Life in St Andrews
After graduating from gymnasiet, Hillevi Gustafson’s gaze turned abroad. Her choice fell on The University of St Andrews and its well-renowned School of International Relations. International Relations is comparable to statsvetenskap as many of us know it. In between describing local traditions and Freshers’ first time at Scotland’s finest university, Hillevi unearths the differences and similarities between the two subjects in particular and the Scottish and Swedish school systems in general. She also talks about what St Andrews and Scotland is like for a foreign (Swedish) student, culturally as well as money- and living-wise.
St Andrews is a beautiful town located on the east coast of Fife in Scotland. Surrounded by countryside and the ocean, the town sports a rich history as well as beautiful beaches. There is a ruined castle, a ruined cathedral and countless hotels, restaurants and pubs. The main thing, though, is the great golfing, which is the most important explanation behind the annual 16 500 tourists. Tell someone that you are a student at the University of St Andrews and the odds are that you will be asked if you golf. Walking down the main street you will pass several golf shops; hordes of visiting golfers (generally Americans) and the occasional photograph from golf tournaments of yore. Golf sure is a frenzy in St Andrews, but in reality there is a whole lot more to the town and the university than golf.
Other than golf, the town is most famous for its university. The University of St Andrews is the oldest university in Scotland and will soon celebrate its 600th year anniversary. When the university is in session the town is overrun by over 8000 students that come to the school from all over the world. There are four faculties – Arts, Divinity, Science, and Medicine – each renowned for strong academics. The stereotype of a St Andrews student is an upper-class English kid who was rejected from Oxbridge and came north for the prestige and sheltered environment, but the student body is far more diverse than what this rumour implies. Students come from all over the world, predominantly from the US and Europe. But even though that stereotype is falsified you will face another set of stereotypes upon arrival in St Andrews, such as “Americans only do International Relations”, “all Swedes study management or psychology” and “only upper-class English students study Art History”. However, the truth is, of course, that there is no such thing as a typical St Andrews student since the school’s strong academics and history attract all kinds of students.
Scottish universities are based on a module system, where each module counts for a certain amount of credits and you have to meet the required total credits to pass the year. It takes four years to graduate with an undergraduate degree from a Scottish university. The way this works at the University of St Andrews is that in the first year all students, except medicine, take three subjects a year, which translates to a total of six modules, three per semester. After the first two years you will specialize and only do modules that are related to the degree you want to graduate with, but for the first two you can take classes that are unrelated. The assessment is both based on essays and exams. At the end of four years students graduate with either a Master of Arts or a Bachelor of Science.
Of course, minor adjustments to this formula apply to some subjects. One of these exceptions is International Relations, a department which The University of St Andrews is well known for. Here, as a first year undergraduate you take only two modules during the year. The first one is an Introduction to International Relations and the second one is Foreign Policy Analysis and International Security. Both follow the same teaching structure that is used throughout the university, a combination of lectures and tutorials. Since International Relations is one of the most popular courses there are almost 400 students in the first year lectures, but the weekly tutorials have around ten students which allow for more personal teaching. However, the Faculty of Arts has fewer hours of class per week than other faculties, meaning that the students study independently most of the time. The School of International Relations is located within the Faculty of Arts, so after four years the award would be a MAHons International Relations.
Being a student in St Andrews includes a lot more than simply academia. The first week of term in September is known as Freshers’ Week, where the new students are introduced to life in “the Bubble.” Events range from traditional Scottish dances, Ceilidhs, to club nights at the Student Association building. The Association, or Union, is the centre of student activity in St Andrews. The Union represents the students on various university committees as well as nationally. The club arranges events such as silent discos and laser tag.
A plethora of traditions have developed over the 600 years that the university has been around. The best and strangest traditions revolve around the concept of the academic family. Random older students, who are known as moms and dads, adopt freshers as children. The tradition has unknown origins, but the purpose is to ensure that each incoming student has someone to inform them about university life. The biggest part of the academic family is Raisin Weekend in November. The children go from the mom’s party to the dad’s party on the Sunday, and then on the Monday the children get dressed in funny costumes by their mother and get a Raisin receipt from the dad. The receipt has to be presented at the entrance of the foam party, where all the Freshers gather in the main quad for a huge foam fight. And these are just some of the many traditions.
The Swede in St Andrews
St Andrews is a great university for Swedes for several reasons. The Scottish government pays for the tuition fees for EU students, making it less financially difficult. The price of living is easily covered by the CSN loans for foreign study, and there are several options for accommodation for students – all first years are guaranteed housing in one of the several halls of residence. The halls range from traditional catered university accommodation to modern self-catered apartments.
Culturally the university is diverse, allowing interaction with students from all parts of the world. There are things to get used to, such as serving haggis for breakfast and local language, but at the end of the day the university, town and country are wonderful, historic places with so much more to offer than simply great golf.
by Hillevi Gustafson