Ambassadors of the Bubble

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The friendly and welcoming faces of student ambassadors, wearing their distinctive scarlet undergraduate gowns, are what greet the thousands of prospective students and their families when they visit St Andrews. In the first of a series of posts about what it’s like to be on the team, our intern Francis Newman sat down with the Principal Ambassador, Charlie Maguire, to talk about his role and experiences.

“There’s no such thing as a typical day,” Charlie muses when I ask what his job looks like.

And he’s right – the work of St Andrews’ cohort of student ambassadors is incredibly varied. Most visibly, 350 of the 409 registered ambassadors – all of whom are current students – work in St Andrews on visiting days, where they give tours, answer questions and show people around halls of residence. However, 250 are also registered to work on widening access projects. These projects work with students across Scotland to ensure that no student with the potential to do well is disadvantaged by socioeconomic circumstances.

It helps, Charlie tells me, that the ambassadors themselves come from a wide range of backgrounds. The group are remarkable in their diversity – they speak 33 languages and a third of them are from outside the UK. Out of those from within this country, many have themselves benefited from widening access programmes and can therefore share their own experiences with the students they are working with.

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What’s the most common question they get asked on a visiting day?

“Why did you choose St Andrews?”

Charlie’s own answer will chime with many who spent their student days in the town. “The community,” he says. “A university of the right size; a chance to get involved in lots of things. Also, the degree structure – not knowing exactly what I wanted to do, the flexibility was a big help for me.”

Other questions that often crop up – is there anywhere to go out in the evenings? What are the connections to other places like? What’s the cost of living?

Occasionally there are more specific and unexpected questions too.

“Do you have a synchronised swimming team?”

No, Charlie responded when one prospective student asked him that – but if the club or society doesn’t exist you can create it yourself!

Are there any frustrations involved in the job?

“I wish more people asked more questions,” he says. Sometimes he gets the impression that students avoid asking certain questions – for example, about the nightlife in the town – because they are in front of their parents, and he wishes they threw off their inhibitions. Questions about the difficulties in living in a small town would also be welcome, he says – the absence of anonymity in St Andrews can be tricky to negotiate.

Interestingly he also tells of alumni who come back with their children to encourage them to come to St Andrews. “They can embellish your stories with their own experiences,” he says, “and highlight the things they enjoyed and the places they liked to go to when they were students.” The alumni are often impressed by the additional buildings and refurbished facilities that now exist: the regeneration of St Salvator’s Quad, for example, often impresses returning visitors.

Sometimes alumni come to try and persuade their younger siblings to follow in their footsteps, in which case they often share Raisin Weekend stories or talk about their experiences of St Andrews’ other unique traditions, and ask to look round their old halls.

“I love my job,” Charlie says when I ask how rewarding he finds his experiences. “Being able to give back to the St Andrews community in this way is very special, and I’m incredibly lucky to have this opportunity to do so.”

It’s clear that his enthusiasm for the town and the University is matched only by his passion for communicating that to future generations of St Andrews students.

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Visiting days occur regularly, and other visits can be arranged with the Admissions team. Find out more about St Andrews’ student ambassador scheme.

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The summer internship programme: you never know where it can take you …

Rob Morgan (MA 2016) describes how he applied for a summer internship with the University while he was an undergraduate here and why he would urge other students to do the same.

“While I was a student at St Andrews, many of my peers applied to the summer internship programme and gained all sorts of wonderful work experience, ranging from banking in London to politics in Washington, D.C. to tagging sharks and diving with turtles in the Caribbean or Asia.

“For me, however, the University’s Lean Team was the only place to be. When I worked there in the summer of 2015, it was part of the larger Change Unit – the group devoted to improving efficiency and managing the transformation of the University, both digitally and physically.

“During my six weeks with the Lean Team I felt like my contribution was both valued and valuable. I rewrote the materials used for Lean Facilitator training, devised a method of measuring and evaluating the benefits of Lean projects and attended a five-day training session for executives from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. As a result of working on these projects, I was able to apply the knowledge and skills I had gained to both my academic and domestic life.

