St Andrews is a place like no other. It is a place of great history, architecture and isolation; a chance to break from modern civilisation as we know it, and learn in matters both academic and social. These four years will likely be among the most life-changing you will experience. However, as every pessimist knows, every silver lining has its cloud, and here are ten of these clouds.
1. Lack of creature comforts for big-city dwellers
St Andrews has plenty of pubs, do not worry. Haggis Nachos are in plentiful supply (at the Whey Pat Tavern), and it has at least three barbershops. But, for those of you coming from larger settlements than this small but historically significant town, there will be certain facilities glaringly missing. For me, this is McDonald’s; for others it might be a Poundland, a nightclub, or any number of things.
Hardly a surprise, I suppose. Not only are we in Britain, but we are in Scotland. Not only are we in Scotland, but we are right next to the North Sea. Walking to lectures and tutorials may well leave you runny-nosed or frostbitten (or maybe that’s just me). At some point, you will probably end up going into the sea in the early hours – such as at May Dip (the first day of May, at sunrise). It will be painfully cold. Obviously. However, it helps one to appreciate the cosiness of halls; it also enables one to observe seasons and wear coats in a way that may not have been possible for those students who grew up in warmer or less temperate climates. That may not help at 9 am on a Monday, though.
3. School friends may be unlikely to visit you
This, of course, depends entirely on where you went to school. For the Scottish minority, friends may well visit you. But even for the English amongst us, let alone those of you who have crossed whole countries or the Atlantic to get here, few of our school friends will cross Hadrian’s Wall to drop by for a few days.
4. The reputation for balls, wealth, and pretentiousness
“Ah, you go to St Andrews?”, people from other universities say. “You’re a posh Oxbridge reject then, and you attend balls every other day?” Of course, no stereotype exists in a vacuum, and this is partly true. But for most of us, you will likely go on fewer than a handful of such events per year. Then again, if you’re part of the Kate Kennedy Club, you may go on a few more.
5. You’re never really alone
Just picture the following scene: You’ve had hardly any sleep because you’ve been writing an essay far too late into the night, and restarted far too early in the morning. You then leave your room with just enough time to hand it in before the deadline. You walk down the stairs of your halls, and your friends try to greet you, saying “Good Morning” with no hint of irony – some might even say “Are you okay? You look tired!” – so you ignore them all, no time nor energy for such social niceties. You stumble out of the door, onto the street, thinking “At last! Now I am surrounded by strangers with no friends to inquire into my health!” But you are very, very wrong. In St Andrews, you are never truly alone. Half of this town are students, and your friends are everywhere. Which, most of the time, is a fantastic thing. But occasionally, it is an inconvenience.
6. Catered halls
If you time it right, you can arrive for breakfast a minute or two before it ends, so that before you’ve even sat down after plating up your first portion, you hear that glorious call for “seconds!” You then return and add another 5 rashers of bacon onto your plate. Sounds great, right? Well I’m sorry to tell you (I found out the hard way) that after a year of eating halls food, there is such a thing as eating too much. And a lot of you in catered halls will also discover that the hard way. Was it worth it though? Maybe it was.
7. Pablos are a hefty £5
VKs are the staple of many modern British universities. At St Andrews, we take it to another level by adding two shots of vodka. These “Pablos” are symbolic of our wonderful university, but they come at a cost: £5. If you spill one, you will become sad and, most likely, rather sticky. My recommendation? Don’t spill one.
8. Toastie Bar is only open on Fridays
50 pence for a toastie? Yes please! Oh, you want 8 toasties – that’s sixteen slices of bread? That’ll be £4, please! (For comparison, that’ll get you chips with either cheese or gravy at Dervish, another student favourite.) Toastie Bar is great, but it’s only open on Fridays, in the Baptist Church on South Street. Double bonus points if you go for an Abomination, a single toastie made with all the toppings at once.
9. Some of the burger places are overrated – but some are not
Of course, this is subjective – but, if you ask me, Burger is far too greasy (please, don’t shoot the messenger!). What more than makes up for this, however, was the day I was shown the burgers in The Central, a pub on Market Street, by a friend; this was then blown out of the water by Rascal’s Bar. It is a strange irony that a pub and a bar do better burgers than a burger place – but then again, St Andrews is a funny little old town.
10. There are too many hidden gems
I currently know of at least one place that is lovely to walk down, not known to most people who study here. There are probably countless more places that are just inherently nice places to be, if you look for them. Besides aesthetics, St Andrews is also steeped in history – not least the cathedral and castle, but also more minor things that one may not instantly recognise as being historically significant (the “PH square” is fairly well-known, but it is not the only physical memorial of centuries long gone in this town). It’s quite likely at least some of you will walk past something seemingly insignificant hundreds of times over your four years here, without realising what it meant, or what once happened there.