A Little About St Andrews

Perhaps you have skimmed through my introspective reflections in ­­­From South Carolina to Scotland and wondered what the town and university are like. If so, this brief post is dedicated to you! I have also included some novice photos that were shot with the fancy camera gifted to me by my lovely family.

St. Andrews is a small town located on the east coast of Scotland in Fife county. St. Andrews, of course famous for its golf course, is full of various pubs, shops, cafes, restaurants, and many other delightful businesses. Although buses, cars, and taxis are viable modes of transportation throughout the town, many people opt to walk or ride their bikes on the ubiquitous footpaths and sidewalks that snake throughout the town. It takes me approximately twenty minutes to walk to my classes located in the center of town, and thirty or forty minutes to cross the two miles through town from my residence hall to my friend’s residence hall. The university buildings are spread out throughout the whole town, allowing for a lovely commute, albeit inconvenient if you only have to walk a ten minute mile to get to your next class on time!

The University of St. Andrews was founded over 600 years ago, earning the title as the oldest university in Scotland. There are approximately 8,000 students here, which is close to thirteen times the size of Erskine’s student body (Yikes!). However, my largest class consists of eighty students, which is much less intimidating than a potential three hundred student class.

There is an incredible amount of diversity in the town and university. One of my flatmates explained the phenomena to me in these terms: apparently the Scottish government will pay the tuition fees of full-time students from the European Union, and so the university of St. Andrews recruits students from non-members of the European Union in order to make a lot of money. Thus, Americans, Canadians, and Asians compose a majority of the international students, which comprise 30% of the total student population. One of my absolute favorite things to do is to face a window looking out on the town and observe all of the different people who walk by: students, families, retirees, couples, old friends, young friends, happy faces, lonely faces, sports players, tourists, workers, ladies with bags that say “much ado about mutton.” It seems like you can find any type of person here, and I absolutely love it.

If there is something I have left out about the town or the university that any of you lovely readers are interested in, please let me know! There is so much to tell in such a limited space, but I would love to share any and every experience I have with anyone who is interested. In the meantime, enjoy some photos of the town below.

 

From South Carolina to Scotland

For those of you who did not know, I have relocated to the University of St. Andrews this semester, thanks to Erskine’s study abroad program. I have always dreamed of traveling the world and the opportunity to study abroad through this program seemed too good to be true. As two other friends and I went through the application process, the dream became more and more tangible until suddenly, poof! We were getting settled in St. Andrews with the help of the grand Ross McEwan.

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Our first day in St. Andrews

I have been in Scotland for two and a half weeks now, and every day has been filled with new adventures. For the past few months, I have wondered who I will prove to be outside of the comfort of a familiar home and school environment. Friends, family, and casual observers on the street know that I feel completely out of my depth when it comes to socializing and making friends because of my quiet, insecure nature hidden behind a smiling, chatty Korean mask. I am still not quite sure how I will turn out, but my prayer is that I will return to Erskine more confident and sure of myself. Fingers crossed.

It is quite daunting to be surrounded by peers who are highly energetic, better traveled, and more adventurous than I am. I almost always feel out of my element when I talk to people because I feel boring and lifeless in comparison to their thrilling lives. Yet, it is such a blessing to be loved and accepted by my friend group here in spite of my differences. I am so thankful that Daria and Rachel are studying here as well. Without them, I would feel alone in this town, despite my wonderful friends and flatmates. God has answered my prayers for friendship, a strong Christian community, relief from stress, confidence over fear, and so much more. I remember praying for similar things on my first night during freshman year at Erskine, and God went above and beyond in answering those prayers. My hope is that He will do the same during the next four months. I have taken great comfort in knowing that He is with me, calming my fears and rejoicing in my victories as life adjusts from South Carolina to Scotland.

You have probably had your fill of these initial reflections, so I will refer you to A Little About St Andrews if you would like to read about the town and university. I will try to keep up this blog throughout the semester as the pages of this chapter continue to turn. If you are willing to prayer for me, Rachel, and Daria while we’re here, please pray for success in our schoolwork, for safety and lifelong memories in our adventures, and that no seagulls poop on us (the birds here are way too friendly). Cheers!

The Light of Erskine in the Darkness of Depression

This semester has been emotionally, mentally, and physically draining for me. The stress of being at college, a family member’s passing after a horrible accident, and other events left me worn out, heartbroken, anxious, and eventually physically ill for several days. Every day hit me harder and harder than the day before. I started to feel trapped by the inability to breathe or swallow because of the heaviness that settled in my heart. One night, as I was sitting in front of my Supplemental Instruction class, a stabbing, physical pain in my heart overwhelmed me to the point that I couldn’t speak or move. I am convinced now that I was depressed.

