As the oldest university in Scotland, there’s no doubt that St Andrews University is a deeply traditional academic institution. Raisin Weekend, one of the most famous and time-honoured traditions at St Andrews, just took place. Read Samantha Ku’s Q&A session about her first Raisin Weekend experience!
1. Could you introduce yourself?
Hi, my name is Samantha Ku. I’m a third year political science major at UC Irvine and I am
currently studying abroad at the University of St Andrews for the academic year. Here at St Andrews, I am studying international relations with a focus on international security.
2. What are some of the main differences between Scotland and California? Did you expect these differences before coming abroad?
The most striking difference is probably the academic style in Scotland. Being a third year student (called “Honours”), I don’t go to class as much as I would back home. For example, though I am taking 30 credits, the maximum, it only equates to two Honours modules (courses). There is a higher expectation on independent learning so I only have two contact hours for each class per week: one one-hour lecture and one one-hour tutorial. The tutorials are taught by the lecturers themselves; one of my tutorials only has six people and meets in the lecturer’s office! I only have class on Monday and Tuesday and even though it seems like there is a lot of free time, the rest of the week is reserved for going through the incredible piles of readings and preparing for the essays and presentation. For both my modules, my entire grade is based on two papers and a final 3 hour written exam.
Having studied abroad in London before, I thought I expected how to do the British style of coursework. I don’t think I was completely prepared for just how much independent work is expected though! It definitely takes a few weeks to get used to but it is a refreshing way to learn.
It’s also really cold here though the weather has been relatively lovely so far. I was really caught off guard by how windy it is on the St Andrews coast!
3. Why did you choose the University of St Andrews?
My main reason was because of St Andrews’ strengths in international relations and specifically, terrorism and international security. My modules have been great and I had an extensive variety of very specialised courses to choose from. Since the modules go more in depth here, it is also easier to really focus on what you are interested in.
St Andrews is a gorgeous little town by the North Sea; we are literally made up of three streets and a golf course. I can see the sea from my window and Castle Sands is a brisk four-minute walk from my hall. Everything is at most 15 minutes away (well, almost everything, sorry DRA peeps) and the small student body (~8,000 I think) is a new experience compared to the 30,000+ student population at the UCs.
It’s also a bit of an unconventional choice, first being Scotland, which I think is an underrated study abroad destination, and second not being in a larger city like Edinburgh or Glasgow.
St Andrews also has really cool traditions that make it unique to say the least. As I was lucky to be allocated Gannochy House, the annex of St Salvator’s Hall (Sallies, the hall where Prince William and Kate Middleton stayed as undergrads at St Andrews), as my residence hall, I am able to experience the traditions of Sallies while living in the more modern facilities in Gannochy (something I am told I will be really grateful for come the Scottish winter.) In Sallies, we often wear our red undergraduate gowns for formal events such as wine and cheese tastings and High Table. A small group of students are invited to High Table, where we have a meal with a distinguished member of the faculty or community while wearing formal dress and our gowns. It’s pretty much exactly like Hogwarts.
St Andrews itself also has traditions such as the Sunday pier walk, where students walk from St Salvator’s Quad in their gowns down the pier; the May Dip, where to cleanse oneself of “academic sins,” they run into the North Sea at dawn on May Day; and academic families, where freshers are adopted by third year academic parents as a sort of mentorship/welcome tradition. Academic families are an important part of Raisin Weekend, which took place this previous weekend!
4. What is Raisin Weekend?
Raisin Weekend can only be described in one word: apocalypse. It is an extremely old tradition at St Andrews where academic families spend Sunday and Raisin Monday together. It is split into two days; only Monday is technically university sponsored. Sunday is meant for a get together with one’s academic mother and father (they tend to be two different families as most people adopt separately.) Raisin Monday is getting dressed up in absolutely ridiculous costumes for a massive foam fight in Lower College Lawn.
5. What did you do for Raisin Weekend?
On Sunday, academic children first go to their academic mother for a party and scavenger hunt and then around 4PM go to their academic fathers’ places for a party. Everyone does Raisin differently and it’s pretty notorious for being [quite rowdy]. We had a fairly chill Raisin compared to most other families. My academic siblings and I met our academic mother on the pier at 7:30 AM, before sunrise. We collaborated with another family so the children had to do the “sun salutation” while facing East Sands. Our morning consisted of beach games and sand sculptures, which was tame, considering other people were running into the North Sea in bathing suits or full black tie. In October. In Scotland.
