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The ‘Beast from the East’ and Professor Strikes

It has been quite a busy time here for the past two weeks. In addition to midterms, where I had a test, presentation, and paper due all in a row in the same week, some other disruptions decided to make an appearance as well.

To start off, for the past 3 weeks, there has been a professor strike across campus. The strike was a result of a decision by the University and College Union and Universities UK disagreement on a new pension scheme, where some professors’ pensions were to be cut drastically. As a way to show their frustration, some professors have gone on strike. Professors who are on strike have cancelled all classes as a result. None of my professors decided to go on strike, but many of my friends have not had lectures, tutorials, or labs for weeks due to it. Some people are leaving a week early for spring break because they have no class! It is interesting for me to experience this and compare it to my own experience with school strikes. When I was just starting middle school, all teachers in my district went on strike over salaries and the first day of school was postponed for two weeks, much to the delight of my anxious pre-teen self who was scared to start middle school. The nature of the strike then is essentially the same thing as what the professors are doing here. They are teaching to educate the talented youth, but need the proper pay in order to be financially stable. Hopefully this will be sorted out soon and a new proposal will be made so that everyone can get back to class.

A flyer that was handed to me by a striker as I walked to class

The second big event was the great ‘Beast from the East’ winter storm. You may have heard about it on the news, but essentially the UK got hammered with snow. To be honest, it really was not THAT bad of a storm here in St. Andrews, but the wind was another story. Other places around the UK were hit a lot worse, but we had wind storms of up to 35 mph. We got about 3 inches of snow total over the course of 4 days. Compared to the foot of snow that lasted from December to March last year at Whitman, this was a piece of cake. It was very pretty, until you had to walk to a class that was 20 minutes away and the sidewalks were not cleared. Thankfully, the weekend before the storm, I realized I had no good shoes for walking in the snow or hiking and decided to go buy a pair downtown. I apparently had very good judgement, because the hiking boots I bought literally saved me during this storm! I was able to walk to all of my classes with ease.

The snow-covered streets of St Andrews

St. Sallies Quad covered in snow

View from my economics tutorial room. See the huge waves in the distance from the wind

The school on the other hand, literally shut down. Classes were canceled for one day and all facilities were closed. This is unusual weather for St Andrews, so people were scared to drive and did not know what to expect. Even Tesco, the grocery store, ran out of food because everyone was in a panic that they would be snowed in! It was a madhouse trying to go grocery shopping. Thankfully, the snow melted within a couple of days and everything was back to normal.


From the events that have happened in the past couple of weeks, I have learned the following points:

  1. Strikes here are the same as in the U.S. and shows that the education decisions around the world need to be reexamined and improved.
  2. Unexpected snow storms happen and you just have to be prepared for anything (even if no one else is).

The unexpected nature of these two events have allowed me to see how a different country reacts to similar problems and has enhanced my cultural experience, although not in the way that I expected.

Hopefully the strikes will end and there will be no more snow soon!

What Even is Korfball…and More Activities

One of my goals that I wanted to achieve during my time abroad was to try activities that I could not do at home. I want to have a memorable experience at St Andrews and the best way would be to step out of my comfort zone and try new activities. The university has so many clubs, or as they are called, societies, and activities to offer, something that I was very excited about. During the second week of school, they have a “Refreshers Fayre” which showcases all of the societies that the school has to offer. After walking through 3 floors worth of societies, I ended up joining 3: Wind Band, Disney Society, and Korfball.

The Wind Band is part of the St Andrews Music Society and is the largest in-auditioned music group that the school has to offer. I play the alto saxophone and am part of the Wind Ensemble at Whitman, so continuing with music here was a must. I unfortunately was unable to rent an alto sax from the school, but a very generous member, and one of the student leaders, of the Wind Band has allowed me to borrow her tenor saxophone to play. It has been an adjustment, but each week I am getting better. There are a wide range of players, some who have played for a long time, like me, and some who have just taken up the instrument. Overall, it is great fun. We meet Thursday nights in the music hall, named Younger Hall, which is a historical and beautiful building. We are also playing entertaining music, such as the theme to Back to the Future and, with some Scottish flare, highlights from the movie Brave.

