Planning a Trip to Edinburgh

When Tiffany and I first arrived at St. Andrews, we were shocked that people would refer to it as a small university. To us, St. Andrews seemed simply enormous! Students abound by the thousands, the campus is large enough to require a map, and the town has shops, pubs, and dozens of restaurants. This town appeared to be a booming metropolis in comparison to our small town of Due West!

Fairly quickly we realized what they meant. The town of St. Andrews only has three major streets: North, Market, and South. Within an hour of walking around town we had the town layout memorized fairly accurately. Within a week we basically knew where the major landmarks were (with the term ‘major landmarks’ obviously referring to the Italian restaurants, the shoe stores, and the bridal gown shop.)

So it should not come as a major shock to you that after three weeks of staying in those three main streets, Tiffany and I wanted to travel. (If this is a shock to you: perhaps you should sit down and soak your feet to recover from the shocking news.) We got together with two other girls from Erskine (Caroline and Katherine) and decided to take a day trip to the closest city: Edinburgh.

Tiffany and I were up and ready to explore! :)

Tiffany and I were up and ready to explore! 🙂

Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland and the second most popular city for tourists to visit in the UK. The city has many features that draw people to it by the hundreds of thousands: it is very old, it has lots of old structures which are wonderful for photography, lots of people live there, and it has a castle! The Edinburgh Castle is one of the most famous castles in all of Scotland and also one of the most photographed. It has been around for almost 1000 years and has also been involved in several wars. As far as I can tell, anybody who is alive ought to enjoy a trip to the Edinburgh Castle.

Let me tell you, though, planning a trip to Edinburgh is not so easy a caveman could do it (and thus could not feature on the popular Gieco caveman commercial series.) This mainly stems from the fact that gas here costs about $10.50 per gallon, on average (at this point maybe you really should put your feet up from the shock!) Because of this, people do not often drive anywhere. Most students here at St. Andrews do not have cars with them, and everyone either walks or rides the bus.

Which makes the bus routes very complicated. If you walk down the streets of Edinburgh you will see almost no cars, the streets full of buses, and the sidewalks crowded with walking people. There appear to be thousands of buses in Edinburgh, run by competing companies on different routes and turning every which way around the city.

See how the side walks are crowded with people?

See how the side walks are crowded with people?

To help you figure out which bus you need to ride the various companies will publish large timetables with long lists of numbers and symbols to let you know which but goes where at what time. Sort of like a mega excel sheet in brochure form, with each company publishing a different brochure for each new bus route. You walk into the bus station and there are almost a hundred different brochures and before you is a display of almost a hundred different little brochures. At this point you feel like you want to ditch the entire thing and go take a nap, but then you remember that you really do want to see the castle so you decide to plough through and hope you are successful.  

In the end the four of us were successful. We found a bus to Edinburgh and got a map of the city. We saw the Edinburgh castle, climbed Arthur’s Seat and Caltoun Hill, and walked the Royal Mile. We finished with a nice dinner and a little shopping in one of the Scotland Shops, and then headed to the bus station for our two hour bus ride to St. Andrews. We pulled into the bus station at 10:30 pm at night, the end of a 14 hour day of travel.

I am fairly confident that I was in bed by 10:35.

(NEXT WEEK ON HOLLY’s BLOG: Even more details on the Edinburgh Castle! Which famous Scottish king’s birthplace did the girls get to see?? And…. Up close and extended photo commentary!)

 

A Student’s Point of View

Hello Readers!

I think it is high time that I actually talked about my role as a student, as this is a college blog and that is my primary role here in Due West. Though the appeal and the charm of Erskine extends far outside of the classroom, there is so much value in our academic rigor.