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Facilitating the Paper Plane Game with staff from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana

“As it turned out, Lean was to be more than just an internship for me. Part of the way through my fourth year there was a reshuffle and St Andrews Lean Consulting (or SALC as we call it) was created. After I graduated, I spent an entire year with SALC talking to, learning from and educating people about Lean and its benefits, and not just in a higher education setting. We spent a lot of time with charities and private sector companies and each time the results were the same: processes were smoother, waste was removed and colleagues felt more engaged and more connected with each other. My own organisation and planning became much more effective.

“The only potential downside of being so involved in Lean was that it didn’t necessarily stop at the office – the principles tended to take over my domestic life, too, which my girlfriend and flatmate didn’t always appreciate!

“I would encourage other students to apply for the summer internship programme with the University – you never know where it can take you. I’ve now left St Andrews, but the knowledge that I gained – first through my internship and then subsequently through SALC  – will be with me forever in whatever I do.”

Through his internship, Rob gained skills that he now applies throughout his life, and he retains fond memories of the University and his time working with SALC. He is now studying for a master’s degree at the University of Liverpool.

Watch Rob and his team co-facilitating a five-day Rapid Improvement event with Thornton’s Law.

Triathlons – why would you bother at my age?

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Half-way round the recent Age-Group World Championships in Rotterdam

Patrick Foster (BSc 1974) spent his spare time during his degree running around the sports field track and along St Andrews’ sandy beaches, but now, more than 40 years on, he finds himself confronted by a whole different challenge as he takes on triathlons across the world. Here, Patrick tells Incomparabubble his story of why he still bothers to push himself, especially in the latter stages of events when the aches and pains kick in!

Seventeen years ago, I’d been a runner, but an injury to my Achilles tendon meant that I had to have a rethink. Triathlons were in the news then as an up and coming sport, so I thought I would try that. Swimming and biking replaced running until my injury healed. Six months were then spent re-learning swimming technique and membership of the Serpentine Running Club provided support and advice as well as the opportunity for early morning, chilly dips (not always welcome).

Once I got started, my bucket list contained some iconic events/rides with qualifying for the Age-Group Triathlon World Championships being the final and most difficult challenge.  One of the highlights was cycling up Mont Ventoux three times in a day!

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500 m to go and the strain is obvious

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Another highlight was swimming across the Dardanelles from Europe to Asia and twice completing the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon.  One of the more exacting elements was swimming from Alcatraz Island to the mainland: no prisoner ever escaped from the jail, as the water is far too cold.

Over the years I’ve raised money for a number of charities. The more extreme (for that read painful) the challenge the more hands reach into pockets to support.   The aim has been to raise about £10,000 each year, much of it from matched funding programmes.

So why continue? A sense of wellbeing, feeling fit and healthy, enjoying the competition and meeting loads of new people all contribute. But I think the photo below says it all. This was taken after three of us had just competed in the Age-Group Aquathon Championship in Penticton, Canada, this August.

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This year’s racing is over and training is on the back burner for now. Next year the World Championships are in Denmark … did I mention the excuse of travelling the world as a bonus?

Since his graduation from St Andrews – and away from running, cycling and swimming – Patrick has forged a successful career in the world of environmental sciences, which has allowed him to continue to stay in touch with the University and his first love, geology. Patrick has been a member of the Advisory Board within the School of Earth and Environmental Science at the University, and a regular supporter of the School’s field trips, further information on which can be found at https://earthsci.st-andrews.ac.uk/study/bsc-geology-2/. We wish Patrick all the very best in his upcoming challenge!

How scholarships transform lives II – Sherlock Cruz

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Sherlock Cruz was the first recipient of the London Scholarship, launched in 2013 with the aim of encouraging young students from the Greater London area to study at St Andrews by supporting them with accommodation and living costs.

Sherlock graduated this June with a BSc in Computer Science (2:1) and is now working on the graduate scheme at Citi. He explains the difference that the scholarship made to his time here:

“‘Scotland? You’re going all the way there?’ was the reaction I grew to expect when I told friends and family that I had decided to take up a place to study Economics at St Andrews.

