This is what happens when finals are over…

As promised, I will give a brief run-through of my final couple of weeks in St Andrews, which–aside from exams–was more fun than should probably be allowed.

Exams at St Andrews are WAY more stressful than exams at Erskine.  Never in my life have I had one, much less three, exams that counted for 75% of my mark for a class!  And my fourth exam was 50% of my grade. Talk about pressure.  Another first for me: taking an exam with a few hundred students in one room of rows and rows of desks.  Talk about distracting.  And I refuse to admit how little sleep I got when I had 3 exams in 4 days.  Lots of prayer and the fantastic support of true friends got me through that week.  Fortunately, I then had a weekend plus two days to recover and study for the last one.  Grades were  released a couple of days ago, and I am quite happy with my results! 

My last final was the morning of Wednesday, 22 May.  St Andrews University has countless fun traditions (all of which I would be quite interested to know the origins of), one of which is Soakings.  Tradition states that as each leaver, normally graduating fourth-years, is absolutely drenched with buckets of water, water pistols, or whatever other means of soaking someone their friends can come up with.  In some cases, friends decide that postgraduate students and study abroad students also qualify for soakings, which is how I happened to get soaked after MY last final.  Fortunately, it was an absolutely gorgeous St Andrews day, which made it slightly less freezing walking back to my hall after about 10 friends dumped cold water on me.  As it was me, there is, of course, photographic evidence of the occasion [thanks to my friend Donald] which I  gladly share below.  I don’t think there was a dry square centimetre on me!

Top left: My "I'm so excited to be finished!" pose Centre: Getting a huge tub of water dumped on me by Aaron and Cory Top right: after everyone had finished dumping cold water on me. COLD! Bottom left: posing with my Swing Soc friends (L>>R: Sara, Alex, me, Martin, Lawrence) Bottom right: posing with some friends from Melville (L>>R:Adam, me, Aaron, Cory) [Thanks to Donald for taking photos!]

Top left: “I’m so excited to be finished!”
Centre: Getting a huge tub of water dumped on me by Aaron and Cory
Top right: after everyone had finished dumping cold water on me. Did I say cold yet? COLD.
Bottom left: posing with my Swing Soc friends (L>>R: Sara, Alex, me, Martin, Lawrence)
Bottom right: posing with some friends from Melville (L>>R:Adam, me, Aaron, Cory)

 I then spent the rest of the day with my academic mum and dad, Laura and Lawrence, whom I introduced in an earlier post.  We went to Laura’s house and cooked a delicious brunch of omelets and bagels, then took a walk along Lady Brae’s.  We stopped in the park and played on the swings, then Lawrence fell asleep in the grass while Laura and I made daisy chains and I danced around barefoot.  It was definitely a fabulous hippie moment.

Miscellaneous shots from our wanderings through the woods; it was truly a perfect day!

Miscellaneous shots from our wanderings through the woods; it was truly a perfect day!

We had so much fun in the park! Who said swings were just for kids?

We had so much fun in the park! Who said swings were just for kids?

We continued to town for a few things, then made our way to West Sands and met up with some friends from Swing Soc and the Gilbert & Sullivan Society.  We spent a fun afternoon talking, snacking, and playing cricket on the beach while the sounds of a bagpipe corps drifted over on the breeze.  I felt quintessentially British.

Here is a collection of the photos I took during our afternoon on West Sands; ignoring the cricket and bagpipes, it was the most like Charleston St Andrews ever felt!

Here is a collection of the photos I took during our afternoon on West Sands; ignoring the cricket and bagpipes, it was the most like Charleston St Andrews ever felt!

 Upon adding photographs, albeit collages, I just realised that to continue with an entire week’s worth of stories would make this an exceptionally long post.  To be continued in a later entry…

Exam Time

The cake Admissions got for me…yum!

Whew—what a whirlwind the weeks leading up to midterms were! By about this time in the semester, everyone starts spending less time socializing at meals and rushes off to finish reviewing for that next big test that’s looming. One often sees students walking around with a book or flashcards, or people off in corners intently reciting history facts or Spanish vocabulary. I, for one, ended up regaling friends with History of the English Language notes while we waited in the lunch line. (Guess who’s going to avoid me the next time they see me coming with a notepad in hand?)

Another notable event of the week—at least in my grandmother’s eyes—was my twenty-second birthday. Unfortunately, I spent most of the day in frenetic study, and when friends asked me what I was doing to celebrate, a sort of garbled, “Please don’t throw me a party or anything that might take time away from studying” escaped my lips…but the day was special, in spite of all the homework, because of all the sweet notes, phone calls, and happy birthday wishes. One friend also made me sugar cookies, and another gave me a pair of earrings. The Admissions Office even got me a delicious cookie cake—I was so impressed that they remembered my birthday! ‘Twas a special day because of the wonderful people God has put in my life.

Hannah and Amanda enjoying a night of cookies and fellowship in Robinson kitchen a couple weekends ago.

During the intense couple of weeks leading up to Fall Break, the social life of most people on campus tends to effervesce into the realm of the wished-for-but-currently-nonexistent. Unless, of course, study groups count as socializing. Studying in a group can be extremely helpful—not least when the participants keep from devolving into bouts of hyperventilation (not that I would ever do that). But in all seriousness, especially in the midst of exam season, it’s important for me to step back and ask myself why I’m studying or working hard in the first place.

A lesson I seem to learn again and again is that, if my aim is to bring glory to self and to earn the praise of men, I just won’t be able to continue when my stamina is running low and I’m exhausted by the rigors of academic life. If self-aggrandizement is the goal in view, either failure will lead to despair or success will lead to disillusionment and pride, because nothing apart from Jesus Christ can ultimately satisfy. A challenging round of exams and essays often reminds me of this truth. Consequently, I Corinthians 10:31 is a verse I try to keep in mind continually: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Who ate all the cookies?

