Welcome to Scotland dear Mundus Fellows!
If I had to give 10 words to talk about St Andrews, I would say : 1. Seaside. 2. Grey stones. 3. Traditions. 4. Cathedral. 5. Whisky. 6. Scones. 7. Societies. 8. Balls. 9. Windy. 10. Fucked up.
You’re about to make a choice, or just landed in a country – and a city – full of immemorial stories, of charming castles and of a stunning nature. But also of kind, caring and smart people who will welcome you their way : with scones & malted whisky !
The first time I looked where St Andrews was on a map, I got afraid. I thought: “it must be freezing cold up there!”. Well, sorry to spoil this, but most of the time, it’s very true. Do take a warm coat and waterproof shoes, otherwise you won’t be there to testify you should have done so.
How to get there?
Edinburgh is well linked to the rest of the UK, to Europe and most capital cities of the world. You won’t have troubles to get there.
St Andrews by bus or car
St Andrews is 1h30 away from Edinburgh, 2 hours away from Edinburgh airport, about 30 minutes away from Dundee, 1 hour away from Perth, 1’45 minutes away from Aberdeen and Glasgow and in 3 hours to the North, Inverness.
If you plan to go on a roadtrip, you get to the Loch Lomond national park (precious) in about 2 hours, to the far west (Fort William) in 3 hours, to the Island of Skye, and to reach the northern far end in 6 hours.
St Andrews is quite well connected to Edinburgh and Glasgow by bus. However, the rest of Scotland is quite chaotic by bus, you’d better rent a car if you want to go around easily. And there is MUCH to discover.
I stayed 10 months in St Andrews, from January 2013 to December of the same year (I came back home for the summer). St Andrews was my home university. I had chosen it not for the classes but for the place. I picked it too because I wanted to have the opportunity to travel through this beautiful country & around Scandinavia. And also because St Andrews seemed to be the best university in the consortium.
The goal of this article is definitely not to rate the Mundus universities nor to compare them. Objectively, they all have specificities, and the strength of the program is to allow you to experiment different ways of being taught and several academic approaches. This being said, St Andrews is well regarded in the UK and elsewhere and stays one of the most “prestigious” unis of the consortium.
You will have a couple of classes (except if you come for the first semester, which is the most demanding in this uni) but most of your time will be dedicated to researching or thesis writing. You’re free most of the time, but when the professors give you a bibliography with 20 books they expect you to actually read them.
I was quite disappointed with the choice of courses as well as with their quality (except very few classes). But that’s very personal and since my fellow students did not necessarily have the same feeling the best is to make your own mind.
Other than that, the libraries are very nice & comfortable – not many books depending on your subject but you can order them from other unis (http://libguides.st-andrews.ac.uk/Inter-LibraryLoan), or ask them to buy a book for you (http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/library/services/other/bookrecommendations/)! Also, it has very efficient tools if you seek meaningless relationships (just kidding… half kidding). I do love the one about the magic wand.
More seriously, the university is charming! Those are photographs of St Salvador’s Quad, where you will probably have classes, and St Mary’s Quad. All buildings are scattered throughout the whole city.
STUDENT LIFE & TRADITIONS
No doubt about this, St Andrews is a small but dynamic town!
Students are numerous and societies too. Just to give you a few examples, my friend Isabelle went to the kayak club, Cristina to the triathlon, I went to Swing and took part in a magazine (Startmusic, I think it still exists).
More infos here : https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/study/why/life/clubs-and-societies/
And if you never tried Polo but always wanted to… Now is your time!
The Mermaids is the theatre society, they build amazing plays and you can definitely take part in the castings at the beginning of each semester.
The Blind Mirth is the improvisation team. They are hilarious and play once a week in public. It’s free, go & see them! It’s great. And if you’re bilingual you might even join them…
And as far I heard, they seem to even have reopened the Byre Theater thanks to a donation by Sean Connery (who is Scottish and a patron for arts there).