“Sure, why would a London boy not stick around and go to one of the many good universities in the city but instead decide to subject himself to an extra year of uni and undoubtedly worse weather?

“To be honest, I was a bit afraid of how I would feel living in a small town tucked away on the east coast of Scotland, but my initial impressions from the Open Day held true and those fears very quickly disappeared once I arrived. St Andrews provides a unique combination of high quality teaching with a wide range of opportunities and activities – so really that extra year was nothing but a blessing.

“Perhaps one of the best things about St Andrews was the flexible modular system. I had applied to do Economics – a subject I had studied at A level and enjoyed – but really as an 18 year old boy, I had no idea what I wanted to do with it. I was able to take up modules in Computer Science – a subject I had absolutely no idea what to expect as I never had to opportunity to study it previously – but having had a strong interest in technology I thought it was worth a shot. This turned out to be one of the best choices I ever made, as I truly loved studying the subject, and had no hesitation about switching to it at the end of second year.

“I’ve just started on the Technology Analyst graduate scheme at Citi – an amazing job I absolutely never would have thought of applying to before. I am forever grateful to have been given these opportunities and be able to have experienced everything St Andrews had to offer without having to worry about the financial implications of doing so.

Although I’ve now left St Andrews, I hope to help in any way that I can to ensure that more students like me can have the same opportunities that I did in the future.”

The London Alumni Carol Service, from where the first London Scholarship originated,  will this year be held on Wednesday 13 December. 

Musicians of St Andrews

Despite not currently offering a music degree, St Andrews provides incredible opportunities for student musicians, with hundreds of students every year playing or singing in the many groups and ensembles that the University or the student-run Music Society have to offer. 

For an increasing numbers of graduates, their musical interests take them beyond their studies here, either into the world of the professional musician or into music administration. Our intern, Francis Newman, spoke to some of them about how music at St Andrews shaped their experience.

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Maebh Martin (MA 2016, French & German)

A multi-talented violinist, chorister, pianist and conductor, Maebh’s many musical achievements in St Andrews included gaining both a choral and an instrumental scholarship, singing in St Salvator’s Chapel Choir, leading St Andrews Symphony Orchestra and playing as soloist in Grieg’s Piano Concerto with the St Andrews Chamber Orchestra during the 600th Anniversary celebrations. 

What is your favourite musical memory from St Andrews?

I’m not sure I could pinpoint one occasion in particular, but what sticks with me very powerfully is the feeling of walking onstage just before, and coming offstage just after a concert; I was lucky enough to do so many times in the Younger Hall, which is a truly spectacular venue to perform in. There is nothing quite like the buzz you get from making music alongside friends and colleagues, knowing that the audience is (hopefully) enjoying it just as much as you are!

How has your degree/have your musical activities in St Andrews helped you since graduating?

Many of my closest friendships were forged through music making in St Andrews, and I have made invaluable connections worldwide as a result of being involved in both academic and extra-curricular musical life. I’ve also traveled quite a bit around Europe thanks to my Modern Languages degree, and I’ve found, without exception, that music has allowed me to connect with people wherever in the world I go.

What are you doing at the moment?

I currently live in Paris, where I teach English at the Sorbonne University, and I’m also pursuing an active musical life based mainly between Paris, London and Belfast. I have regular violin lessons with the incredible Lucy Russell and I’m just about to embark on a ten-month conducting course. Earlier in the summer, I even managed to squeeze in a visit to St Andrews to play a ceilidh on Lower College Lawn!

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Mairi in Younger Hall

Mairi Warren (MA 2016, Psychology)

While at the University Mairi, a violinist, was President of the Music Society and a member of the Hetty Buchanan Scholarship String Quartet. She also studied psychology, writing a dissertation on the effect of making mistakes on musical performance.

What was your favourite musical memory from St Andrews?

There are so many but I particularly enjoyed going to The Burn for weekends with Chamber Orchestra, and post orchestra concert socials!

