Leaving for university, you, dear fresher, may think that you have relieved yourself of any sort of filial duty – think again. While you may have kissed your real family goodbye for the time being, a new family awaits you in St Andrews, one far different from the one you have at home.
As a first year, you will inevitably become part of an academic family, one that will likely stay with you for the duration of your university career. Academic families are a great support system and a wonderful way to make new friends. They can also help you discover and get involved in things you are interested in, or that may benefit you at university. In this sense, they are somewhat like conventional families: caring, trustworthy, and kind. Though the tradition of academic families is centuries old, however, the St Andrews academic family is very modern, perhaps to a dysfunctional extent.
When you first come to St Andrews as a first year, things can appear a bit daunting. You are at a new school, in a new town, and may wonder if that person you heard speaking at the store with the heavy accent was even speaking English. This is where the academic family begins to come in handy. As a lost fresher wandering around, not sure what to do during the first few weeks at university, your academic parents, tertians, more commonly known as third year students, will ask you to be their academic child. Your mother will organize various dinners / lunches / get-togethers with your new siblings, usually other freshmen with perhaps the occasional junior year abroad student (JYA), and provide you with tender love and care (and booze). She will also be happy to impart any and all advice on both university and personal matters, and will hold your hand through crises and those times when you’re too inebriated to walk alone. Your father, meanwhile, will aid you in developing a formidable alcohol tolerance, often in a less-than-seemly fashion.
Your father’s girlfriend will be your stepmother, and your mother’s boyfriend will be your stepfather. This may seem normal, yet family relationships can – and will, more likely than not – become awkward. St Andrews academic families are notoriously incestuous, with fathers dating daughters, mothers courting their sons, and brothers hitting on their sisters (or brothers) – Freudian to the nth degree. Should you become guilty of committing academic incest, you must purge yourself of such a sin through the invigorating May Dip: a mad rush into the North Sea at dawn on 1 May. (Although even if you don’t become involved with a family member, you must do May Dip. It’s tradition.)
Academic family life culminates with Raisin Weekend (the last weekend of October) and Foam Monday. On Sunday morning of said weekend, your mother will invite you over for a “tea” party and your father will host a party later in the evening at his home. In olden days, an academic child would thank their mother by presenting her with a pound of raisins – today, the choice of gift depends on the family, though often it’s a bottle of wine. Raisin Sunday transcends generalization, and your experience is contingent on the family you become part of. (In all cases, though, it’s absolute, unmitigated madness.) On Monday morning, your mother will dress you up in a ridiculous costume and your father will present you with a raisin receipt – an item of his choice, which could be anything from a tea cup to a bed frame, that you must procure and carry around with you – before you are sent off to St Salvator’s Quad for a massive foam fight.
Though slightly dysfunctional and potentially embarrassing, you will come to love your academic family as your own, and either become very close to your siblings or, like in any normal family relationship, potentially want to kill some of them. Whatever the circumstances, your academic family will be there for you through thick and thin and will help you get involved in all that St Andrews has to offer. The academic family is therefore one of St Andrews’ most cherished traditions, and one that you, little fresher, should look forward to.