I assumed it was at least 6 or 7 pm on a mid-January evening when I looked up from my book, out of my train carriage window. The sky was pitch black, and I couldn’t make out even 5 feet from the tracks.
After spending my Christmas holiday at home in San Diego, California, enjoying “chilly” (about 15 degrees Celsius) afternoon walks looking out onto the rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean, I had forgotten how ominous and consuming northern winters can feel. I don’t mind the dark or the cold, in fact when people ask how and why I left sunny California for wind swept, bracing Scottish weather, I can honestly say the climate does not bother me at all. I prefer cold weather to heat and, regardless, I liked St Andrews enough that the weather didn’t affect my decision to attend at all.
So, when I checked the time on the train and realised that my watch read quarter past four, I was surprised but not disturbed by the unexpected, early gloom. The cold and dark can prove inconvenient, but I never felt as though I suffered from the seasonal depression which everyone back home warned me about.
However, darkness can be more powerful than it appears and despite Taste’s or Brew Co.’s welcoming and bright windows along the way, St Andrew’s winters wear on everyone.
Simply put, the constant looming darkness makes us feel sad sometimes. It’s not always obvious, and I think that the darkness affects everyone differently. It creeps into the cracks of each person’s own mind, dampening one part or another. The Scottish climate isn’t the bit that really makes us sad or stressed, it’s all of the usual challenges: deadlines, relationship problems, bad news from home, struggling to excel on a sports team. Yet, these challenges that we all face can seem worse when the sun appears for less than seven hours a day, and it shines for even less. During the worst of the winter months – December, January, February and March – I forget how it feels to have the sun on my skin or the possibility of going outside without at least a few, heavy layers. Of course, I come from a place where our idea of a really bad winter is a few weeks of 7 degree weather and if we are lucky an hour here or there of rain.
St Andrews students come from all over the world, some places warmer than California and others colder than Scotland. However, the one thing that we all have in common is that we are all learning how to live in a world that’s far from perfect. Every day we face demanding course work, slews of social requirements and the questions what will happen and where will we be after graduation? So regardless of if you are used to the Scottish climate or you find 18 degree weather a bit brisk, it’s important to be aware of how arduous the darkness can be when you are away from familiar support systems and constantly bombarded with new demands and frustrations. Whether you make yourself feel better by working out, working on your music, painting or going on walks, it’s important to be aware of how taxing a constantly dark environment proves. Remember to seek out and appreciate the lights in your life.