How has your time in St Andrews helped you since graduating?

I work in classical music marketing, so the musical activities help with my music knowledge. My psychology degree helps with the more analytical side of marketing.

What are you doing at the moment?

I work in Marketing for the Classical Music events at the Barbican Centre in London. This involves coordinating brochures, concert programmes, digital ads, social media, e-news and website content, and liaising with resident orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Orchestra, and various visiting international orchestras and soloists. I perform regularly with the London City Orchestra and also recently took up Kung Fu!

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Rufus Sullivan (BSc 2017, Marine Biology)

Rufus was Senior Chorister of St Salvator’s Chapel Choir while here at St Andrews reading for a BSc in Marine Biology, and now works for the University Music Centre and the Scottish Chamber Orhcestra.  He has recently taken up the viola as well.

What was your favourite musical memory from St Andrews?

My favourite musical memory was probably getting to perform Bach’s fantastic B minor Mass with the St Salvator’s Chapel Choir and Kellie Consort – although several opportunities with excellent musicians like Dame Emma Kirkby, The ‘24’ and Sir John Eliot Gardiner have also been up with the best!

What are you doing at the moment?

Since graduating with a BSc in Marine Biology in the summer of 2017 I have started in the Graduate Trainee position of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and University of St Andrews Music Centre. It was less my degree and more the vast array of musical experience I managed to get in my spare time at the University that helped me get the job and now helps me in the job. My time as Chapel Choir Librarian and Senior Chorister showed me useful skills in musical organisation and administration that I am now putting into use every day

Kart Johanna Ojamae (BSc 2017, Economics)

Another former president of Music Society, Johanna was also a member of the St Andrews Madrigal Group during her time here. She also played in St Andrews Symphony Orchestra and many other choirs and ensembles. Johanna moved to London after graduation and now works at Apple doing marketing for iTunes.

What is your favourite musical memory from St Andrews?

There are too many to choose from but if I have to pick one it has to be the Madrigal Group winter tour to Estonia. It was definitely stressful to organise but seeing all the members really enjoy it and singing to the British ambassador made it all worth it!

How has your time in St Andrews helped you since graduating?

There are so many ways in which being involved with music helped me through my time at university and after. I learned to manage my time, work with professionals and became more confident in public speaking as well as in general. On top of the personal development, I also met the most incredible and inspiring people, some of who I can call my best friends today. The experiences I had and people I met through musical activities were the most valuable part of my 4 years at St Andrews!

Landing a Creative Career with a languages degree

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Alumna Hannah Brownlow (MA 2011) came to St Andrews in 2007 with a range of ideas in her head as to what career path would follow her degree. Four years later she left with an entirely different plan. Here, Hannah tells her story of how her St Andrews degree led her into a career in a world of creativity!

What does a creative career look like? Maybe working with visuals, even a bit of design; how about writing content, delivering it, presenting it? Maybe a bit of travel, and building relationships with people – clients, colleagues, and the like.

In 2007 I headed north of the border to study English Literature at St Andrews.

In 2011 I graduated with my MA Hons in single honours Italian (who’s not had a last-minute change of heart, right?).

In fact it was while I was out in Italy on my year abroad that I had an epiphany. I realised I didn’t want to go into a career that used my language per se, but actually used the skills I was learning. I’d got really involved in student radio at the University of Verona, and we had a couple of hundred podcast subscribers who wanted to get involved with our creative and madcap approach to looking at living abroad as a student.

I also realised that travelling, and meeting and getting to know different people from different cultures was something that I absolutely loved.

But coming back to the Bubble in fourth year, I was faced with a dilemma. I knew I didn’t want to follow one of the ‘traditional’ career routes for a languages graduate (teaching, translating, and the like). What I wanted to do was something creative, that broadened my horizons, and harnessed the skills I was learning along the way (both in the lecture theatre, and out of it).

But where do you go to find a job that gives you all of that, and is looking for a languages graduate?