As a Bible major I have been blessed to study academically that subject which is my current and eternal passion: God and His work in this world. I have found the work to be vastly challenging but equally rewarding. Not to mention the fact that my studies have proven immensely practical as I pursue summer and weekend ministry opportunities where I can employ the things that I have been taught. It has started me down a path where learning is not simply confined to the head. It moves out through the hands and feet of a student, making study not a matter of merely checking a box or jumping a hoop, but a matter of passion and vocation. My next step, Lord willing, will be enrolling as a seminary student and then the focus will be intensely practical, with weekly work to supplement my studies. Nothing could have prepared me for that like Erskine has.

Erskine is full of brilliant professors, and the Liberal Arts education means that I get to sample the brilliance of all of the departments. One of the greatest things about ‘being forced’ to take classes from a variety of disciplines, is that I have been given the chance to appreciate other subjects that I might have never been exposed to otherwise. I sometimes think back to the time when I chose my major and think of how it might be different had I known about all of the amazing English and History classes that I have been able to take. I do not regret my Bible major, but even now I am in a Chemistry class for Chem Majors and have been able to find the problems fun like puzzles and the practical insights very intriguing. There have been many classes (Biology, American Military History, Creation Fiction Writing, etc.) that I never imagined enrolling in, let alone enjoying them as much as I did! My time as a student has been full of classes like that. Don’t get me wrong, every day of every class is not my idea of paradise. Sometimes it depends on the day or the time of day (8 AM classes should be illegal), but on base my learning experiences have been very survivable and more often than not, quite enjoyable.

God bless,

-BD

life collision, take two.

If you happened to be near the State Capitol around 7.30 on Saturday night, you may have seen two crazy people doing some west coast swing on the building in the rain.  That would be me.  No surprise there.  The other person, however, was a crazy coincidence: my friend Tyler whose home town is Austin, Texas, and who graduated from St Andrews in June.  Tyler and I met at a swing dance event in February and danced together several times over the course of the spring semester.

This photo of Tyler and me (courtesy of the wonderfully talented Henry of ©Henry Legg Photography) was taken at the tea dance in late April.

This photo of Tyler and me (courtesy of the wonderfully talented Henry of ©Henry Legg Photography) was taken at the tea dance in late April.

Despite it being an awful distraction, social networking is good fora fair few things: one of those things is happening upon a friend’s Facebook status which says that he will be in South Carolina for a week.  A friend who lives in Texas and whom I met while dancing in Scotland.  Some messages and phone calls back and forth, and a fair bit of looking up directions, and we set plans to meet up over the weekend.  I drove from Erskine down to Columbia on Saturday afternoon and met Tyler at his uncle’s flat downtown.  There happened to be a music festival going on and even though it wasn’t really our type of music, we still walked about and enjoyed it.  We also found a wee coffee shop that reminded me a bit of my favourite place to get coffee in St Andrews.  Along our walk, we came upon this makeshift plywood wall surrounding a work site.  The wall had been painted with chalkboard paint and there were cups of chalk along it.  Painted on it were the words “Before I die, I want to…” and hundreds of people had written their wishes and dreams along the wall.  We spent a good few minutes looking at it and I added my own to some empty space at the bottom.  What a lovely idea! I really wish I had gotten a picture.

We had a great afternoon ambling around downtown Columbia, eating dinner, and dancing in the rain.  We unfortunately had to stop because it was getting slippery and falling a couple of stories off of a building would kind of ruin the reunion.  Later we went to a jazz club and listened to great music all night, danced some, and talked for hours.  Second crazy coincidence of this story: there was a gentleman in a kilt there.  I kid you not.  A true kilt.  I was perhaps a bit too excited.

All smiles after taking a dance break on the state capitol building.

All smiles after taking a dance break on the state capitol building.

Tyler’s uncle was kind enough to let me stay the night at his flat, which I was so grateful for because driving home that late would not have been very much fun.  I am so glad that I had the chance to see a SECOND friend from across the Pond since I’ve returned to the States.  I will also never complain about the coincidence that both of them are absolutely amazing dancers  a ton of fun to be around,  the way friends should be.  It was also fun to attempt a bit of west coast swing again, which is something outside of my normal repertoire.

