Heat, hope and HIV: Student reflections on a Zambian summer

by Alison Dow, fourth-year student studying geography

I’ve never been someone to miss an opportunity, so when the chance arose for me to travel to Africa this summer I couldn’t let it pass me by.  Project Zambia is run through the Athletic Union and Student Services, placing students in Zambian schools and communities in order to coach sports and lead sessions on HIV/AIDS education.  After months of fundraising, I joined three St Andrews students in a flight to the capital, Lusaka.

In Lusaka I worked at Fountain of Hope, a boys’ orphanage and mixed community school which has recently been visited by Ban Ki-moon and Princess Anne during their respective visits to Zambia.  As the student from St Andrews representing Student Services, I was particularly interested to see how people living here manage to live in poverty and yet still have a very positive attitude to life.

When I first arrived at Fountain of Hope I was struck by the upbeat atmosphere of the place and immediately felt part of their community.  It is remarkably easy to forget that many of the children here used to be on the streets or are orphans, as the staff work so hard to give these children a real chance for the future.  I taught English and Maths some mornings in the school.  Having 50 children all with varying understandings of English, and only chalk and one textbook, made me realise how easy it is to take education for granted in the UK.

Whilst I found the coaching aspect a little challenging (I myself can barely kick a football and I was coaching a team of 30 boys, all with ball skills I could only envy!), the determination and charming nature of the children made this a fantastic experience.  Also, coaching in the African sun presents its own difficulties, particularly as a red-headed Scot who’s more used to battling the St Andrews north wind!

St Andreans get everywhere.  During a weekend visit to Victoria Falls, we watched the Olympic opening ceremony, featuring (to my surprise) one of my fellow travellers in the Chariots of Fire scene.   As we sat watching, I was astonished to hear a familiar voice call my name: the Pedal Africa team had arrived on their journey across the continent, raising money for One Water and the St Andrews Charity Campaign!

After spending 6 weeks in Lusaka, I moved out to the rural village Liteta with my fellow St Andrews students.  Here we experienced a completely different way of life, living with a local family in the African bush with no running water or electricity.  As well as continuing to coach sports and lead HIV/AIDS awareness sessions with the kids from across the region, we also ran workshops for the Zambian peer leaders.

Project Zambia has been an unforgettable experience and one that has given me a greater appreciation of the small things in life.  It was an honour to meet so many inspirational people during an adventure I never anticipated when I first arrived in St Andrews.

Project Zambia students, along with staff seeking professional development, travel to Zambia to live and work in the communities, schools and orphanages for the summer months in conjunction with the Zambian organisation Sport In Action.  To finance their missions, students fundraise throughout the year.  If you would like to support their efforts, visit our website.


A St Andrews Thanksgiving, brought to you by Skype – and Mom

By Katherine McWilliams, fourth-year student studying International Relations and Management

After three enjoyable years at St Andrews that have gone by far too quickly, I find myself nostalgically facing my last Thanksgiving here. This year I look forward to letting other people shoulder most of the work, and to relaxing now that I’ve really got the hang of the whole operation. However, I can honestly admit that this is the product of three years of honing my Thanksgiving skills thanks to help from my mom.

When I came to St Andrews, I considered myself to be above-average in the cooking department (as college students go). However my skills were really put to the test when I decided to host Thanksgiving for 25 of my friends in first year. I thought I might as well start off with a bang and really go for it, if I wasn’t going to be at home! I rallied the troops, assigned people their dishes and filled our flat’s fridge and that of the boy downstairs with ingredients. The day was going to be slightly skewed towards British and European attendees over Americans but they were twice as eager to celebrate their first Thanksgiving. I was really excited to throw a good holiday – and nervous to pull off something I had never done before.

I quickly realized that the limited help I’d provided my mom in the past – stirring cider and whipping sweet potatoes – was not as much preparation as I’d thought!

On Thanksgiving morning, my mom got up extremely early to Skype with me so that we could prepare our turkeys together and so she could talk me through cooking Thanksgiving. With her in her kitchen and me in mine, both in PJs and armed with strong coffee, we set to work doing prep and chatting away. As questions flooded in via text from my English friends attempting recipes for the first time, my mom helpfully dictated responses as she talked me through my own work.

I could tell you that my first solo Thanksgiving wound up a perfect success, but it did not. I probably should have stuck to either Mom’s directions or Martha Stewart’s – rather than a hybrid of the two, and I managed to make gravy with a consistency like silly putty. But as one of my American friends reminded me, “Dried-out turkey is practically a part of the tradition!” An unassuming freshman boy turned out to be a secret ham-cooking savant, there were pies from Fisher & Donaldson and not everything I cooked went wrong so we ultimately had a fantastic meal and a great night. My friends from the UK left energized for the next year and I felt enormous relief for having pulled the whole thing off. And it has only gotten better with practice. Not a single Thanksgiving in St Andrews has been homesick or sad; they are times I will look back on fondly as bonding with my mom and sharing a piece of home with all my closest friends.

This year we’re going big – 45 people are planning to come. Mom!!!!!!!!

Study abroad plays an important role in allowing students to experience different learning environments and discover new academic passions.  It also has benefits for personal development, life skills and employability.  The “St Andrews Students Abroad” Scholarships will help us remove financial barriers and enable a wider group of students to study at a growing number of partner universities around the world.  Your support can help students learn to live in their global community; learn more at our website.

