(Featured photo by www.freepik.com; All post photos by Justine)
As a newly-minted Rutgers grad, one question I’ve fielded a surprising number of times concerned my “best memory of Rutgers”. Even more surprising is my answer: the time I studied abroad for a semester at the University of St Andrews.
If you’re not familiar with Rutgers, you should be: founded in 1766 as America’s eighth-oldest college, it is the public research university of New Jersey that’s a member of the Big 10 Conference with alums that include governors, senators, vice presidents, and even media figures like Mario Batali (we’re really proud of you, Mario!). It’s also one of the best universities in the world in terms of diversity, having a sizable chunk of its undergraduate population as the first in their families to attend college.
During my fall semester of junior year, however, I longed for a different experience–the grass is always greener, right? I wanted to experience an international life where I wouldn’t have a terribly difficult time assimilating, nor an unforgivable time difference, and an environment where I could hit the ground running, so to speak, especially if I were only to spend a semester there.
The University of St Andrews was the perfect choice. Situated in St Andrews, Scotland, it was picture-perfect, nestled in a sleepy “town-and-gown” area that 1. was English-speaking 2. had a doable time difference to keep in touch with family and 3. was centrally located enough to reach the touristy bits of London/Edinburgh/Europe but also was isolated and special. I mean, how many people do you know have been to Scotland, even though it’s so accessible? St Andrews is also famous for its golfing, hosting a myriad of golf tournaments that provide for some great celeb-spotting, and the student clubs even get in on it by having golf outings or just holding their special events at the line of hotels on the shore.
From January to June 2013, I was in an amazing, bizarre, grandiose, and illuminating bubble that helped open my eyes to the workings of the world, and I’d already thought myself to be a pretty solid world traveler. First of all, the school itself will demand rigorous attention. I’m very happy that I chose to attend St Andrews over other study abroad programs where I could have floated through my academics. I really didn’t mind the fact that I was taking courses that factored into my GPA because I got to attend classes in halls like these:
In fact, one of my favorite nooks for knocking out essays was in the Classics department, which was situated on prime real estate because you had views like this:
And yes, that’s the ocean you’re seeing!
Since it was such a small university, student life can be quite inhibitive if you’re used to being on a huge campus, like I was. But it was the perfect opportunity to thoroughly explore the town, and if I ever got bored, I could always dip out for a weekend. Students usually busied themselves by indulging in the sophisticated foodie/bar scene thanks to the higher-end hotels in town, or with the societies (student orgs/clubs) that they joined. London was a six hour train ride away, and the nearest major airport (Edinburgh) could take you to a plethora of other European countries for jaw-dropping prices. I bought a ticket to Berlin at only £25 (around $40). I usually got started with a jog on the beach. Literally across the street from my dorm was water and sand in front of me! Fun fact: my friend told me that he was able to watch Rowan Atkinson film his Chariots of Fire skit for the London 2012 Olympics from his room–in the same exact spot where the movie was actually filmed.
Now, making friends is something people fret over right before a big life change. A study abroad experience is no different. Before arriving, I hadn’t realized just how large the American population there was, in terms of study abroad students like myself, or others who named it as their home university. Regardless, if you wanted to fit in with the Brits, an American accent just won’t cut it unless you have an interesting background. Needless to say, I played up my schooling in New Zealand in order to add to my American study abroad friend group. Regardless of that, the town itself is comprised of posh students who fuel their club meetings with port and cheese instead of the old pizza standby, and any party you were invited to was usually implicitly black-tie…sometimes even white.
Studying abroad teaches you so many things that college in your home country doesn’t: how to take care of yourself in a foreign land, how to really pack your day, and how to make new connections with unfamiliar people. In my case, it also taught me a stronger self and to not be afraid to be alone. For spring break, I ended up traveling by myself for three weeks to Milan, Venice, Berlin and London. Believe me, nothing will tell you how independent and strong you actually are like ducking out of honeymooners’ photos near the Grand Canal in Venice or trying to find your hotel at 10pm in a deserted Milanese street!