Marissa in Britain

Marissa is a junior University and Mustang Scholar from Dallas majoring in international studies and anthropology in Dedman College. Through the SMU-in-Britain program, she is spending the academic year at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, studying international relations and modern history.

Filling in the Blanks

IMG_0213.JPGWell, it is good thing I’m in the UK for a year, because my blogging is pathetic. Here I am sitting in my room, nearly two months since my last post, thinking, “Wow, so much has happened and nothing to show for it.” Thus, it is time to fill in the blanks.

But first, a quick disclaimer; at times one may find that my spelling is a bit unusual, well, this is because I am using British spelling. This is a result of adjusting to a writing style that is slightly different from the U.S., from reading texts that are predominately British and from changing the language setting on Word.

The Coursework

The St. Andrews system is different from other UK universities, in that the year is broken up into two semesters instead of three, and most courses are a semester-long rather than a year. These are the only ways in which it is similar to the American system, other than that it is completely different.

As an Honour student – a third-year student or above – I only have two modules, or classes, a semester. Depending on what you are studying, you might have any combination of a seminar, a lecture and tutorial, or a lecture and lab. I have the first two. Hence, I have a total of four hours of class a week. Sweet, right? Wrong.

I have spent the majority of the last two months in the library, including weekends, studying. Courses here are very much reading intensive, and you really cannot get by without knowing the material. It is not that you have pop quizzes every day – in fact, you might only have one or two assignments the whole semester – but you are expected to contribute to discussions, and essays are expected to have a 10 or more sources cited. So, reading is what you must do. However, on the upside, if you read throughout the day, you don’*t feel guilty going out to the pub at night with friends. It’s a perk that is well deserved.

IMG_0222.JPGA Hogwarts Halloween

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but St. Andrews is known for the red gowns worn by students. Undergrads wear these gowns on special occasions, and this year Halloween was no different. My residence hall put on a Hogwarts-themed dinner complete with wizard cakes, pumpkin juice and, of course, the Sorting Hat. The tables in the dining hall were lined up to create the four long tables representing each Hogwarts House.

This was a real treat because everyone wore their gowns, and most students made makeshift wands and put on witch hats. To be honest, I got such a kick out of it; it was like I was living my childhood fantasy.

IMG_0241.JPGThe Presidential Election Abroad

When they said the whole world was watching the U.S. presidential election, the whole world was watching. As the days drew near to November 4, it was, literally, the talk of the town. An all-night election party was held at the DRA Bistro, and the place was packed to rim. There are a large number of Americans at St. Andrews, but we were probably the minority group at the watching party.

IMG_0234.JPGThe main room was covered in red, white and blue, American flags everywhere, and two Donkey and Elephant banners hung from the ceiling. I’m not going to sugar-coat it, however; the majority wanted Obama to win. And when the final results came in around 4 am our time, and Obama was declared the winner, the whole place exploded. There was even a balloon drop and Champagne. Everyone stayed through Obama’s acceptance speech.

I remember looking over to one my friends, a proud Scotsman, and he was literally in tears as Obama spoke. It’s funny because November 5 is Guy Fawkes Day, and as everyone left the building in the wee hours of the morning, we all shouted down the streets “Remember, remember, the 5th of November!”

Well, this is it for now. Raisin Weekend will have to be its own post; there is just too much to tell there.

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Fresher’s Week

100_2208.JPGA fresher, as you can already figure out, is the British equivalent to a Fish, a.k.a. freshman. Fresher’s Week is therefore considered freshman orientation. Well – something like that. It’s basically a week filled of parties, pub-crawls, initiations, parties on the beach, Scottish dancing and the BOP. Oh, and it also includes advising and matriculation.

Everyone gets involved in Fresher’s Week, including upperclassmen. It is St. Andrews’ way of welcoming all the new students and introducing them to the old traditions of the community. I say St. Andrews because the university and the town itself are very much integrated. St. Andrews is the ultimate college town, but not in the way we have in the States – this isn’t College Station. St. Andrews might be the home of golf, but any of the locals here will tell you that it is the university that brings life to this small coastal setting.

University Hall, My Home Away From Home

100_2190.JPGUni Hall, as it is referred to, was first opened in 1896 as the first residence hall for women. Now it is a co-ed residence made up of three wings. Wardlaw is the all female wing and is referred to as “the castle” for its very unique architecture. Old Wind is the original building and looks like one of those old British boarding schools you see in movies. It has a large wooden staircase and an oak-paneled common room.

IMG_0198.JPGLumsden is where I live. It is the most modern of the three wings, built in 1962. It houses the dining room, which looks like a modern version of the great hall in Harry Potter. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but it’s pretty close, and I don’t know how else I can explain it.

A similarity between American and Scottish dorm life: some people are also just as careless here and burn popcorn in the kitchen and make the fire alarm go off at three in the morning. That was not fun at all.


A ceilidh is traditional Scottish dancing. These are those village and country dances you see in the movies. Traditionalists arrive at a ceilidh (pronounced caylee) wearing their kilts and Scottish attire. Then you grab a partner or two, and start dancing. The dances are very fast paced, but simple to learn. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but you do get exhausted after two dances.

100_2171-sm.jpg The BOP

There are no clubs in St. Andrews (remember, small town). There are some pubs/bars that play good dance music, but ultimately no clubs. The BOP is the closest thing you can get to a club. It is a venue in the student association building (The Union) in which every Friday night people gather for dancing and cheap drinks. A variety of DJs make for a different BOP every Friday. The basic routine is that you dress up in your club attire that night, head out pub hopping with a group of friends, and then around 11 o’clock you all go BOPping.

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Journey to St. Andrews

100_2192.JPG wait for fall term was extra long this year – not that anyone’s complaining about having an extra four weeks of summer. It is common in the UK for a university fall term to begin in mid to late September. In my case, move-in day wasn’t until Sept. 20th.

Given the fact that all my friends had already begun classes or had already left abroad, I was pretty anxious to get to Scotland. I couldn’t say the same for my family. I have to admit on the day I left we all became very emotional. This was not only a first for me, but for anyone in my family. No one has ever gone abroad for such a length of time (the program calls for an academic year overseas). At the airport I was eager to get to the gate, because I couldn’t stand my parents watching me as I went through airport security. It was a relief when they were no longer in sight. I do not know how much longer I could have kept it together.

The journey to St. Andrews was like an adventure in itself. It started off with an eight-hour flight from Dallas to London’s Heathrow airport. The only good thing about such a long haul was that the airline provided complimentary drinks of all sorts.

Once I reached London I had to take an hour coach service to London’s Gatwick airport to catch my flight to Edinburgh. By the time I boarded this flight my ears had still not “unpopped” from the previous flight and I could barely hear a thing except an echo in my head as I spoke to people.

A Scottish lady on the plane was describing St. Andrews to me and told me that it was a “quabe” town. I explained to her that I didn’t know what “quabe” meant and that I wasn’t that much familiar with Scottish lingo. She looked at me a little curiously. What she actually had said was that St. Andrews was a “quaint” town. Needless to say, my ears still hadn’t cleared up when I arrived in Edinburgh an hour-and-a-half later.

IMG_0194.JPGThe journey didn’t end there. At baggage claim I met up with hordes of students, primarily American, all waiting for the coach to St. Andrews. So, after another hour-and-a-half trek through the Scottish countryside, we finally reached the coast and, at long last, our destination. Thank goodness.

Well, no sooner than half an hour after opening the door to my bedroom did Fresher’s Week get underway …

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