Though hardly on par with Scripture, a couple of Inklings quotes were also a help to me last week amidst the exam-craziness. Gandalf’s words to Frodo are, I think, quite relevant for the college student juggling massive amounts of reading and writing: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” In The Weight of Glory (an incredible book of essays that is a must-read), Lewis states that “the present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.” Especially for those believers with perfectionist-tendencies, it’s important to be reminded that all we can do is seek to wisely the time we have, for the glory of the One who has called us. And for those of us who tend to be lazy or lackadaisical in our approach to the work God has placed before us, it’s important to remember that our time is not our own and that we serve a great King. If we really believed that, how would the way we spend our time look different?

A Fun Night of Music

Well, it’s that time of the semester again. Walk up to just about any Erskine student these days, and they’ll tell you, “This week I have two papers to turn in, three projects due, two tests, and a quiz.” Oh, yes, and then finals. During the rush of these last few weeks before summer, these words of Aristotle’s become particularly apt: “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.”

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Christine singing Sondheim's witty piece "Lovely"

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Heather singing "I Remember Sky"--this girl has an incredibly rich, full voice. Gorgeous!

In addition to approaching deadlines, innumerable concerts, events, and theater productions are taking place on the Erskine campus about this time. Balancing the academic and the social, thus, becomes quite the challenge, but I was extremely glad this past Thursday that a friend persuaded me to go to a recital put on by Erskine’s voice studios. I had vast amounts of homework waiting to be done, but I nevertheless took a break long enough to head over to the auditorium for “An Evening with Sondheim”—and I’m so glad I did!

Everyone on the program did a fabulous job, and the repertoire ranged from the stirring strains of “Johanna” and “Not While I’m Around” to more humorous selections like “Lovely” and “Children Will Listen.” It was a lot of fun to hear some extremely talented freshman sing solos for the first time. Christian and Heather sounded especially amazing, but I sadly don’t have any videos of their performances because I was too mesmerized by their singing to have the presence of mind to record it. Will—another freshman, to whom I happen to be related—gave an entertaining rendition of “Giants in the Sky,” acting as Jack from Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods. All in all, it was a fun and delightful evening and worth giving up some precious study time. But now, back to the books!

The cast taking a bow at the end of the show.

Tips on Flourishing

After an extraordinarily busy week of concerts, events, and exams, I think it might be appropriate to deviate a bit from my typical blog-writing template to give a list of some of the things which I’ve found to be helpful in my life as a college student.

The thirty-minute cat nap. The length of such naps may vary, but the art of snatching a few minutes of sleep in between classes, or after a particularly stressful exam is a vital tool for survival in college and a great aid in getting through the day and ensuring alert engagement in the classroom.

Regular exercise. At the beginning of freshman year, exercise was the thing that I often pushed to the back burner when I was especially busy. What I’ve discovered, however, is that simply making the time to run over to the gym three times a week helps prevent me from becoming overly stressed and serves as an excellent study break—a healthy de-stressor which I need most during exam time!

Focus and urgency. Sometimes, juggling a formidably long list of assignments, tests, and other commitments is a bit overwhelming. Nevertheless, I find that diving first into the task which seems most difficult and working as efficiently as possible comprise the best strategy for managing the college workload. Using a stopwatch to time my completion of assignments also helps to give me a sense of urgency and a heightened focus.

Random hugs from friends. As I was writing this list, my friend Shannon came into my room to give me—you guessed it—a random hug…and she said I ought to add such hugs to the list. Undoubtedly, the encouragement and support of friends here at Erskine has been essential to my ability to flourish in college! And besides, who doesn’t love a random hug?

Spiritual nourishment. I have to confess that, when life becomes hectic, I’m very prone to neglecting that which I most need—time spent with the Lord and in His Word. I’ve learned, however, that no matter how overwhelmed I may feel, taking the time to be filled and renewed by God’s Word and by reading authors like Spurgeon, Thomas à Kempis, and Elisabeth Elliot always leaves me restored and better-equipped to work “with all [my] heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23).

And there you have…just a few of the components of a full, flourishing college life.

Keeping Perspective

“Perspective is a lovely hand to hold.”  I have a good friend who quotes these Reliant K lyrics frequently, and the phrase comes to mind when I think of many of the events of the past week.

The end of the school year gets a little crazier every year, because everything seems to pile up as time runs out to squeeze it all in – from concerts to exams, end of the year banquets, electing organization officers for the next year, packing to move out, and trying to fit in some time to spend with friends before leaving for the summer.  With everything going on, of course it is easy to get frustrated, overwhelmed, or just burned out, so keeping a positive perspective is absolutely necessary to finish the year in one piece.  Luckily, every year I am pleasantly reminded of how much prayer helps me keep myself sane, and everything always finishes out well.

Another thing that can be difficult to deal with at the end of the year is all the changes.  Transitioning to a new year of school means that all the seniors you have grown to be friends with will move on to new things and that a different class of freshmen will come in the fall.  There are sometimes changes in professors, you will have to adjust to a new schedule, perhaps a new roommate, probably a new room, and most likely more responsibilities when the fall comes.  And, of course, there are those who are just looking forward to summer and a break from schoolwork. . . which describes most college students.

The end of the year really hit me in the past week, realizing so many of my friends will not be moving back in the fall, that my class will be the oldest students on campus, in charge of so many organizations and events, and that it will be our last year at Erskine.  Senior year – this is exciting and intimidating at the same time.  However, I am trying to remember that even though I will miss my graduating friends, and next year will be different, I do still have an entire last year to enjoy Erskine, and I’m sure that it will be as full and wonderful as my first three have been.

My end of the year perspective: being thankful for what will come as much as what has been.