Now, I know that my depression was not as serious as others’ sufferings, and I am not trying to overdramatize my life or situation. I definitely was not diagnosed with a depressive episode or anything, but I was not just in the doldrums or melancholic from a bad day. For the duration of almost a month, I felt like a completely different person. All of my usual vitality and joy was replaced by fear and emptiness. Yet, when someone asked how I was going, I persisted in giving the typical response: “I’m okay. How are you?” The last thing I wanted to do was push my burdens onto my friends, plus I hated the crumbling wreck that I was inside.

William Styron described depression as “a storm – a veritable howling tempest in the brain,” and that’s exactly how I felt. My soul felt like it was torn in two, and I feared that the lighter half was being overcome by the darker half. The amazing part of this story is that God never let me lose hope in His goodness in spite of everything. He taught me complete reliance in my utmost weakness and re-opened my heart to the incredible joy of being seen as a righteous daughter of Christ when I feel most worthless.

So what does this have to do with Erskine?

In all honesty, I felt trapped by Erskine. Over the past two years, I had become so involved with various areas on campus. Now, at the peak of involvement, I felt completely incapable of handling everything, which only increased my anxiety. It turns out that Erskine College was exactly where I needed to be. By God’s grace, so much goodness came out of my weakness. My grades remained high even though I had lost all ability to study well. Organizations that I had poured my heart into last year grew stronger and more stable, even as I pulled away. God sent me an abundance of encouragement and support from my family and friends. I was flooded with people who shouldered my burdens, who delighted in praying for me, people who encouraged me that it was okay to not be okay. I was constantly surprised by an encouraging message or a hug from students I barely knew, often when I was hitting my lowest point of the day. I had a community of people who listened patiently and gave me a shoulder plus a dozen Kleenexes to cry on. I had professors give me understanding and comfort. Most of all, I was reminded of the hope of the preeminent existence of God’s goodness every day in class, in chapel, through RUF, with my friends, and by the community as a whole.

I do not take any of this for granted.

This battle has lasted for almost a month, but now I am starting to feel more normal than I have in a while.

As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.” (Psalm 71:14)

When College Destroys Your Joy

By junior year, the newness of college has worn off, much like the sheen that used to brightly gleam on my room key. During the summer, I found myself lacking the familiar, bubbly excitement at the prospect of returning to friends, classes, and the typical routine that I have grown so accustomed to. Don’t get me wrong. I dearly love the people and the work (yes, even class work) at Erskine, so this emptiness was both puzzling and disturbing. Have I grown more cynical in just nineteen years of living? Has college sucked away my soul just like people joke about? How could I lose enthusiasm about something that used to give me so much joy? I used to be that girl who equated the first day of school with an unofficial holiday because of how special it was. Feel free to make fun of me at will.

This blog post doesn’t necessarily answer my query. I suppose you could see this as the electronic scribbling of a tired junior. However, all of these reflections provoked me to crack open my Bible in search of a specific verse in Philippians that popped in my head. Instead, I flipped the pages to the book of Hebrews, which is so full of rich, clear, references to the beauty of God’s care for us. In the middle of reading, I was reminded that I don’t need to be excited about school or classes in order to give thanks and praises to God for all that He has given. My focus should not be on the my current workload or how overwhelmed I will feel from being immersed in a concentrated community after only spending time with family or a small group of friends during the summer.

The twentyish minutes that I spent with those thirteen chapters in Hebrews filled the void that was so deeply rooted in my stomach, but not for the reasons I previously described. I still feel overwhelmed and apprehensive about the rest of the year, but I am trusting that I can make it through each day with a joy that comes from hope that is “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19). I firmly believe that the only way I can survive each day is through sheer dependence on God’s goodness and love. At the beginning of the semester, I was given a morning prayer that has become my prayer for the rest of the semester, but also for the rest of my life. I hope this excerpt, which runs through my mind continually throughout the day, is as encouraging to you as it is to me:

Take my life and make it count. Take my little and make it much. Take my weakness and make it strong. Renew me through and through.

The Bumfuzzling World of Life In A Lab Coat

I used to think that research would be like baking a dessert. After procuring all of the necessary ingredients and instruments, a person could simply follow the recipe’s directions in order to prepare some form of tasty goodness. Easy as cake, right?

