Twelve months is a reasonably short time in politics. At the cusp of graduating into the real world, and away from a life so far defined by a structured path of education, it felt even more flimsy. I had deferred my job for a year in order to stay on and work at the Students’ Association. What was the point? What magic would mean that an extra year would make such a difference? One more year, really?
Too many times over the last year I found myself justifying my decision to stay in St Andrews for my fifth year. Yes, it was with a job in mind and a salary in pocket, but can it really be so hard to admit that it might have something to do with a struggle to move on?
Those 12 months were probably the most challenging and rewarding of any I’ve yet encountered. In my job today, I am finding out how important it was to take on that challenge. And ultimately, this is the case with my experience in Scotland over all. It was always my aim to try new things, and I’m really glad I did.
I even remember reading my first ever Saint, and for any freshers out there, please take the point: learning through experiences. I think I actually ended up contributing to the very next issue. Consider the alternative – if you only ever repeated what you knew and stayed in your comfort zone, you would be dangerously limiting what might be possible. There was a time before you’d heard of your subject, before you’d played your favourite sport and before you’d met your now best friend.
And so, where these positive things came from, there is much more – if you want it. But nobody is going to give it to you. So, ask. I feel that university provides a catch-all umbrella of shared experience, which you will probably never get again.
This means that if you could imagine a new skill or activity, or of new nationalities to meet, you are already surrounded by those people. And, because you are both at St Andrews, the likelihood is that they will want to help and that you might even already know them.
For example, I met a student who was starting to think about how he might be able to help out in underprivileged education. Next thing I know and I’m heavily involved in a Ugandan-based charity for the next ten years. Did I know anything about my current job when I joined? No, but I was encouraged to explore my options by friends that kept pushing me to think of something new. I certainly didn’t think I’d spend a year in student politics.
I wouldn’t swap my university experience for all that much over the last five years. I’ve tried to think a lot in my spare time (which comes with a History degree) about what is specific to St Andrews that gives us all that particular opportunity. And I think it’s the size – it’s harder to hide from a challenge. Take advantage of our shared community. Learn. Make it your own. Have fun. You might never be able to give it a go again.
Photo: Sammi McKee