While working through the preliminary details of my impending arrival in St. Andrews, Scotland, — discovering which courses I would be taking and where I would be living — I encountered an unexpected road bump: I was expected to have a roommate. Having a roommate didn’t exactly fit into my vision of my study abroad experience, so the first thing I did upon arriving in Scotland was visit the Student Accommodation Office. After self-diagnosing myself with a sleeping problem that may or may not actually exist, I was assigned to a single room.
My new accommodations also failed to live up to what I had anticipated when studying abroad. My single room was much farther away from campus than I had anticipated and I also had to cook my own food, which meant that I would be living off of pasta and grilled cheese sandwiches during my entire time in Scotland. After another discussion with the Student Accommodation Office — I was miraculously cured of my sleeping problem — I was reassigned to John Burnet Hall.
Although I was hesitant to spend my time abroad living with someone else, I can honestly say that returning to John Burnet may have salvaged my experience at St. Andrews.
The location of the dorm itself was enthralling. It looked out onto the first green and 18th fairway of the Old Course at St. Andrews, which was the world’s first golf course. I’ve played golf my entire life and have seen this course in pictures and on television. Nothing compares to waking up each morning and seeing my view. It was surreal.
Beyond the golf course was the beach. While it wasn’t ideal for sporting a bikini or bathing trunks, I was still able to enjoy some sun and sand while appreciating the spectacular views. The beach, known as West Sands, is marvelously wide. The North Sea waves crash against the rocks and sand, and if I kept my window open at night, I could faintly hear them.
I’m a huge golfer, and I was expecting to play pretty much everyday — I bought the student pass for 180 pounds, which allowed me to play any of the seven courses whenever I wanted — and I did throughout the first two weeks. Soon, though, the time I spent playing waned as I grew closer to some of the kids in my dorm.
John Burnet is an all freshman dorm. I, along with three other Junior Semester Abroads (JSAs), had the opportunity to essentially relive our freshman year. It has been spectacular. In a dorm of 140 people (the smallest at St. Andrews), time seemed to turn back as I redid the awkward getting-to-know-you conversations and handshakes. But as we all do, and have all done, we move past the uncomfortable meet-and-greets and learn to live together and have a good time.
The first week, the university supplies the dorms with alcohol (I didn’t complain) and sets up socials. This is where I became acquainted with the people who would become my best friends during my time in Scotland. In true Scottish tradition, we nicknamed ourselves ‘Lads’. We would go to the library together, eat together and head out to pubs together. I don’t mean to slight my freshman experience in Harbin —some of the people I met there have been great friends — but this group of guys is irreplaceable. They all have that freshman vigor which is often lost in later years at Georgetown.
I was able to travel every weekend of September and during the first half of October. I went to Manchester, Monaco Nice, France; Munich, Germany; Copenhagen, Denmark and London. What great fun those places were. But in mid-October, I realized that the amount of time I had left with the Lads was finite. It was all ending in a matter of weeks, and so after that point, I stayed right where I wanted to be, in St. Andrews, with some of the most loyal friends I’ve had so far in my life.
Many people study abroad to see the world. Despite my brief forays around Europe, I wish I had taken more advantage of my time in Scotland to go and explore foreign places — think of all the unique places I could have written home about. I ultimately replaced that regret with the idea that great friends are something to be cherished and I’m more grateful for meeting the Lads than I am upset that I didn’t get an opportunity to see as much of the world as I would have liked. Places stick around, but people don’t. And when you have friends who make you want to stay, that’s what makes the experience special. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to see the Berlin Wall or a soccer game in Barcelona. What I do know is that no distance in the world can diminish camaraderie between friends.