Despite getting a wee bit behind on homework, my weekend was well worth it.  It is a blessing to have friends around the country and around the world, and the ability to see them!  I love seeing God play in people’s lives: seeming coincidences end up being moments that you will remember for the rest of your life.

I’m off to work on some of that homework now…
Until next time, may God bless and keep you!

Quintessentially British

Last week several girls I talked to informed me that the “quintessentially British” way to spend your evening was to gather a bunch of friends, watch the Great British Bake Off and, of course, drink tea! The Great British Bake Off is a popular reality TV show where contestants have to create delicious baked goods in a short length of time. Judges then go around and taste the treats and decide which of the candidates get to stay on the show and which one has to go home.

Last night I decided to see if they were right. A bunch of girls decided to watch they bake-off after the Christian Union meeting last night and invited me to go along with them. I have to admit: I really liked it! The show was interesting and also really fun to watch with a group of people! I highly suggest that anyone who loves baking should watch it 🙂

One question that many people asked me before I left was: do people in the UK watch Downton Abbey? We all watch it at home and love it; I own all three seasons! The fourth season is supposed to be released in the States in January 2014, but rumours circulated that it would be released in the UK much sooner. I came hoping the rumours were true but not to hopeful so my hopes would not be crushed.

It turns out that EVERYONE here watches Downton! And the show is on live over the semester while I am here 🙂 It was actually the cutest thing: Sunday night was the first episode it felt like everyone in the university was gathering together to watch the show live. I went over to my academic mom’s house and we watched the show together with her flatmate, Catriona. It was great fun and I am super excited for the rest of the season!

The town here is also super adorable. At least in St. Andrews, there are not giant stores or supermarkets. Instead, we have tiny (and quite adorable) little stores! We have a butcher and a grocer and a fresh fruit and vegetable store. We also have cobblestone streets and old stone staircases. We have beaches and castles and golf courses: the view just walking to my lectures in the morning is amazing! I think all of you should come to Scotland 🙂

St. Andrews at night :)

St. Andrews at night 🙂

 

The Erskine Experience

Hello Readers!

Now that we have been formally introduced there is time to go into all of the juicy details of my Erskine experience. I have seen, done, and learned a lot of things in my time here at Erskine. Some might think that at a school this size there would be a shortage of things to do. Such a thought could not be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, the main ‘problem’ with Erskine students is that they find far too many things to do! But with all of the great opportunities, who could blame us for being so busy? It sounds like I’m selling something, but just to prove my point I’ll include some examples.

In my time at Erskine I have: captured multiple poisonous animals for extra credit, done set up and backstage work for bands like Jars of Clay and Manchester Orchestra, organized ski trips and whitewater rafting excursions for myself and over a dozen of my peers, nailed down the 40 pound stakes for the giant blow-up drive in movie screen, taken classes on probability and risk assessment through card games, been an active helper and attender of campus ministry, made more friends than I could have ever have imagined, stayed up all night more times than any man should, found a fiance, and played WAY TOO MUCH Ultimate Frisbee. See my point?

I am by no means a rare exception in this regard. There are many others with the same kind of rich and varied experiences here in good old Due West. The above list is by no means exhaustive, and I’m sure that there will be a lot of other things that I talk about this semester that aren’t on it.

We definitely have a lot of fun here, but these experiences stick in my head because they were times not only full of joy, but of meaning as well. It has been a motto of mine here at college that “The most important lessons that we learn are outside of the classroom.” Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in college, especially Erskine College; I wouldn’t be here otherwise. Yet it’s the time and space between the classrooms that seem to shape us into the men and women who we will be at the end of our time at Erskine. A college experience cannot be summed up with a piece of paper and a GPA. We as people are more than that, and Erskine is definitely more than that.

God bless,

-BD

The First Day of School

This Monday was the first day of classes here at the University of St. Andrews.

