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 First Few Days in Scotland

In case you have been out of the loop on the life and story of Holly, last Friday I left the United States (for the first time) and flew to the UK for my official semester abroad at the University of St. Andrews. I wrote a cute little post right before I left all about how nervous I was and how I thought my heart would beat right out of my chest, but I have no posted since then! Hopefully you were not all too concerned that my heart actually did beat out of my chest due to my lack of posting. Let me assure you, I am alive.

Flying was quite the experience. I had never flown before and I had no idea what to expect. Do you know what happens when you fly somewhere?? You leave the ground! As in, the wheels of the plane are no longer connected to the earth. It is like this: one minute you are just chilling on the runway and the next it is like OMG I AM IN THE AIR HOW DID I GET HERE???? I held Tiffany’s hand and decided I probably didn’t need to worry about a will since I am so young. The whole process from leaving Tiffany’s house to arriving at St. Andrews took about 22 hours and made me wonder how people ever get the motivation to leave their nice, warm, and comfortable beds. I also realized that I could go ahead and cross “flight attendant” and “pilot” off of the list of possible career choices! 😛

Tiffany and I about to leave SC for our flight to Scotland!

Tiffany and I about to leave SC for our flight to Scotland!

Of course, the taxi driver who took us from the Edinburgh airport to the University thought it would be a great idea to drop Tiffany and I off as far away as humanly possible from our dorm! (We live in John Burnet Hall and he dropped us by the David Russell Apartments.) I am shocked he didn’t just drive us back to London and tell us to walk from there!! The walk to our dorm took us over an hour, not only because DRA is a long way off from JBR, but also because we were carrying 70 lbs worth of luggage and we were lost. One could say that we were happy to arrive at our dorm!

Our first day in St. Andrews was spent in town trying to buy things. Because we were only allowed 72 lbs of luggage, we had no space in our suitcases for duvets, sheets, pillows, or things of that nature. We got here at 3 pm and immediately had to leave to try to run and buy things to sleep on before the shops closed in town. Fortunately for us, we still had about two hours left in the day to do this. Unfortunately, about a thousand other students also had the same idea. We went to the local bedding store and found them to already have sold out on every single duvet in the entire store! So we had to run around to other random stores and see if they might be willing to sell us something. We got our duvet covers from the bedding shop, the duvets from a random clothing store, and our pillows from the grocery store (Tesco)!

This week is Orientation (or Freshers) week at St. Andrews. I could probably sum this up by telling you that it is the best experience of my life and also the worst experience of my life. It is the best because I am exploring a new country for the first time and learning to think about and experience things in an entirely new way. So many things that I thought everyone did one way are not done that way here. People here drive on the wrong side of the road, eat strange food, and have oddly shaped currency. (And there are probably many more posts on this subject to come!) It is the worst experience of my life because I do not have any friends yet. Don’t get me wrong, I have met tons of really nice people. But that is the problem. I have met TONS of them! Each person I have talked to for only a few minutes at one social event or the other, but no one for any real length of time. As I am quite an overdramatic person by nature, I am literally quite terrified that I will not make any friends at all here at St. Andrews! Tiffany just rolls her eyes at me and tell me to be patient.

In other news, I have been an absolute failure at life and not taken any pictures since my arrival here at St. Andrews. I hope to begin fixing that, basically, as soon as possible. I don’t own a camera (and the cell phone I got to use while I am here is probably more familiar with communication by morse code than any other form of communication), but Tiffany has offered to let me borrow one of hers sometime!

About to FLY to SCOTLAND!!

Today is going to be one crazy day!!

In fact, it has been a rather crazy week. For the first time in my life I am planning to fly (which I have never done before) and also to leave the country (which I have never done before). I will go ahead and stun you with the fact that I am actually planning to fly out of the country, which is a rather overwhelming combination of these two new things.

Last weekend all of my friends gathered together to host a going away party for me! It was pretty much the best moment of my entire life! I was especially happy because at the party they gave me a box of letters for my trip, so I can read them while I am gone and think of them! My friend also gave me a friendship bracelet she made for me, in Erskine colors, so that I would not forget where I came from while I am away 🙂

After the party was over I stayed at my friends’ apartment. Heather and Sam graduated from Erskine last year and now share an apartment in Greenville. They were the ones who hosted the party and then let me stay with them for two nights and played with me all weekend. Heather and I spent almost the entire day on Sunday worshipping the Lord, by going to church and having our own Bible study. On Monday morning she then drove me to Erskine.

 

It was lovely to see all of my friends one last time before I cross the pond!

It was lovely to see all of my friends one last time before I cross the pond!

Monday at Erskine was crazy. It was the first day of school and all of the students were running around trying to find their new classes and greet each other after a long summer of separation. It was super weird to be there but know that I would only be there for a few hours; I was not there to sign up for classes with everyone else. I was there instead to try to get several forms filled out for graduation and my work-study job, a process which took about 6 hours of running around campus and required about 13 signatures from various people. I had a huge long checklist that I carried with me and it was super fun to check everything off and feel accomplished.

