It’s no secret that St Andrews is a bubble; a safe space where the concept of adulthood is taken with a sizable fistful of salt, where your closest friends are never more than a walk away, and responsibilities are what you make of them.
I am spending this year, not in the bubble of St Andrews, but based in Middlesbrough, Teesside, working for a multinational chemical company that specialises in polyester film. Dupont Teijin Films employs me to work full time under the supervision of one of their research scientists. I work mostly in analytics and reporting, so I spend the majority of my time in a lab, testing samples, and then at a computer typing up and compiling data. I also have University work to do towards my degree (Chemistry) in my out-of-work hours.
Next year I will return to St Andrews for my final year. One more year of life in the bubble before I move on to….whatever comes next (don’t ask, I still have no idea).
Safe to say this transition, and the prospect of my return have been eye opening in more ways than one, both in my own self awareness, and also of my wider perceptions about adult life.
I appreciate that my position is somewhat unique. The job has an expiration date, and feels very transient in many ways. This absence of the prospect of a “career” as such, is important to how I am treated in the office and my own perspective on it, but that doesn’t mean I, or my boss for that matter, don’t take what I am doing seriously.
My life now exists within an exceptionally rigid framework. I get up at the same time every day, leave the house at the same time, drive the same route to work, walk the same corridors to my desk, stop off for the same coffee from the same machine at the same time en route. I work for four hours and at the same time every day I have a half hour lunch break. I leave work at the same time, I drive the same route home, and arrive home with the same feeling of deja vu.
If that sounds terrifying to you…it’s because it is. Compared to student life, it’s a world away, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I have found my opinion on this has shifted very gradually over my time here.
For one, a rigid framework is very helpful for managing stress levels and daily tasks that, in student life, often get overlooked. My “daily dose of stress” begins at 8am and ends at 4pm, and outside of that I have time to myself. This means I am almost always on top of my housework, laundry, various errands… and that once I leave the office at the end of the day, I can leave all that stress behind.
In student life, so many spheres of stress overlap that it is difficult to dissociate various factors from one another and you end up with this low (or sometimes not so low) level of stress that permeates every hour of the day. Basic tasks get pushed to the bottom of your priority list in favour of social events and extracurricular activities, allowing everyone to muddle through in a state of barely controlled (although fun) chaos.
I believe that there is probably a happy medium between these two extremes, because I must admit that if it weren’t for being fortunate enough find a small social group outside of work through a local theatre, I would be going somewhat stir-crazy.
So all in all, I find myself far more relaxed, far more inclined to iron my bedsheets, but also far lonelier that I have been in the last couple of years. My saving grace has been social media, which has made staying in contact with friends, as well as seeing and supporting what they are up to, far easier than it would have been otherwise.
Having said that, it does make for a slightly strange experience, as I have found myself simultaneously outside of the bubble, and within it; missing out on events I would love to be at, glad of the space from some of the drama, and checking the St Andrews yikyak in between meetings with potential customers for new polyester photovoltaic backsheets.
The bubble is so-called because it’s a highly insular, self-interested community. The spoiler I have for you is that everywhere, to a greater or lesser degree, is also a bubble. Everyone has a sphere of social awareness and social circles that can spans only so far. The difference with St Andrew’s is that everyone within those circle is, for the most part, remarkably similar. This is inevitable, and not a bad thing, but it does warp perceptions and experiences.
Out in the “real world” (and the air quotes here should be read with emphasis) although your bubble is still small and sometimes exhausting, the people you find within it are far more varied. This is refreshing, but for me this year (especially bearing in mind how everyone is highly aware I’m only here for a contracted period of time) also adds to my feeling of isolation, because I have found that on average I have far less in common with the majority of people around me, compared to when I’m in St Andrews.
I am exceptionally fortunate that I have friends who have been unendingly supportive this year in everything I am working on, putting in the extra effort to keep in contact and make sure I still feel included while I am hundreds of miles away.
I still have another six months of my “test run” of adult life left to go, and although I’m not looking forward to my lack of summer break, I’m so excited to return home to St Andrews next September and put off being a real adult for a while longer.
All images courtesy of Pixabay.