The inside of Younger Hall before Wind Band rehearsal

The Disney Society is just a fun club that brings together people who love Disney. We have film screenings, as we watched the movie Dumbo one night, and we also do Disney-themed Pub Quizzes. Pub Quizzes are quite popular in St Andrews and basically consist of answering trivia on Disney in a pub. I have met many people who share the same love for Disney as I do and some, especially those from the U.K., are in awe that I have been to Disneyland the number of times I have.

I, as many people have, have never heard of the sport of Korfball. To be clear, I was never intending on actually joining a sport club here; I mainly just wanted to use the gym facilities and maybe just try a couple of sports for fun. When I went to the Refreshers Fayre, the Korfball team successfully persuaded me to try out a Korfball practice. I was very hesitant at first, but let me tell you, it was one of the best decisions that I have made here. Korfball is essentially similar to basketball; you play on a basketball court, there are two hoops on each side of the court, and the object is to outscore your opponent by making the most baskets. But, there are multiple differences: a) it is a mixed-gender sport, b) you cannot dribble the ball, only passing is allowed, c) the hoop is a couple of feet taller than a basketball hoop and it is situated around where the free-throw line is in basketball, and d) one side is offense and one side is defense, so there is no running back and forth on the court. The game is a lot of fun, especially since I have played basketball in the past, but what makes Korfball so great is the team. They are very friendly, encouraging, and overall great people. They included me from the start, added me to the Korfball Facebook page, and even added me to the group text message. Even though I can only make one practice a week, it is still a lot of fun. The girls on the team had a movie night and it was a lot of fun.

The main Sports Arena, where we practice

A korfball (looks like a soccer ball, but bounces like a basketball)

Overall, getting involved has been a great way to make new friends and to share and bond with others that share the same passions. Trying new activities, such as a new instrument and sport, is essential in growing as a person and creating memories that will last a life time, while also having fun in the process. I wanted to make sure that I integrated into the culture of the University of St Andrews and not just stick with the other study abroad students. By taking a risk and stepping out of my comfort zone, I was able to make new friends and learn more about their culture in the process. I hope that this blog post answers the title, as it is a universal questions that I, and many others, have been asked about a many number of times!

The First Week of Classes

This past week was my first week of classes. It was probably the very first time in the past three years since starting college that I was not stressed out about homework. I truly mean the first time ever. It was so strange that I started stressing because I did not have much to stress out about. The first week back is called “Refresher’s Week,” as the first-years here are called “Freshers” and they need a refresher on how to get back into the routine of school. There are nightly activities all leading up to the Refresher’s Fayre on Sunday, which is an activities fair where you have a chance to see and sign up for all of the different clubs, called societies, that the school offers.

Much of my week was dedicated to figuring out how my classes work and getting a feel for what a typical school week will be like. To start off, I am taking three modules: International Trade, Mathematical Modelling, and Scottish Music. International Trade is a typical economics class that analyzes the way trade is conducted around the world. Mathematical Modelling is similar to differential equations, but using the ideas from that subject and applying them to real-world problems. Scottish Music could potentially be the hardest module I have, which was a little shocking to me. It is treated more as a history class than a music class, but we do get to learn how to play the penny whistle! The module focuses on analyzing the history of Scottish music and the influences that helped create it. Each of the modules are broken down into a series of different classes called lectures, tutorials, and in math only, computer lab and examples classes. Every week, for each class, there are lectures. They vary in frequency and length, as I have 2 or 3 math lectures a week (all depending on the week) for 50 minutes, 3 lectures for Scottish Music for 50 minutes a week, and 1 two-hour lecture for International Trade a week. It is a bit strange to only have 1 economics class all week, but it does give me time to prepare for the lectures. Lectures are where the professor teaches the material. There is no homework assigned or turned in during lectures. Lectures are just there for everyone to learn the material. There are many students in one lecture. My largest class is International Trade, which has about 70 students in it. Math is about the same and my smallest is Scottish Music, which has around 30 students. This is something that I am not used to at all, since Whitman tries to keep the number of students to less than 40 in a class. It was a little intimidating, but since all lectures are designed to just go over the material, it was not as bad as I originally had thought.