On Monday afternoon Tiffany and I gathered up my suitcases and left for her family’s lake house in Columbia, SC. We arrived and have spent the week with her family, with her parents and also her extended family. Tiffany and I have also spent a lot of time preparing for Scotland. We have filled out paper work and more paper work, ordered bedding to arrive when we get there, and arranged everything we can think of for our trip. Tiffany’s family has been super nice to me all week and I have really enjoyed spending time with them!

Now it is Friday morning. In about 3 hours I will be at the airport, and in about 5 I will have boarded my plane and be ready for takeoff. I am excited, I am scared, I am nervous. I can’t wait; my heart is beating a thousand beats per minute. Adventure lies ahead!

The Beauty of Community

In most ways, the first semester of my senior year has thus far been wonderful —it’s been great to be back in the residence hall surrounded by dear friends, and I love my classes. What hasn’t been so great?  Probably all the things that have broken down during the first month of school: first my car, then my printer, and more recently, me (at least, physically, if not so much mentally…though some might beg to differ). It all started several weeks ago with a painfully swollen joint in my toe, followed by a case of asthmatic bronchitis and a sinus infection. Being sick has been difficult—feeling bad isn’t exactly a good study aid—but the Lord has used my extended illness both to teach me compassion and to show me what a caring, loving community surrounds me.

Excited about our new hall decorations on the second floor of Kennedy Residence Hall.

It’s far easier to be impatient with others, or to be annoyed by the person in the back of the room coughing up a lung (for the past few weeks that’s been me), when you haven’t walked in their shoes before. Health is something we tend to take for granted—a sort of right we tend to demand—when the reality is that every day of good health is an immense blessing and God’s grace to us. How quickly I forget that! But God’s mercies also come in other forms, including that of physical weakness. And whether that physical weakness takes the form of a broken bone, a lingering illness, or a chronic disease, God will use those hardships in our lives for our good—to make us more like Christ—if we seek Him in the midst of them. Easier said than done, yes? In addition to giving me a renewed sensitivity to the physical trials of others, God has used my bouts of illness to humble me in ways I wouldn’t have expected.

Over course of last few weeks, friends have cared for me in so many ways—opening doors for me, carrying things for me, giving me cards and chocolate, asking how I am every day for weeks straight. Just in the last two weeks, different friends have given me cherry juice, dried cherries, cough drops, cranberry juice, ibuprofen (when I ran out and wasn’t mobile enough to easily get more), vitamin C tablets, lemons, a vaporizer, and crutches. Two friends have even carried me, and others have offered to do so. Talk about being humbled by the selfless service and sacrifice of others! The experience has been a powerful portrait of what it looks like when others are the hands and feet of Jesus—the body of Christ made manifest in our lives.

Our fabulous SLAs sketched scenes from classic literature and then gave crayons to everyone on the hall…such fun! Here I’m coloring a drawing of Edmund and the White Witch.

God has graciously provided friends to literally and figuratively carried me through these past couple of weeks of physical trial, and at one point after I broke down in tears, my sweet roommate assured me that she was happy to do anything I needed her to do—that it was a joy to serve me, because she loves me. (This after she’d carried my laundry up and down the stairs for me and walked to a nearby store to get me ibuprofen.) More recently, said roommate has had her sleep interrupted nightly for two weeks by my violent, constant coughing attacks—and when I apologize for keeping her awake, she cheerily replies, “Oh it’s all right,” and says with a teasing twinkle in her eye, “I know you aren’t doing it for your own amusement!” What a blessing to be surrounded by friends who love and care for me even when I’m unlovable. Don’t we all need community like that?

Liberal Arts Learning and Fellowship Fun

Laughter: the best medicine

It’s hard to believe that the first week of classes is over! Sometimes I’m absolutely bewildered when I think back on all that one can learn, enjoy, and do in just one short six-day span. I’m also happy to report that I’m loving my classes thus far and am excited about the subjects I’m studying. These include Literary Criticism, Spanish, Politics, and various other English classes—what fun! This morning, for example, I watched two of my favorite professors give a joint lecture in a class titled “Music and Politics”. An experimental interdisciplinary course, the class is predicated on the idea that all knowledge is interconnected and that, thus, there is much to be learned through study which brings together different disciplines rather than relegating them to separate, ironclad caskets in the treasure vault of understanding. Today we discussed the view held by various ancients—from Aristotle to St. Augustine—that music has an inherent moral dimension to it. It was quite fascinating to ponder the idea that different types of music, even apart from any lyrics, might in some way either help establish order or, conversely, destabilize a society. Might various musical styles carry inherent implications that make it difficult for one or the other to be used as a medium for a certain type of message? According to Plato, certain rhythms “are the expressions of a courageous and harmonious life”. Fascinating thought that.  I will, however, forgo taking Aristotle’s advice on one score—I in no way feel persuaded that I ought to inform my lovely flautist friends that, as aforementioned venerable Grecian declares, “the flute is not a moral instrument”. Ancient philosopher or not, we don’t have to agree on every point, eh? Another aspect of the week that has been incredibly fun has been the way in which rigorous study has been interspersed with wonderful conversations with fabulous people. I love the academic life (perhaps too much…I promise, parents, I shan’t be a starving scholar forever!), and combining that love with great community makes for an amazing blessing. Should one even be allowed to have so many delightful friends in one place? At any rate, I’m thankful that, though college life is certainly stressful at times, I’m able to learn and grow at a place like Erskine.

