I have never been a spontaneous, go-with-the-flow person, and now that I’ve been in St. Andrews, Scotland, for a month I’m relieved to say that I have finally established a weekly routine. My Mondays are mostly free and devoted to readings and research. I attend Zumba on Tuesdays, orchestra on Wednesdays and Bible study on Thursdays, and my long weekends provide ample opportunities to travel.
With this routine, I’m beginning to spend more time outside the confines of my flat and meet full-time St. Andrews students. With each encounter, I am repeatedly asked one question: How are you finding St. Andrews so far?
My answer usually consists of three main components. First, I say the area is beautiful. Secondly, I affirm that it’s wonderful to be in a small town. Finally, I reveal my most truthful observation of my time here thus far: The people here are unbelievably friendly.
I just finished reading Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith’s 2004 novel “44 Scotland Street,” which was originally serialized in the national newspaper The Scotsman.
The novel was widely praised — not for its action-driven plot or tear-jerking romance, but for its charming depiction of Scottish people. It particularly follows a young woman named Pat in her second gap year, a self-obsessed rugby fanatic Bruce, the overbearing mother-son duo of Irene and Bertie, and the eccentric ex-anthropologist Domenica Macdonald.
Once I began “44 Scotland Street,” I was instantly enamored by the characters. I empathized with Pat’s quest for purpose, rolled my eyes at Bruce’s smugness and admired Domenica’s ability to slip philosophical probes into everyday conversation.
Above all, their interactions underscored the idea that a place is defined by its people. As Pat discovered through her friendship with Domenica, even just one person can make a new environment feel familiar.
Before arriving in St. Andrews, friendship — or lack thereof — occupied the forefront of my abroad anxieties. I assumed no full-time student would bother getting to know me because I’m only here for one semester. I also feared fellow Georgetown students would rather spend their time meeting full-time students instead of occupying their time with the familiar.
Simply put, I was wrong. Although I have yet to visit Edinburgh, it is not difficult for me to relate McCall Smith’s novel to my time in St. Andrews so far. Just as Scotland Street is a microcosm of Edinburgh, I’ve come to see the friend groups I have formed here as emblematic of the larger Georgetown and St. Andrews communities.
I didn’t know most of the nine other Hoyas studying abroad here very well before I arrived, but I’m continuously surprised at how much common ground we have found in our experiences. From visiting cows and eating cakes at Balgove Larder just outside town to bonding over weekend drinks, I’m grateful to these smart, witty individuals for exploring the city with me and reminding me of home.
The St. Andrews students I’ve met have also been nothing but friendly and inviting. At Zumba, I share laughs with the other girls as we struggle through the motions. At my first orchestra rehearsal, the members of the clarinet section helped me find sheet music and took respites from their warmups to ask me about myself. No matter where I go or who I meet, the people of St. Andrews seem to exude a happiness for life that is often missing from the fast-paced, work-oriented nature of Washington, D.C.
The final chapter of “44 Scotland Street” is titled “Gain, Loss, Friendship, Love,” and these four simple words sum up my first month in Scotland. When I chose to study abroad, I lost a semester of experiences with my best friends, some of whom are seniors, but I gained an opportunity to see a new part of the world. I said goodbye to my parents and loved ones, but each day I’m meeting new people and cementing friendships. These people, with their joy and hospitality, have defined my month in Scotland.
I can compile a list of things to love about St. Andrews, but nothing tops its people. From my flatmates who welcomed me into their nightly tradition of eating dinner while watching “The Big Bang Theory,” to the outgoing orchestra conductor who lent me a reed for my clarinet, to my brilliant tutors and lecturers — everyone I meet expresses genuine kindness and concern for my well-being.
Because of this caring community, I’m on my way to establishing my own Scotland Street, and St. Andrews is beginning to feel like home.
Kathryn Baker is a junior in the College. Novel Ideas appears in print every other Friday.