I applied to colleges the last possible day you could. I decided a day before I was going to graduate early, completing all the required courses in a span of three years across three different high schools. It wasn’t because my family was nomadic and craved change, but rather that I was. Ironically, change was the only comfortable constant thing for me. It doesn’t surprise me that I gravitated towards an international joint degree program for university. The program I chose makes me split my time between University of St Andrews in Scotland and The College of William and Mary in Virginia. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into.
In reality, I don’t think anything could have rightly prepared me for the emotional and social roller-coaster that represented my four years in a joint degree program.
As I boarded the plane with my parents, I felt so excited to go to Scotland for my first year at university. I traveled internationally plenty of times before, so spending a year abroad did just not feel intimidating for me. Instead, my first year became one of great fun; being of age to drink and meeting new friends (both American and British) came easy. Halfway through the semester, I became hell-bent on staying at St Andrews for all four years, so as I applied out of the program thinking it would be an easy process.
It wasn’t, and instead I was denied getting out of my program, the director said it was necessary to try going to William and Mary my sophomore year. I begrudgingly accepted the truth of having to say goodbye to all my friends, promising to keep in contact for when I returned for my junior year. Slowly, those promises faded. They were busy and I needed to prepare to go to a new school and start all over again. Missed Facetimes from me stacked up on my phone. Connections were lost.
Instead, I felt like I was watching what my life could have been through Instagram whenever friends at St Andrews posted about events and partying, while I stayed in my dorm studying much harder than my previous year.
I felt sour for the first half of my sophomore year. The small cohort from the same program in Scotland shared all the same emotions. “I hate William and Mary”, “I want to go back to St Andrews”, “I am dropping the program after this year”: that’s all I heard for months. Being surrounded by people who felt like me felt comforting, yet it negatively affected how I viewed this new school.
It stunted me as I didn’t get nearly as involved with clubs and teams at William and Mary as I did at St Andrews, and made me long for Scotland more than ever.
When I got a boyfriend at William and Mary, he and I were both nervous. “You leave in a couple months and go to Scotland, I don’t think either of us want to do long distance for an entire year.” He was completely right, and it made me think about how fleeting relationships are when you participate in a program that not all your friends or your boyfriend is in.
I felt like a ticking time bomb, and the date for leaving pressed prominently on the horizon.
I was able to make some of my best friends in the program , since we all shared the same unique experience that felt more times hard than easy. My junior year approached, which meant the day I boarded my flight back to St Andrews fell near. I felt excited because of the image that I idealized of the school seared in my head from countless late-night conversations with my cohort.
When I arrived, I felt myself missing William and Mary and Virginia more than ever though. Why was I so conflicted? Why does St Andrews not feel the same as it did my freshman year? How could I start to have feelings of love and guilt towards William and Mary when I felt I had written it off from the day I stepped on the campus? For me only to miss it more than ever the day I returned to St Andrews?
These questions kept me up at night.
After long conversations with my best friend in the program, I came to the conclusion that as much as I hated to admit it, a part of me loved William and Mary as much as I loved St Andrews. Both universities hold a very special place in my stubborn heart. As my junior year progressed and half of my original friends in the program dropped out, I thought about my senior year. Half of my friends had gone, but my St Andrews connections seemed hostile to me.
I wanted everyone and everything to stay exactly as I left it. The perfect image and perfect friendships in my mind were somehow shattered. St Andrews isn’t my home anymore, but did William and Mary replace it? To this day I don’t think either school is perfect for me. Being in William and Mary’s Joint Degree Program allotted me opportunities to travel, meet people I probably wouldn’t have tried to be friends with and get the experience of two entirely different schools. But all those things had their caveats as well.
I measure every relationship on how much time remains.
Academics felt completely different between each school, and at the end of the day, as close as I got to my friends in the program, I always felt alone. When you fall in love with a school it’s hard to think of it as anything less than paradise, but having to uproot and change schools the second you feel like yourself is really unsettling and nerve raking. I am thankful for my ability to adapt very quickly and my ability to make friends and be constantly social, but those two things are necessary, in my opinion, to feel rewarded by pursuing a joint degree program.
I don’t know if I made the right decision by pursuing the joint degree program. However, I do know the program taught me more about myself than what just one of the schools could have offered me. On top of my security with myself, I also am going to be graduating with a sweet degree that highlights my performance at both schools. But is an elevated degree the right decision for choosing a joint degree program? Maybe for some, and as much as I would love to imagine who I would be if I chose a traditional college education, I will never find out. Come May when I get my diploma, I know I will have not only both schools and some of the best friends to thank, but also my own self to thank for surviving a very challenging academic and social international joint degree program.