Tutorials are where the class is broken down into groups of 10 to 20 students and typically meet every other week, except for Scottish Music that meets every week. This is where we are assigned homework and are expected to complete it before class. It is designed to be a time to ask questions and look deeper into the material. I will have my first set of tutorials in the next two weeks and I am eager to see how they work.

Unique to math classes are computer labs and examples classes. Math has tutorials as well, but the computer lab and examples classes have around 45 students in each and are designed more as a peer-collaboration time than tutorials. Examples classes allow you to work with other students on problems and ask for help when needed. The computer labs only occur from weeks 5-9 during the semester and will be used to work on a computer assignment for the class.

The way that grades are determined and the number of assignments per class are a lot different than I am used to as well. For all of my classes, the final exam is worth at least 50% of my grade, with the most being 70% of my grade. There are very little assignments as well. International Trade has one class test, one essay, and the final. Scottish Music has two essays and a final. Mathematical Modelling has 4 assignments and the final. This is the first math class that I have ever had that does not have any tests throughout the semester. It is a little daunting that so much is weighted on the final, but they do have good resources in order to help you prepare for it.

My class locations are also starkly different than I am used to. At Whitman, all academic buildings (with the exception of the Music building), are circled around Ankeny. Here, the school is split into multiple different areas. There is St. Salvator’s College, which is the considered the “main” campus, is home to English, Classics, Economics, Art History, and Music departments. There is St. Mary’s College, which is home to the Psychology, Sociology, and Philosophy departments. Both St. Salvator’s and St. Mary’s Colleges are located in downtown St Andrews. The Math and Science departments are all in the North Haugh, which is also where my dorm is located. This is about a 20 minute walk from downtown St Andrews. Because I am taking a mix of subjects, I have two modules in St. Salvator’s and one in the North Haugh. This means that it takes me 20 minutes to walk to my classes in St. Salvator’s, or Sallies as it is known. This is a lot different than the 5 minutes it takes me to walk to class at Whitman, but the view is great. My economics tutorial class is in the Economics department building, known as Castlecliffe. The building is literally on a cliff, overlooking the sea. It is very beautiful. My lectures for International Trade and Scottish Music are in St. Salvator’s Quad, which is what is used for many of the promotional pictures for the college. I then get to walk back to the Mathematics building, which is right next to my dorm.


The Maths Building (it is actually very nice on the inside).



The Quad is the central hub of the academic buildings and St. Salvator’s Chapel is to the right as well.



Castlecliffe on a gorgeous day (and the view of the water from the inside is amazing!)


Overall, the first week of classes went well, but there is still much more to come. I will still need to get used to my ever-changing schedule each week and factor in the length of time it takes me to walk to my classes. The subjects that I have chosen to take are interesting and exciting and I hope that I am able to learn more about topics that I do not have the chance to learn about at Whitman. Understanding the new system is my next challenge, but I am eager to see what opportunities it gives me.

I have officially been in St Andrews for a week! Classes have not started yet, but I have been very busy with orientation, learning how to get around the town, and getting everything situated.

St Andrews Castle overlooking the North Sea

It is very beautiful here, especially on a sunny day, but it is cold and very windy. There have been two days in the past week where I was almost blown over when trying to walk around outside. My mom came over with me to help me get everything put together and we were able to walk around a bit and go to some historical sites around town. The first thing that we quickly noticed was that the University is integrated into the town. There are academic buildings down the main streets of town, something that I found very unusual and a little confusing, but it was clear that this creates a very tight-knit community for students and people who live in the town. My mom and I went to the St Andrews Cathedral ruins, which is a large area with the ruins of a giant church that was once in St Andrews as early as the 1200s. With the ruins is a large graveyard with many recent and old tombstones. We were also able to walk by the famous Old Course golf course, one of the first golf courses ever created. It was surprising to see some people golfing brought their dogs and had their dogs run around the course while they were golfing.