Well readers, it took me a while to work that out. I spent a long time looking. (And I do mean a long time.) After a short stint working as a content developer for an art instruction website, I finally found it.

I am now a Managing Consultant for a presentation and eLearning delivery specialist company called BrightCarbon. And yes, that list I mentioned at the beginning – it has all of those things. And more.

So how did I do it? How did I land the holy grail of creative jobs with my languages degree?

Here are three things I’ve learnt along the way that can help you target the right creative opportunities, so that, like me, you can find a job where you can use your skills to best effect:

Communication, communication, communication: what does a languages degree help you most to do well? Communicate. Look for creative jobs that need effective communicators, because that’s what you excel at as a language graduate. I started as a Communication Consultant at BrightCarbon, where my day job was turning words into effective visual sequences. I needed lashings of creativity, and – most importantly – communication skills.

Small and innovative: however creative you want to be, if you’re in a huge corporation, you’re going to be limited by bureaucracy, and corporate structure. Look for a small – but growing – company. Since joining BrightCarbon, the company has tripled in size and diversified into new services. It’s an exciting journey to be part of.

Think outside the box: I had aspirations of working in television. And radio. And maybe film too. But now I work in PowerPoint. Literally. But just because it’s not what I expected to do doesn’t mean it’s not a fulfilling career choice. Don’t restrict yourself into thinking there’s only one path for you. Find a job that suits your skills and personality, not necessarily what you think you want to do.

Go forth, be creative, and find that dream job.

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If you are interested in learning more about a career like Hannah’s, you can visit the BrightCarbon careers page.

Penguin Post – St Andrews in the Ice

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Port Lockroy and the local residents. Courtesy of Laura Martin.

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Laura Martin at the base

In recent years a number of our graduates have gone on to work at one of the most remote places on Earth.

Every year several out of thousands of applicants worldwide are selected by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust to work at ‘Base A’ at Port Lockroy, a historic site on the Antarctic Peninsula that was the first British base in Antarctica. Now it hosts a post office and museum and is populated by four people and two thousand penguins. In the last five years, four St Andrews graduates have worked here – including Laura MacNeil (MA 2002), who went in 2016-17, Laura Martin (BSc 2013) who went in 2015-16 and Amy Kincaid (BSc 2014) in 2014-15.  Our intern, Francis Newman, interviewed them to find out their stories.

The Antarctic continent – white, stormy, freezing – conjures up a timeless mental image. Going there is the experience of a lifetime.

What could lead someone to such an extraordinary role? Laura Martin’s initial interest was sparked by an ice cream advert at the cinema showing scientists living and working in Antarctica. “From then on, there was always something inside of me that knew I had to get down there myself to experience what life was like.”

In a building that is familiar to us all, she finally realised how her dream could be realised. “Sitting in the library working on an essay that felt like it was never going to end, I read an article about Florence Barrow, a St Andrews graduate who had worked at Port Lockroy for an Antarctic summer season. All of a sudden I realised that Port Lockroy was the job for me and the gateway to Antarctica and nothing else seemed as important as getting the job down there.”

Amy Kincaid’s enthusiasm stemmed from a primary school project. “I think the photos of amazing sculpted blue icebergs caught my imagination,” she says.

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Home. Courtesy of Limewash/Laura MacNeil

Laura Martin says that the job seemed “like a brilliant and exciting challenge, living on an island the size of a football field with 2000 fluffy, smelly Gentoo penguins for neighbours… what was not to like!” Never before, she tells me, had she seen a job description which included ‘carrying heavy boxes whilst dodging penguins’ – “that pretty much sealed the deal for me!”

Laura MacNeil tells me more about what their responsibilities were. “Our duties included carrying out artefact surveys in the museum, working in the gift shop and Post Office and doing any maintenance required on the historic buildings. We also counted the Gentoo penguin colony as part of a longitudinal study to measure any tourism impact.”

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Courtesy of Laura Martin

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Courtesy of Laura Martin

The local residents – penguins – were obviously a key part of  their experience. Laura Martin explains the downside of living with their feathery companions.

