Leaving home is always a daunting transition. We wave goodbye to the familiar and the safe, and dive headfirst into unknown territory. This endeavour becomes all the more frightening when the move involves crossing a country border, and possibly even – as is the case for many students here in St Andrews – crossing an ocean, too. Try as I may to prepare myself for the move from Ireland to Scotland, there are quite a few things I did not expect.
Having completed two years of study at Trinity College Dublin, I decided to do a year abroad. St Andrews seemed like a good fit for me, and hailing originally from a small country town myself, I figured the transition back to small town life would be easy. Spoiler: I was mistaken. As anyone coming to St Andrews from living in a bustling city will tell you, no amount of mental preparation can equip you to deal with the loss of amenities. Without a nightclub, Primark, or minor celebrity to be spotted, the disorientation is very real.
I realise this topic has been done to death, and so I shall hastily move on to the more specific differences which added to my culture shock. In Dublin, the wide variety of nightclubs on offer means that for calmer “old souls” such a myself, the pub provides a relaxed safe haven. Furthermore, with James Joyce’s famous assertion in his novel Ulysses, that a “good puzzle would be [to] cross Dublin without passing a pub”, the wide selection of bars caters to a plethora of personalities. In St Andrews, however, the pubs are forced to cater to middle-aged tourists, rowdy first years, and over-tired postgraduates alike. As a result, there is a definite pub culture in the town, yet it is somewhat driven by necessity and a lack of alternative options.
Another culture shock I experienced was the fashion. Where Dublin fashion incorporates baggy jackets, mismatched colours, and a general IDGAF attitude, St Andrews fashion is twofold; functional, yet meticulous. For the Dublin fashionista, being mistaken for a homeless person is the highest form of compliment one can receive. For St Andreans, one leaves the house ready to be whisked off to an impromptu fashion shoot at any given moment. I commend the foresight and sheer commitment, I do. I just miss my extra twenty minute morning lie-in.
As a final word, it must be said that not all the differences between St Andrews and Dublin are unwelcome. Never being further than a thirty minute walk from a friend’s house or flat is an absolute luxury. Moreover, the fashion forward nature of the general student body promotes fashionable creativity and expression. The small-town community of St Andrews also makes meeting new people a breeze, and seeing these aforementioned people again almost inevitable, even if the consequent run-in is not entirely welcome (particularly if the initial encounter was of a boozy nature).
That being said, this article reads, I hope, not so much as a tirade against the amenities and culture of St Andrews, but rather as confirmation to all of the incoming city-slickers that they are not alone in their struggle. I encourage you all to look to the contrasting aspects between St Andrews and your home cities, and to appreciate the many positives involved. The advantages are plentiful, I promise.