The Beginning of the End

Tomorrow I move back into Erskine for my last semester of undergraduate college, and I’m surprised to say that it really doesn’t feel any different.  I’m not sure what I expected – perhaps some great anticipation or a growing sense of the nearing end – but it really just feels like another semester.  So, after a semi-productive break (because it wouldn’t be a vacation if you did everything that you were supposed to), it’s time to pack up and organize a little before everything gets too busy.  So, there is the usual, inevitable checklist:

Get the weekly schedule together.  I actually make a document on my computer for this, which might seem a bit unnecessary, but is unbelievably helpful.  I start with my classes then add everything that I know is permanent on my schedule, such as my SI class, weekly meetings, and rehearsals.  The main point of this is to know where I am going, when I am going, which days are going to be busier, etc. and to start planning accordingly.

Do a little long-term planning.  This mostly involves looking through syllabi and schedules, and writing all the important dates in the calendar.  I think that this is one of the most useful things that I do, along with the weekly schedule, because it allows me to take a broad look over the semester, and know what is coming.  For example, if you have two tests, one paper, and a concert on the same day – that’s something that is good to know ahead of time!

Clean the dorm room.  Ah, yes, the dreaded desk overhaul.  Although I consider myself to be more neat than messy, even the most organized student gets those pesky little piles of accumulation and cast-off drawers that seem to pop up during the semester.  It is nice to clear your mind and your living space a little before the piles creep in again.

Stock the shelves and refrigerator.  Of course!  How else can a college student make it through a semester of late-night studying, waking up too late for breakfast, or needing a little something more than the dining hall?  Food is an essential.

Try to get ahead while you can.  I always try to take advantage of the relatively free schedule that I have at the beginning of the semester to get a little ahead on my schoolwork.  This comes in handy within just a few weeks, as time starts to get scarcer and work more heavy.

Enjoy the free time!  Ah, the beginning of the semester is a rare time, when you can read a little for fun, hang out with friends, or maybe even – dare I say it? – take a nap.  Because for at least the first few days, you actually remember the meaning of the phrase, “free time.”

Hope all that is not too boring, but that’s what is going on right now.  There is something nice about the beginning of a semester – that chance to start almost everything over again.  Although this may be my last beginning at Erskine, I’m excited to start towards the end, and to enjoy my final semester as much as I have enjoyed the previous ones. 

Starting the Semester Right

Whew!  And spring semester is off to a running start, as always. . .

One of the most difficult things about this time is figuring out that new schedule, which is a much more challenging task than it seems like at first.  Especially as a college student, life is so much more than classes, and it’s often such a challenge to fit everything in that you want to do.  Where do you draw the line between academics and diversion?  Or extracurricular commitments and free time?  Or time with friends and time with God?  Or even basic living necessities like fitting in time to do laundry (says the girl who just ran away to check the load in the dryer)?

It’s certainly a lot to balance, let me tell you.

Something that I have definitely learned over the first two years of my time here is the value of being able to say NO – such a basic skill that all of us overachievers have a hard time with sometimes.  For such a small college, Erskine sure has a lot going on!  For example, this weekend, just the first of the new semester, there were already so many things going on that I had to forgo the big Super Bowl parties to finish my homework this evening.  However, I got to see a musical at a local college on Friday night, went dancing Saturday night, attended a new church this morning, and even squeezed in an hour of ballroom dancing club this afternoon!  I think that makes a pretty good weekend, and my small sacrifice of not watching the big game was worth it.

In addition to just balance of school-type activities, one thing I am determined to do this semester is to make sure that I leave time for the important people in my life.  As I think I mentioned earlier, one thing that really left an impression on me in Spain was how much importance they place on family and friends there, and now that I’m back I intend to maintain and grow my relationships, as well as form some new ones.

And of course, there is the most important person in my life – my Lord.  Bringing back a stronger relationship with Him is something that I must make my priority, because I know that He has to be the center of everything I do.  This is something that I, like most college students, really struggle with; it’s so easy to get caught up in everything going on that you just kind of push Him down the list.  I realize that the more I do this, though, the more difficult everything else in life becomes (go figure, right?), so instead of putting things like church and a little prayer on my list of time commitments, I am going to try this thing where I keep Him with me as I do everything.  It’s just a crazy idea that I had, that I have heard many times, and I somehow think it just might work.  Let’s hope that I can keep this going!

So bring it on, spring semester – bring it on, because I’m bringing my God with me this time.