The lovely golf course

A beautiful view of St Andrews Cathedral (I am also standing in what was originally “inside” of the cathedral)

There is a tradition at St Andrews where students, after church on Sunday, do something called a Pier Walk. Students are dressed in red robes and wear the robes in a certain way based on their class year. First-years wear the robes fully on, second-years wear them off both shoulders, third-years wear them off the right shoulder if they are part of the School of Science and off the left shoulder if they are part of the School of Arts, and fourth-years wear them off the shoulders, draped around their elbows. The students wear their robes to church and then after, all walk across the pier and back in their robes. I did attend church this Sunday for the very first time but did not participate in the Pier Walk because I do not have a robe and it was raining. I hope that I will be able to borrow someone’s robe and participate in the Pier Walk once the weather gets better.

My dorm is very large and is one of the newer dorms on campus. I have a single room with my own bathroom, and I have a TV in my room, since my dorm is used as a hotel in the summer. There are different sectioned corridors, where each share a kitchen. The dining hall is inside of my dorm and meals are served only on the weekdays, so I cook for myself during the weekends. You also have to pay for laundry, which is something that I have to learn to get used to. Luckily, the dryers are brand new and actually do a better job than I had originally thought at drying my clothes.

My dorm room (with a double bed!)

This is my first time being away in a foreign country and the furthest away I have been from home. The following are some of my observations after being here for a week:

Tea, Scones, and…haggis?

One of my favorite parts of being in the U.K. in general is the plethora of tea and scones! At almost any café, restaurant, or pub, you can find tea (traditionally English Breakfast Tea) and some variety of a scone. I am familiar with those foods, but was able to also try all of the traditional Scottish foods as well. Scotland is known for eating haggis, a mixture of sheep giblets, oats, and spices, all ground up and stuffed in the stomach of a sheep. The taste is fine as long as you do not think of what it is made of.

There are very little study abroad students from the West Coast of the U.S.
The majority of the study abroad students are from the U.S., but they are mainly from the East Coast. Many of them also came either with large groups from their schools or through a study abroad program. With being the only student from Whitman, it has and will be a challenge for me to make friends. I have been lucky enough to make friends with people down my corridor (section in my dorm), which has made adjusting a bit easier for me.

There is very little communication from the school regarding directions for modules (classes)
First off, the classes here are called modules. I was very confused on how to register for modules, who my advisor was, and how the modules work. I knew that there was a day during the week that we were supposed to meet with our advisors and choose our classes. I ended up never getting to meet my advisor and just had the head of the Economics Department approve my modules. Many other students were confused as well and some were not prepared at all to choose their modules. This may be the case because we are all coming in during the second semester and expect all students to already know what to do. This is a stark contrast from Whitman, which gives clear directions on how classes work and how to sign up for them.

My name confuses some of the locals
This is just a funny observation that I have noticed repeatedly. Since my name is Irish, when I introduce myself to people who are from the U.K., they seem to expect that I am from Ireland and are a little confused because I have an American accent. Most people do not find this odd, but I have gotten a couple of surprised expressions and questions about how to spell my name.

Overall, St Andrews is a very beautiful place, with rich history and very friendly people. I know that it will be an adjustment and I have already run into many issues in my short time here (understanding the currency, how to navigate a grocery store, language/phrases, laundry, etc.). I came to Scotland and St Andrews to experience a different culture and to immerse myself in that culture and I realize that it is also a learning experience as well to get accustomed to that culture. I am very excited for my time here and stay tuned for more posts on classes, trips and more!