuade some people otherwise). But the complete dominance of the student body in the town was replaced by something that felt more authentic – ordinary people going about their ordinary business. Of course I missed my friends and the undeniable buzz of student life, but it was refreshing and reaffirming to see that St Andrews didn’t need us to be the charming and friendly town we have come to know.
But quite apart from philosophical realisations, staying in the Bubble during spring break offered the select few a range of practical benefits. After weeks of back-to-back essays and a growing mountain of untouched readings, the beautifully blank schedule that spring break offered allowed us the invaluable opportunity to catch up with our work or even, if we were feeling keener than we would like to admit, get ahead. That is not to say this is impossible to do elsewhere. However, the vacant study rooms and hours of the day could be fully exploited in a way that couldn’t be done either at home or on holiday. The library, so often the place I had avoided for fear of passive-aggressive stares or the trauma of not finding that one much-needed book which was apparently there, became a sanctuary of peaceful learning. Not only were there all the books I needed, but it was even possible to clomp along in wooden-soled shoes without so much as a disapproving glance.
I am fully aware of the irony here – advocating the benefits of staying in St Andrews when those very same benefits can only be derived from the absence of students. As a result, I fully support anyone’s ability to spend their spring break how they wish – travelling the world, seeing their family or making memories that will never be forgotten. But there are many worse things than spending it in St Andrews, a place I’ve learnt to appreciate all the more.