As I have been waiting about 100 years for classes to start, I was quite excited. I went to bed early and I got up early (7:30 am). I took a shower, I dried my hair, and I agonized over what to wear. I packed my backpack.

(I had to be fresh. I had to go downstairs. I had to have my bowl of cereal.)

My class started at 9 am. I arrived at 8:45 and waited for Elisabeth and Mairi to get there, and we walked inside. I sat in my seat and got out a sheet of paper to take notes. I opened a new pack of pencils. I was ready for my first day of school!

And…… Class was over by 9:45. So that was pretty much the most anticlimactic first day of my entire life. I had about 45 minutes of lecture, and that was my only lecture for the day. However, don’t feel too bad for me! My professor realized that he would be missing several lectures during the 8th week of the semester, so he decided to schedule an extra two hour lecture on Friday afternoon. This was the first time that this has ever happened to me: at American Universities professors do not typically walk into class on the first day and announce that they will be holding extra lectures!

It is actually quite a common thing here for students to have very little contact with their professors. Students might attend only 1-3 hours of lecture per class, per week and then be expected to do a large amount of reading and studying on their own. I have 3 classes that only meet once per week and this week so far all of the professors have let me leave early.

On the plus side, we have a cleaning service here in my hall! No, I am not kidding!! Every morning someone comes in to take out our trash and once a week she comes in to vacuum the floor, clean the sink, and dust! At Erskine they always say to freshman “you better be neat, no one is going to clean up after you in college!” But here, someone actually does help us out a little bit! It is the strangest thing!

 

 

The liberal arts experience

I would just like to say that I adore going to a liberal arts college.  There is little more exciting [at least for me] than making endless connections among disciplines and having the pieces fall into place. For example: a world civ lecture on Greek philosophers the other day helped me figure out how to finish a paper on Rousseau for my Family Theory class.  A couple of days later, an American Government lecture on Calvinism helped put Rousseau in context even better for me.  I constantly find overlaps with psychology and every other subject.

I also love just learning.  In my Sensation & Perception class, we have been discussing the psychophysiology of the brain as it relates to vision.  I now walk around campus thinking about how the parts of my eyeballs, the optic nerves, and all of the various areas of my brain are constantly working together to make sense of the world.  Our homework assignments for this class are always quite fun as well: for example, last night I got to play with Play-Doh!

Our professors at Erskine are truly an exceptional source of information.  I frequently find myself, on my way to or from class or errands on campus, running into a professor and spending the next 20-60 minutes discussing life, classes, future plans, and almost any other topic you could imagine.  I found my professors in St. Andrews to be quite easily approachable, but not in the unique way that makes Erskine the strong, close-knit community that it is.  My favourite part of studying here (yes: studying can be fun!) is coming across quotes from professors as I review class notes.  My pen is always poised to copy funny comments during class.  I truly love being around sociable intellectuals: they are truly witty.  (I’d like to note that this also applies to so many students here as well.  Academia is wonderful.)

One of my favourite examples of this happened just a few days ago.  Dr. Christie, our acting president and probably the best English teacher I have ever had in my life, gave the address for the formal opening of the college and seminary.  (That’s a lot of words to say that school has officially begun.  Let the work commence!)  I had to laugh when, sitting with the Choraleers in the balcony of Due West ARP church before it started, I saw on the program that the title of his address was “Dude! Alas!”  Only Dr. Christie could tie the word “dude” into Scripture so effectively.  Curious as to how this could be?  Watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eqU7X85GGY&feature=youtu.be.  The Secret Sevens even make their way in to the ceremony.  I much prefer this one to the alarm clocks a few years ago…

I wish I had photos to add to this post, because that’s one of my favourite parts about blogging; alas, I have none.  I promise to make up for it in the next post though!  I should probably go catch up on homework though…being a senior is no easy task.  If you have any recommendations I would be happy to hear them.