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 third dispatch.
I am finally home, enjoying blueberry pancakes at the Black Dog and staying out of the snowy slush that has welcomed me. It has rained more in the few days since I have been back on the Island than in the entire four months I was in Scotland. My first semester of university has finished, my final exams have been turned in, and my wall calendar where I write down my favorite part of every day is filled.
I spent Thanksgiving at the only restaurant in St. Andrews that served a turkey dinner, looking at pictures of all my friends and family together. Though I did not get a Thanksgiving break, I did get a week off in the middle of the semester, which I spent exploring Denmark and Sweden.
I traveled to Scandinavia with three other girls, but after a dramatic meltdown, we each set out on our own during the day, only to reconvene at our cute Airbnb at night. My only previous experience of being in a city without an adult was this August when my friend Sara and I went to a Red Sox game by ourselves, and due to our sheltered Island upbringing, managed to get lost on the manageable T. In Copenhagen, I found myself alone in a new city, where I did not know the language, know where anything was, or have the local currency. I had three incredible days of canal rides, walking around Copenhagen and Malmö, Sweden, enjoying Tivoli, wandering through Freetown Christiania, admiring Nyhavn, and trying all the local food that I could order by pointing. (I was not ready to try ordering off a menu where not only were the words unpronounceable, the letters were unrecognizable.)
After an exciting week off, classes picked back up, and suddenly got much harder. I had my first lab reports, essays, and tests. Though it was challenging, I loved my classes, and learned a lot about not only the content but also how I learn. Final exams began after another week off for studying. During this “revision week,” the library filled up by nine in the morning, so I had to find somewhere else to study every day. This ranged from a selection of cafes to my dorm’s designated study room, to a secret seminar room I found in an old castle-like building, with a huge window that overlooks a quad and one large table that I usually got to myself.
A highlight this semester was Raisin, a complicated old St. Andrews tradition that I still don’t completely understand. It consists of a weekend of events which include games, challenges, scavenger hunts, and a parade of students in costumes heading to the Quad, where we shoot shaving cream at one another for an hour to have the largest foam fight in Europe.
One of my favorite British cultural experiences was celebrating Guy Fawkes Night. On Nov. 5, 1605, Guy Fawkes tried to burn down the House of Lords. He was caught before he did any damage, and tortured and executed. The holiday celebrates the failure of his plan, and as British students describe it to me, they became increasingly aware of the morbidity of celebrating Fawkes’ torture. It is also called Bonfire Night, because every town has a big bonfire, a fireworks show, and usually burns some political figures in effigy. On Nov. 5, the beach of St. Andrews was lined with 10 bonfires, each shooting off fireworks, dancing with sparklers, and roasting marshmallows.
When I arrived back in Scotland from my week traveling, I was greeted by a full rainbow and feeling of comfort to be back somewhere I considered home for the first time. I am lucky enough to wake up to rainbows crossing from the North Sea to the Old Course many mornings; it is almost as nice as waking up on Martha’s Vineyard.