St Andrews to Austria on £0 a day

By Rhiann Ferguson, second year Chemistry student

My acceptance letter to St Andrews was, in all ways, a complete shock. I didn’t think it would happen, and secretly I don’t think my parents did too. It was one of my proudest moments so far, so when I considered applying for the Chemistry Scholarship never did I think I would also get that.

The brief was to write about who you thought made the greatest contribution to Chemistry within the decade, so after careful consideration I wrote my essay and sent it off, not giving it a second thought. Coming home from work a few weeks later and having a letter to say I was to receive the Chemistry Wardlaw Scholarship created a feeling that I don’t think I’ll match again; I was happy, excited and relived all at the same time. St Andrews isn’t a cheap place to live, and coming from a working-class background, the scholarship fund has helped me buy the books and things needed to allow me to be at the university I love.

Without a doubt the experiences I have had at St Andrews have changed my life. I’ve met lifelong friends, been involved with societies I didn’t know existed, and I hitch-hiked to Austria without spending a penny. Yes, you read that right. Given 36 hours to hitch-hike as far as we could for charity, my flat-mate and I set off expecting to make it to England, but after a few lucky breaks, we found ourselves looking out over the snow-covered Alps in the sunshine. It was like something from a movie.

If I could speak to the people that provide the Scholarship I would tell them how grateful I am that there are people out there willing to help others achieve their potential. These generous people have allowed me the chance to change my life for the better and do things I couldn’t normally do, and for them, and their acts, I will always be grateful.

Rhiann and hundreds of her classmates have had their lives changed by the Wardlaw Scholarship Scheme, which was established in 2004 to provide financial assistance for academically gifted students who would otherwise struggle with the cost of studying at St Andrews.   Each year, thousands of alumni and parents support the scheme with their gifts.  Meet other students the  Wardlaw Scholarship Scheme has supported, or apply for a scholarship.  

Keen to help students like Rhiann?  Make a gift today.

Thirty hardy souls: Student reflections from the Tryline

By 1st XV prop Jake Starkey, fourth-year joint honours student in English and Art History


Just under thirty hardy souls met at the stand on University Park at 9.50am to begin the first week of pre-season. With the change in the academic calendar pre-season is very early this year, so respect to those who did turn up for the whole two weeks. The weather gods give us a typical St Andrews welcome; we train in torrential rain for the whole day. Monday is a pretty intense day: we have two training sessions as well as an hour in the gym where we get work hard to bulk up to cope with the bigger teams we play against. Recovery is protein supplements, which are in bountiful supplies, as well as the dreaded ice baths which are much needed by the end of the day.


The thirty enthusiastic men that rocked up on Monday are now stiff and sore; more protein and longer in the ice baths needed. We have a savage conditioning session with Allan Gartshore, the head of strength and conditioning at the AU. Morale is low after three circuits of tyre flipping, the “prowler” and various other exercises designed to prepare us for the upcoming season. Morale is raised significantly when we are sent to do a warm-down with a suitably experienced stretching expert who had the boys in some positions they never thought possible.

We split into forwards and backs for the afternoon’s training. The forwards discuss the complex algorithms that constitute our line-out calls and then practise our set pieces rigorously. The backs, on the other hand, spent ninety minutes throwing a ball about and looking pretty.


After another gym session and much-needed supplements in the gym in the morning, we have our first contact session in the afternoon. All the summer’s pent-up aggression and anger is released on one another when we play a fifteen-a-side game for the last half hour.


We are scheduled to have a conditioning session in the morning but, due to our tremendous hard work since the beginning of the week, it is cancelled. The squad is happy but disappointed they won’t be led on a warm down again. We also have team-building in the afternoon which consists of clay pigeon shooting. We have another rugby training session in the evening and the squad for the first game of the season is announced. We have a couple of debuts in the back line including a pre-fresher starting at outside centre.


Those not selected in the squad for Saturday’s game have another gym session whilst those of us playing have the morning off. We have a team-run through later on in the day and look great. We retire at night quietly confident we can beat Hillfoots, who finished runners-up in last year’s league.


Today is Saturday. And Saturday is game day. We have a one-minute silence in loving memory of our former 1st XV and club captain Steve Sims who died in May this year. We have his initials on every 1st XV jersey so that he is with us every time we take the pitch and will not be forgotten. Spirits are high, and a social is hastily arranged to celebrate in typical Saints style. Many end the night at around 2am having spent the last hour dancing and lunging on the dance floor of the Lizard.


An optional gym session is scarcely attended as many squad members try to recover from the day before. Morale is low again, but everyone is, of course, chomping for the second week of training with another thirty or so members due to arrive.


Want to watch our lads play?  Tickets for the varsity match against Edinburgh on 30 November at the London Scottish RFC are available now!

St Andrews student athletes study, train and play hard.  That’s why, as part of the 600th Anniversary campaign, we’re expanding the current facilities to include a multi-purpose sport hall, 140-station cardio gym, climbing wall and martial arts dojo; we’ll also upgrade the outdoor tennis and squash courts and recondition the track.  Stephen Stewart hosts a tour of the plans and explains how your support can bring this ambitious scheme to reality for students like Jake in this student-produced video.