As September draws to a close, most St Andrews students blithely await a return to university life. Some, however, anticipate the academic year with more hesitancy. For those of us who have taken a leave of absence, feelings of returning are complicated. After a year off, you may be nervous to revisit a place where you experienced failure or pain. Or perhaps coming back from leave is nothing but a welcome notion! No matter how you’re feeling, consider these words of advice for returning to St Andrews after a leave of absence.
- Student Services: At Your Service!
Unsure about how to secure accommodation? Don’t know who your academic advisor is? Need to establish a solid foundation for mental health support? Contact Student Services! Although advice to contact Eden Court is oft repeated, the support service is a trustworthy tool for helping return from leave. In my case, the wonderful late Ms. Maggie Winton worked with accommodation services to place me in a specific accommodation hall that would work best with my needs (read: she pulled some strings). Student Services can also connect you with beneficial societies, like knitting circles and community gardening. I suggest emailing a staff member at Student Services before matriculation to touch base.
- Which year are you in, anyways?
After taking a year off, you might suffer from a wee identity crisis. Which year are you in, anyways? Whether you’re repeating a term or you’ve been enrolled at St Andrews since 2014 but you’re still in sub-honours, every person returning from leave will be challenged as to which class they are actually in. I made the mistake of waffling when asked what my year was: ‘Well I’m in third year but I took some time off so I’m entering second year, but also I’m adopting this year and all my friends-’ STOP. No need to tell your life story, and most people won’t be listening, anyways. Just decide the answer to the question, ‘Which year are you in?’ ahead of time and happily relax in your decisive clarity. Anyone who needs to ask which year you’re in is probably not privy to your beeswax, anyways.
- Schedule chatting with your loved ones
When I went back to St Andrews, my family was proud, excited, and worried. And when my family members are anxious, they’re pushy about talking to me. I learned from this experience that a return from a leave of absence is a perfect time to create healthy boundaries with my parents. I suggest scheduling a time once or twice a week when you call your family. This way, you can calm their nerves whilst establishing space and responsibility. If you’re not used to talking to your parents with such frequency, I promise the short phone calls will improve your relationships—and will give you an opportunity to brag about your 17 in Great Ideas.
- Join a new society
Coming back to St Andrews provides an opportunity to reinvent yourself, but if a complete lifestyle makeover isn’t your cup of tea, the least you can do is get a new hobby! Consider signing up for a society alone or enlisting in a sports team. Joining a group is guaranteed to provide a wealth of new friends (not to mention Sinners mates).
- Raisin 2.0
As you already know, being part of an academic family is an excellent way to make new friends. Think about hitching up as an aunt to your flatmate’s family or getting re-adopted by two doting parents. I was re-adopted after my leave of absence by hall-mates from first year, and I quickly gained a steadfast group of new, fun friends.
- Where were you in the past year?
People are innocently aloof when it comes to the lives of others. One might think that a leave of absence will be a blight upon social relationships, but this is not the case. I can guarantee that most people will hardly know you were on leave, and will likely greet you with an earnest, “I haven’t seen you in forever!” followed by a “where have you been, anyways?” Upon return from leave, don’t be afraid of these interactions and be ready to field these questions. Whether you opt for a candid answer or a noncommittal segue into a more comfortable topic, just be ready for people to be naturally curious about where you’ve been.
- Re-think your social media diet
We all know that anxiously poring over social media makes for a bad time. The best way to avoid FOMO? It’s to accept that what is shown on social media 1) is a false projection and 2) has absolutely nothing to do with you. If checking out social media makes you feel self-conscious about taking your own pathway to a university degree, makes some behavioural changes. Consider only checking your Facebook once a day, shaving down the number of people you follow on Instagram, or deleting your Twitter. Here’s a Fresher’s week tip: Instead of adding new friends online, try swapping phone numbers. The beloved feeling of receiving a text meant exclusively for you, instead of getting a FB message, will work to undo any feelings of FOMO you may have had during your time off.
- Reach out to previous acquaintances
You may be nervous about making new and healthy friendships. Push yourself to reach out to anyone you recall being neighbourly during your preceding time in St Andrews. One of my closest friends now had previously been just a classmate in a freshers geography class. However, when I returned from my year off, I messaged her asking for an afternoon coffee. What have followed from one short catch-up are years of friendship. Put yourself out there and go for coffee with anyone and everyone!
- Don’t worry, be happy
My final piece of advice is simple: Be excited. Your experiences in St Andrews after leave are guaranteed to be more meaningful and enjoyable than those before your time off. If you’re experiencing the jitters, take a deep breath and imagine yourself successful and happy in St Andrews. When September rolls around, I guarantee that your calm imaginings will become reality. So get pumped, get packing, and let me be the first to say: welcome back.