At first, the smell was so bad that I thought that I’d made a terrible mistake and couldn’t possibly survive four months among the penguins. However our noses soon adjusted!

“I loved being able to see a whole summer season through, from watching the penguins arrive back to their nests – which were hidden under snow initially – to laughing at their mischievous nature. They would steal each other’s stones from nests to improve their own, and chase each other across the island if they were caught! Watching and listening to the greetings the partners would give each other was lovely and it was so exciting to spot the first few eggs – and even more exciting when the first chicks hatched just after Christmas!

“When the chicks were old enough to run around in little gangs (creches), you knew predators wouldn’t be far away so they would keep nice and tightly together and would waddle around at fast speeds that we would have to avoid!

“I felt really privileged to be able to experience a snapshot of the life cycle of Gentoo penguins and when inquisitive Chinstrap or Adelie penguins came to visit it would make our day to see them explore the island too.”

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Life in Port Lockroy had its advantages – and disadvantages. “We were extremely busy,” said Laura MacNeil. “The site is one of the most visited places on the Antarctic Peninsula and we welcomed in the region of 17,000 visitors over the course of our three and a half month stay. This meant that we had to balance welcoming ship visits with the other conservation and wildlife work that we had to carry out – we were certainly never bored!”

“We were also very remote and did not have running water or internet access. We became used to the relatively basic living conditions very quickly. We had a satellite phone and text-only e-mail. Contact with friends and family was therefore quite limited and I did miss that.”

Laura Martin, however, enjoyed the simplistic way of life. “Not having the internet was brilliant – I really didn’t miss it. To be able to write postcards to friends and family was a brilliant way to stay connected, and when a ship delivered mail to us it was so exciting to hear news from home the old fashioned way!”

They didn’t feel terribly lonely though, says Amy. “Although there were only four of us living on an island the size of a football pitch for four months with no means of escape, we didn’t feel too isolated from the outside world. With 18,000 visitors during that time, it’s pretty easy to have a chat and pick up bits of news. We got to know the ships’ crews quite well which was advantageous as they would bring us gifts of fresh fruit, veg and dairy – highly prized items when tins and dried food was the normal menu! ”

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Base A. Courtesy of Amy Kincaid.

Their time in St Andrews really shaped them for their experiences – and not necessarily in the ways that they had expected. Laura MacNeil studied French, German and Russian at St Andrews. “We received lots of French and German cruise ship visitors, so it was great to be able to converse with them and help them in their native language. Some of the ships’ crews were Russian so I could at least say hello!”

After their times in Antarctica, the three graduates went on to do very different things. Laura Martin travelled to South America as a way of readjusting to normal life “after living on an island with just three other people for four months.” After she did “get back home to reality” she went to work for a school in Switzerland, and now works in the Cairngorm National Park.

Laura MacNeil returned to studying, this time at the University of Strathclyde, where she pursued an MSc in Information and Library Studies. She now lives in Edinburgh and is looking to find a job in that field. Amy managed a cafe on Corrour Estate, started a felt making business and spent several months in Nepal and New Zealand. She’s now starting a postgraduate rural surveying course in Aberdeen.

Despite their experiences at the ends of the earth they all retain nostalgic memories of St Andrews – I ask them each what their favourite is. “I think one would be my first Raisin Sunday as an Academic Parent,” says Laura MacNeil I loved choosing outfits and dressing up my kids and accompanying them to the Quad for the foam fight. I think I enjoyed it more as an Academic parent than I had in my own first year!”

Laura Martin also loved the traditions. “St Andrews is so unique for having Raisin weekend, May Dip, pier jumping, the ceilidh in the castle and the soaking after your final exam – all of those stand out as lifelong memories for me.  I’ll also never grow old of the views from the beaches – it really is a magical place. “

For Amy Kincaid, it was shared experiences with friends. “Late night skinny dips in the North Sea, canoe club trips all over Scotland and the Alps, and shared housemate meals with a view of the sunset down Market Street.”

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Courtesy of Laura Martin.