Maddy Alley

Beginning to feel like home.

On Sunday mornings, students put on their red robes for a pier walk. - Maddy Alley

Every year The MV Times asks several recent high school graduates to write about their experiences during their first year after graduation. Maddy Alley is attending the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. This is her second dispatch.  

This morning I woke up with feeling in nine of my toes, a rock jammed against my hip, and sand pressed against the sliver of cheek that I left exposed overnight. Aside from one cold toe, I was relatively warm as I snuggled between my 10 academic siblings and parents. St. Andrews has an old tradition called “academic families,” where third-year students adopt first-years. (The terms freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior are not used here.) The first few weeks of the school year are filled with older students scrambling to find children, and the new kids fretting that they will be orphans. I met my parents on an impromptu cliff jump into the North Sea. Every week we have family events; the first was golfing with fruit rather than golf balls, then we had to tote around a raw egg for a week without cracking it. Last night it was midnight hiking, bonfire building, stargazing, and sleeping on the beach.

Moving across an ocean to attend college (or Uni, as it’s called here) has raised questions from others. They think I’m crazy, or brave, or both. Many people ask me if Scotland is different from where I’m from. With the exception of the vocabulary, accent, and all the potatoes — in one day the dining hall offers hash browns, home fries, mashed, roasted, grilled, chips (french fries), crisps (chips), baked, sweet potatoes, and potato soup over the three meals — the small, safe, seaside town of St. Andrews feels no different from Oak Bluffs. There’s even the familiar abundance of tourists that surprised and overwhelmed many of my classmates. As for the vocabulary, I’m lucky to have a local roommate who is like a live-in dictionary for me. My favorite phrases are: “cheers,” which means thank you, “keen” is willing, and “two ticks” instead of one moment. I haven’t had too much trouble understanding accents; I actually enjoy all the different accents from around the world merging into one conversation.

But there have also been some challenges adjusting. For example, crossing the road, which seems like a simple and relatively safe task, has turned into a daily run for my life. Crosswalks aren’t as important here. Pedestrians don’t seem to have the right of way. Cars have no respect for crossers; they don’t ever slow down or stop for a life in the middle of the street. When crossing, the best thing to do is close your eyes and run. There is no doubt in my mind that I will be hit by a car before my four years are up.

I have settled into a busy routine of three morning lectures: math, psychology, and biology, and usually an afternoon lab. I joined the polo society. In addition to trying something new while continuing my passion for horses, it allows me to travel an hour out of “the bubble” once a week. On Sunday mornings, a procession of undergraduate students in traditional red gowns walk through town and down the pier. A few hours a week are dedicated to unsuccessfully doing laundry. The first week I thought it was OK that it took an hour of struggling and nine trips up and down two flights of stairs to get the machine on. The next week I payed for an empty dryer to spin while I waited an hour, only to find my wet clothes still waiting to get dried. This week it only took a few extra trips up and down for me to remember all my laundry, detergent, AND card.

Unlike the quiet winter community of the Island, this small town is always filled with events. School societies and local restaurants provide a plethora of reasons to not go to the library every night. This weekend a school group will host the Opening Ball to kick off the ball season. Three or four societies host formal balls every month around town. My hall has events every other week, in addition to hall sports twice a week, a screening of a popular baking competition each week, and movie nights every Sunday. Last week we had a Casino Royale–themed party; next week is a wine and cheese night with professors (the drinking age is 18 here). Wednesdays are dedicated to sports, and all the teams have a party, which usually join together at the Student Union before the night is over. Luckily, with so much going on, the library has a stunning view of the ocean to attract students as well.

I usually wake up in the morning longing for Black Dog pancakes and a Lucy Vincent walk, but once I roll over and see the miles of beach out my dorm window, I don’t feel as far away. It is actually a shorter walk from my dorm to the beach than to my classes. The town is sprinkled with ice cream shops to rescue me when I’m really missing home, but every day I feel more comfortable here and more assured that If I have to be off my Island, I want to be at the University of St. Andrews.