After the beach games, we were sent on a scavenger hunt (11-1) and we split back to the respective families. My academic brother, sister, and I started at East Sands and had to film/photograph ourselves doing/finding certain things. We ended up at Northpoint, a cafe whose slogan is “Where Wills Met Kate (for coffee)” and had to film their proposal over brunch. My academic brother and I danced to Gangnam Style in front of the cathedral ruins and I’m pretty sure we scared some tourists. We watched people in the craziest costumes run around town, from two men in night gowns to someone in a banana suit, to a group of academic children tied together by their ankles while wearing togas. Many teams ran by us with their parents’ phone numbers and names scrawled across the children’s foreheads. We staged a sword fight on Market Street, recreated the Chariots of Fire run on West Sands (it was filmed here!), bought the cheapest thing at Tesco (a single almond for 6 pence), sang the Pokémon theme song, took a picture with the police, and many others! I thought it was really embarrassing until I saw other academic children completing their tasks. It felt much better after that.
Raisin Sunday began at 10:30 AM when our mother dressed us up in costume for the foam fight. We were dressed as Pokémon (costumes are meant to be a surprise.) She also gave us our Raisin receipt as our academic father didn’t have time to make one. Every family’s receipt is different and can range from something small to impossibly large items. Tied to the receipt is an inscription in Latin. Our receipt was the almond that we picked up for 6p at Tesco which is manageable, though in later photos there were some insane things such as an entire door with the Latin written on it, along with a giant “Hold the Door” scrawled across it (GoT fans, I cry too.) A fourth year friend said he made his children carry their receipt as a message in a bottle… in a huge bucket of seawater, while tied together. There are photos of past years where a group of children had to carry an actual rowboat!
We each had a couple of cans of shaving foam, which was being sold at Sainsbury’s for 13p, just for the foam fight (later 50p but quite a steal either way!) While walking to the Lawn, we saw a group of children dressed as a giant snake, another group as a six pack of beer, some people dressed as Ken and Barbie dolls (box and all), others as a matric (ID) card, grapes (covered in purple balloons), poop emojis, Donald Trump, horse masks, a green full body suit, and more.
We entered the Lawn to the dramatic soaring song of the St Salvator’s Chapel Choir and true madness descended on St Andrews as costumes were quickly discarded in favour of an explosion of shaving cream. The Lawn is a slope so the press and spectators stood on top to watch the chaos. Shaving foam in the ears is truly unpleasant but the foam fight was an incredible experience. At the end, we were herded down the Scores and back through the library to North Street. I was never more grateful to live in Sallies since it is only a five-minute walk away. The assistant wardens and student committee waited outside the hall with a pile of towels and helped wipe all of us off before we went back inside and fought for the warm water in the showers. Though I washed my hair twice that day, I could not get rid of the smell of shaving foam.
What I learned that day is that shaving cream is eternal.
5. How has studying abroad impacted you so far?
Studying abroad is one of the best choices I made while at UC Irvine. It helped expand my horizons and pushed the boundaries of my comfort zone. I was an incredibly shy person freshman year but after studying abroad in London in the summer after my first year and again in Scotland as a junior, I learned how to be more confident. I’ve made such amazing friends and met so many people from around the world, all who have helped me grow as a person.
Academically, I was able to research when I was abroad after freshman year; I was a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow at UCI and being in London let me conduct interviews and find resources for my project that I would not have known about/been able to do in California.
It’s also fascinating to immerse yourself in another country for an extensive period. I understand that people think that the UK isn’t too culturally different from the States but I think there is definitely a culture shock to get over. Scotland in particular has such a vibrant and unique culture that cannot be paralleled.
6. What advice do you have for UC students who are thinking about studying abroad?
If you’re thinking of studying abroad and you have the chance, you should absolutely take the opportunity. I won’t lie, it is incredibly nerve-wracking and a big step in your university experience, but whether it’s a couple of weeks in the summer or an entire academic year, I can promise you won’t regret it.
Research your potential destination well and make sure your academic and personal lives and priorities are in order before applying, but after that, studying abroad through UCEAP is a great experience as there is such a robust network of people to support you, both at home and in your host country. Being abroad has opened so many horizons and really helped me develop as a student and a person. It’s a bit cliché but it is true that studying abroad will change your life!