Other than that, you’ll be there for some of the festivities. St Andrews has a wide range of traditions, balls, parties and events you should really attend. I’ll speak only of two of them, which are my favourites:
Pier walk & May dip
On the last night of April, when the sun goes down, everybody puts on their red or black gowns and takes part to a procession to the pier with candles. We honour a man who saved two people who were drowning on that day many years ago.
During the night, everybody lights up bonfires on the beach, parties and dances until sunrise… Then, we undress, yell as much as we can and run into the freezing sea. It feels like dying, but everybody does it anyways. True story.
Here is what the 2013 May dip looked like on East sands. Gorgeous, right?
It’s in November. Everybody meets in the quad and “foamfights”. It’s really FFF (Funny, Famous and Fucked-up). We used foamers for weeks after that, during terrifying battles with our neightbours and roommates.
During this weekend, everybody dresses up and the city is transformed into a giant carnival.
PLACES OF INTEREST
Now let’s move to West and East Sands, St Andrews’ beaches. My personal favourite is West Sands. It stretches on kilometres and the view on St Andrews is absolutely gorgeous. And I find its fences very pretty (see photograph). I won’t put any images of this beach, that you’ll have the pleasure to discover yourself. Its’ beauty is beyond words, and a photograph would be a pale capture of it. However, if you’re too curious, you can look at this beach in the introductory scene of “Chariots of fire”.
East Sands is smaller and overlooks the Albany Park accommodations, but it has the great advantage to be close to the pier. And still, you’d spend beautiful moments on this beach (for instance the May Dip or bonfire parties). Here is a photograph I took in May over there.
I’m not going to go through all restaurants, but I need to tell you that Little Italy is excellent. Excellent. I’d really advise you to taste the tiramisu. I lived in Italy and did not find any as good as this one. Forgan’s is quite good too. The Seafood restaurant is expansive but if you do ask for the view (months in advance), it’s amazing. You actually eat on the sea. Taste is the cutest & smallest café in the whole UK. That’s why it’s always crowded.
You have several options. Some people choose to find accommodation themselves in St Andrews. I did it and lived in a shared flat during my 1st semester there, on Market Street. It was great to share the flat, as accommodation is usually very expensive in this village (even the uni accommodation).
Some others choose to stay in Edinburgh, as it is bigger, more dynamic, culturally dense. It’s doable, if you accept to take the bus twice a day 1, 2 or 3 days a week. One of my friends did it, and she sometimes slept at ours to avoid going back daily twice a week.
Otherwise, you can request a uni accommodation. Albany Park is 10 minutes away. It’s not in a brilliant state, but it’s OK and has got beautiful views on the sea. It’s also close to the supermarkets. David Russels Apts are quite far away but new and quite nice. Otherwise, some dorms are downtown, but more expensive. I would advise you to ask for Dean’s court or St Mary’s… But you have very few chances to get any of these. Fife Park used to be the worst, I went there for the second semester… But they demolished it and built it up again, so let’s hope it’s now in better state!
TRAVELS THROUGH SCOTLAND
I’ve talked already about the difficulty to travel through Scotland without a car. What I’d like to dwell upon now is the fact you should REALLY discover this country, anyhow. If you don’t have money, hitchhiking works perfectly too and is safe. Scottish people are very, very generous and kind. I have the most improbable memories of couchsurfing; it has been great every time. Once I slept at a fisherman’s on the Isle of Skye. He did not have a spare bed for us, so we slept on the floor. But he gave us a map with secret locations only locals know about for us to discover the island, and cooked lobster for us on the top of it. Amazing.
To conclude and make you want to come, those are a few places you should really go to if you have the chance. And above all, have fun and enjoy the amazing people you’ll meet through the program and on the road. That’s what real life is about.
Edinburgh, obviously… Because it’s gorgeous !
But also the Argyll in winter:
The far west of the country and the isle of Skye, starting with Eileen Donan Castle (left):
An estate in the Loch Lomond National Park:
Dunnottar Castle, at the far east:
Thanks for reading. I hope it helps !
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