Wrong. In actuality, research is like a 5,000 piece puzzle that requires you to shape and decorate each individual puzzle piece before assembling the pieces into an exact replicate of Van Gogh’s Starry Night masterpiece. There is one piece of good news however: you can sift through and use the surplus of background information and methods that were written by strangers who once attempted this challenge.

You don’t know where to start? You don’t know how to get to where you’re going? You don’t know the first thing about puzzles except that the goal is to have a completed image? That’s okay! Part of the puzzle piece production purpose is to figure everything out as each day comes. Your plans are going to change daily as you overcome and encounter unforeseeable obstacles. On some days, you’re going to feel like the Puzzle Master Supreme who rules over all such puzzles with a wise and powerful hand. On other days, you will feel like the court jester who spends all of his time running around and looking like a fool.

If there’s one thing that research has taught me so far (other than the ever important skill of counting cells with a hemocytometer), it’s perseverance. To be honest, I’m a quitter. Typically when the going gets tough, the tough get going… and I go the other way. Research is different. In the past two weeks, I have concocted several different escape plans, but I have to finish this, whether as a success or a giant flop of failure. I have had to summon the courage to face my mistakes and failures head on as well as the fortitude to find the causes and solutions to the problems. I am utterly thankful for and dependent on the encouragement and support that comes from my family, my friends, and my professors. Perseverance is a painful lesson to learn, but is definitely a life lesson that I am sure to utilize for the rest of my life.

Intro To Summer Research

Some people use the summer to relax at the beach or on a cruise; others find a summer job at a camp or in their hometown in order to make some extra cash.

I returned to Erskine, as one of three students who are working underneath the Biology Department to study the toxic effects of titania nanoparticles on freshwater organisms. The other two students, Zach Bowens and Reid Windmiller, are studying the common water flea Daphnia magna, the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, and a microscopic animal called Philodina acuticornis. My research is on four different algae species that are frequently found in North American freshwater environments. This past week, I am simply culturing the algae and finding each species’s exponential growth period during which I can conduct the actual test that includes titanium dioxide.

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The algae is cultured in Erlenmeyer flasks kept under a light table.

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Using a spectrophotometer to track algal growth.

This kind of work may seem mundane, but in reality, I find myself enjoying almost every aspect of my time here. I was afraid that being the only girl in the student group would be depressing and lonely, but Reid and Zach, as well as other students who are at Erskine for Chemistry research, always keep me in high spirits, both inside and outside of the lab. We have so much fun together, whether we’re grocery shopping together, ambitiously singing the Australian national anthem in Australian accents, or cashing in free sandwiches at Chickfila.

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From left: Reid Windmiller, Rebecca Reiter (me), and Zach Bowens

I have only been back at Erskine for a week, and so many things have exceeded my expectations. As the summer progresses, I will be sure to keep you updated!

Fighting the Fear of Failure

“And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

I’m pretty confident that Thomas Wayne’s encouragement to his son, the future hero of Gotham City, will be one of the major themes of this semester for me. It’s barely a week into the spring semester of my sophomore year, and I already feel exhausted and overwhelmed. Earlier, I was telling some friends that it feels as though the neat, orderly boxes inside my brain have been flipped over, and all of their contents are scattered around the floor of my brain.

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Feeling like this…

Today has been especially difficult. Every hour was slam-packed with classes, meetings, preparatory work, studying, teaching SI, and other responsibilities. I wasn’t able to spend more than 10 minutes in my room until right now, at 10:00 pm. Now, I am not trying to complain or be a self-proclaimed martyr of the difficulties of being a hardworking, involved student. I honestly love everything that I am a part of, and would be super unhappy to cut anything out of the semester. Dropping my Literature For Young Adults class was one of the hardest decisions that I have had to make so far.

My whole point is that I am finally starting to realize that it’s okay to not be a perfect student. I don’t have to have it all together. There are 600-something other students here who are all scrambling to get their lives together too, and that is nothing to feel ashamed or worthless about. Alternatively, I think that when people stop trying to hide their flaws, and instead depend on others for growth, a great potential for improvement is available. Mistakes happen. Success is never guaranteed. It is okay to not be perfect. Rather than being afraid of failing, I should be more afraid of being beaten by failure than of the act of failing, because failure is an inevitable part of life.

So when you fall, Rebecca, why do you fall?

So I can learn to pick myself up.