“Are you going there because Kate Middleton went there?”
If you know me, then you will know that I have a not so secret obsession with Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. What started out, innocently enough, as my style icon slowly but surely morphed into some sort of strange guru like fanaticism. I have more pictures of her on my “inspiration” cork board than I do anyone or anything else, with Barack Obama coming in at a close second. While I will adamantly insist that it is simply because I love her style and fashion sense, I can understand how it may appear otherwise to some people.
Kate Middleton attended the University of St Andrews for her undergraduate degree, as did Prince William. It is there that they met and their love story ensued.
I am never one to hide the fact that I adore the British royal family. I think that Queen Elizabeth is incredible and it is one of my life goals to meet her one day.
However, despite popular speculation, I am not so infatuated with them that I would calculate my entire future over it. I did not decide to go to graduate school in the United Kingdom as step one in some elaborate plot to marry into the British royal family (thought that is a hilarious joke and I will continue to make it to the end of time). Nor did I decide to go to the University of St Andrews because of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. I will admit, the fact that I will be walking the same halls that Kate Middleton once did does make my heart flutter. But it was not my primary reason for doing so. As you will recall from my last post, the University of St Andrews was not even my top choice university until much later in my application and decision making process. For years, the London School of Economics remained at the top of my affections.
My love story with the University of St Andrews was a slow long burn before it erupted into a wild fire that consumed me. It happened quietly, slowly, and then all at once. When I first visited St Andrews in the of 2015 (read about it here), I knew that it was a special place. From the moment I stepped off the bus from Leuchars and looked around, I felt like I had been transported into some sort of fairy tale location. The town, idyllic and small, reminded me of the kind of place that my historical fiction novels took place. I felt a strange and strong connection to the place, instantly able to imagine myself wandering the cobblestone roads as I did my shopping, or enjoying the beautiful scenery of the fife coast as I went for a jog along the beach. The small town, while lacking in the same excitement and social offerings of Edinburgh, called to me in a different and stronger sort of way. Edinburgh was my first Scottish romance, cementing my love for the country and its people. But St Andrews seemed to offer me an opportunity to explore a lifestyle straight out of my fantasies.
As I heavily flirted with the idea of pursuing a masters degree in the United Kingdom over the next few years, I knew that the University of St Andrews would be one of the universities I applied to. My previous interest in the town had not diminished. If anything, it perhaps became overly romanticized in my memory, as did Scotland on the whole. The years following my four month adventure in Scotland saw some of my most trying times. Battles with anxiety, depression, and self doubt flooded my mind and perverted my reality. I felt lost, insecure, and uncertain about my future. Despite how hard and hopeless things felt in the moment, these feelings ultimately helped to propel me into an exciting direction — traveling to Cambodia, moving to San Francisco, working for a foundation, participating in a social justice fellowship, etc. However, they also caused me to look back on my time in Scotland with rose colored glasses. During my uncertainty, it seemed as if Scotland was the last time I had felt truly happy and certain of my life and myself. I had felt on top of the world, as if everything was going right for me, as if I was truly living not just the dream, but my dream. I knew that I was being unrealistic and even a bit unfair to myself. I recalled feeling frustrated and isolated while in Scotland. I remembered missing my family, how difficult it was to cope with the rapidly diminishing daylight hours in winter, how some of the cultural differences around smoking bothered me greatly, and other discrepancies of life. Yet, these things did not seem like issues anymore, as things only can in retrospect. Moreover, I was older, more traveled, and better able to handle myself and what I faced. I lived in Cambodia for five months, where I had cockroaches in my bathroom and red ants in my mattress. I rode a dinky bicycle four miles to work everyday, in the height of Phnom Penh traffic. I had driven a motorcycle and swam with an elephant. After my South East Asia adventures, I felt like I could handle a second go at the United Kingdom with no issues and with more appreciation and gratitude.
But my decision to go to the University of St Andrews was not only a ploy to get back into Scotland or a second choice option after my LSE rejection. I fell in love with the university and all it had to offer. In the months leading up to when I would begin my applications, I researched the university thoroughly, as only a stereotypical Capricorn can do. I read up on my prospective program. I watched videos on YouTube of students who currently attended the university. I read blog posts about student experience. I did just about everything I could do, short of flying out to the university to see it again for myself (which I did actually consider, as if I were not mad enough).
Through my research, which was diligent enough to suggest I would be a very successful Private Investigator should I ever decide to switch careers, I realized that this small and ancient university might be the perfect fit for me. When I think about my undergraduate degree experience in retrospect, I realize that I would have done well at a small school. I do well in small groups and in small settings. I can appreciate the excitement of cities and lots of socializing on occasion, but I have the soul of a 90-year-old woman and prefer a calmer environment. St Andrews is a small university in a small town. It is a university rich with traditions. From pier walks to raisin to May dip, it gives the feel of a private liberal arts school where Donna Tart’s The Secret History might occur (in a romantic and fun sort of way, rather than a setting for a murder). And, while a controversial or false opinion to some, to me it feels like Hogwarts.
In addition to its setting, the university itself is a powerful and prestigious school for International Relations. Ranked consistently as one of the top schools for International Relations and Politics in the United Kingdom, and well regarded globally, I felt getting an education from St Andrews would surely be academically stimulating and professionally advantageous. The university also provided the opportunity to specialize within the field, allowing me to pick a degree in International Security, rather than broadly in International Relations. I would never complain about studying International Relations, but having already focused my undergraduate degree in it, the prospect of zoning in on a particular area of interest was an exciting prospect to me. Sure, other universities and programs offered this, but none did while also providing me with my ideal setting for studying in.
When my application decisions started to roll in, and I found myself in the reality of picking one program, I slowly realized that St Andrews was the only option. As I mentioned in my last post, I thought back to how I had been envisioning this next chapter of my life. I recalled my visualizations and my future thinking diary entries. I realized that, without even knowing it, I had been describing St Andrews. Even when I had fantasized about a life in London and going to LSE, everything I described in how my daily life would be like set me firmly in St Andrews. Even when I longed to be back in my beloved Edinburgh, my visions fit in more closely with this small town I had visited twice than the city I had spent four months living in. I knew then that the universe was guiding me towards something, that this feeling in my gut had to be intuition of some larger making.
I chose to go to the University of St Andrews, because it felt as if everything was pointing in that direction. The vision I wanted for this next chapter of my life, the way I had pictured it in my mind and my private musings — it all portrayed St Andrews and the opportunities the university would offer.
I wanted to go to a university renowned for International Relations. I wanted to go to a small school rich with tradition, where I could feel like a Hogwarts student. I wanted to return to Scotland. I wanted to be in a place where I could feel calm, happy, and ready to take on this next chapter of my life.
So when people ask me, “Why did you pick the University of St Andrews?” I can confidently reply, “for all the right reasons.”