Study? Travel? Both!

I am less than a week away from completing my semester here at St. Andrews. And wow, the past few weeks have been crazy! From April 22 to May 7, students have been busy studying for all their exams in the two weeks from May 8 to May 19. Myself? I have been studying for only about half that time.

Call me a bad student, though I prefer to think of it as a good study-abroad student. I also know myself well enough to know that there is no way on earth that I could spend two weeks straight studying for 3 exams, one of which I was barely concerned about at all, especially when I am used to having 2 days to study for 4-5 exams at Whitman. And as much as I believe in being a good academic student, I also went abroad for the purpose of exploring myself and the country I am in, not dedicating 100% of my time to academics the way I do at home.

So for the first four days of Revision Week(s), I and a friend went up to the Orkney Islands, the second most northern set of islands of Scotland. Orkney’s Scapa Flow, a body of water surrounded by the islands, played a key role in the world wars, as it turns out, as a base for the British Naval Fleet and a block against German U-boats from the North Sea. What I find more fascinating, however, is the Neolithic history of the islands. Part of Orkney is filled with Neolithic sites: villages, circles of stones, and a burial ground. My friend and I visited these on one of our days there, and I found it incredible, mainly because so little is known about the civilization—it’s all guesswork. Based on the size of the beds, they can guess how they slept; based on how the doorframe was so low, they can guess they either protected against invaders or against the fearsome weather; based on their tools, they could guess how they passed their time; based on the size of their gravesite, they can guess they simply tossed in the bones rather than fully burying their dead. But their general culture? Their hierarchy? Their sleep patterns? What the circle of stones were used for? No one knows! And that’s crazy.

After Orkney, for the next week I spent all of my days studying for my maths exam. In between studying, I dealt with a cold that was circulating my hall, and also participated in the May Dip. Apparently May Day (May 1st) is a big holiday in the U.K., and the tradition at St. Andrews to celebrate is to run into the North Sea at sunrise. Supposedly, naked, but fortunately, few actually heed to this part of the tradition. Supposedly the dip purifies the students of academic sins they have committed over the year. Well, rhinovirus and all, I got up at 4:35 in the morning to be at the beach at 5:00 and plunge into the sea with a few friends. After dunking myself to my neck—no saltwater in my hair, thank you—I ran back, toweled off, layered up, and quickly walked back for a warm shower and then another hour of sleep. The answer is yes, it was freezing.

Exhausted from five straight days of a miserable cold and a whole lot of maths, my friend and I departed the country—the first time, for me!—to Norway for a few days. This time we met a friend of my friend who she knows from school back home, and the three of us spent four days touring Oslo, Stavanger, and Bergen. The biggest adventure of the trip was the sunrise hike to Pulpit Rock in Stavanger, which meant getting up before midnight so we could be picked up by our guide at 1:00am so we could begin our hike at 3:00am to be at the top for sunrise at 5:30am. We got extremely lucky with the weather, as it was foggy at the base of the mountain, but at the top of the mountain we were greeted with clear skies and a sea of fog below us covering the fjord to make the sunrise even more spectacular.

We arrived back in St. Andrews very late on Monday, and my first exam was on Wednesday. For the next few days I studied, took a test (CS), studied, took another test (maths), and then took an afternoon off before studying for my final test (E&M). On Tuesday at 4:00 I will officially be done.

If you want to know if I regret taking so much time off when I should have been studying, my answer is absolutely not. Had I had four classes, perhaps I would have taken one vacation instead of two, but in the end—especially since my exams were neatly spread out—I have not felt like I had too little time to study. And I would recommend traveling in that time to almost anyone: not only is it a good break so you can be more focused when you do come back, but I also believe it would be such a shame to come to a country as beautiful as Scotland and not take every advantage to travel it. Traveling by yourself or with a friend, I have found, is a great way to claim independence, to build confidence in yourself, to have fun, and to make incredible stories. It can be as much or as little work as you want—though with public transport there is always stress involved—but every time I come back from traveling, I am filled with happiness that nothing else in my time abroad can compete with, except maybe dancing at a cèilidh. It is a wonderful feeling.



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