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From Textbooks to Tiktoks

A glimpse into the romanticised, internet 'St Andrews Experience'



Every year, American students flock to St Andrews from across the pond, seduced by the promise of good education and quintessential British town life. From Manhattan socialites posting ten-second videos on TikTok, to D1 runners filming routes around town for YouTube, this social media phenomenon raises questions as to what motivates these students to share their university experience on the internet, and whether this town is slowly being fetishised online for its niche traditions, exclusive events, and romanticised ‘Britishness’.


For third-year International Relations student Ramsay Bader, focusing on this romantic side of St Andrews has certainly made him somewhat of a local TikTok sensation. With a following of nearly 20,000 Bader — a native New Yorker — is known for documenting this town’s most exclusive events from fashion shows to polo matches. Whether you were one of the 3.3 million people that watched his ‘day in the life at Musselburgh Races,’ or not, for better or for worse, you’ve probably heard of him.


Strolling in, donning an ‘FS’ branded jacket, it was clear that Bader has connections with the upper echelons of St Andrews society. When asked if he thought he lived a ‘standard’ St Andrews experience, Bader replied, “I don’t think there is a typical St Andrews experience […] people have wildly, wildly different experiences here.”

 

Whilst it certainly holds true that there are many different experiences to be had here at St Andrews — from the nature of the events that Bader attends and films for TikTok — it’s not unreasonable to place his experience at the more elite end of the spectrum. 


“I’m just more of an extreme person,” Bader admitted. “I was not very social in high school, so I feel like I’ve gone from zero to a hundred since coming to St Andrews.”


It was at this point that Bader answered the crucial question, confirming that the purpose of his videos goes beyond just documenting his university experience. “I think if I were anywhere else, I probably wouldn’t end up doing this at all [...] [St Andrews is] a liminal space — it doesn’t feel real.”


For Bader, it seems the allure of posting videos entitled, ‘A day in the life of a St Andrews student’, stems from enthrallment with the nature of this town and its uniqueness, rather than solely from the desire to have his university days on record. 


Yes, it might be desirable to be a ‘St Andrews student’ in the academic sense, but as Bader has discovered, it is even more desirable to be one online. 


As his TikToks amass more and more views from students and non-students trying to gain an insight into this whimsical Scottish university town, Bader is spurred on to continue painting a Saltburn-esque picture of St Andrews for people to drool over.


I think Bader speaks for us all when he said, “The real world doesn’t feel real when you’re in St Andrews, but St Andrews doesn’t feel real as soon as you step outside into the world.” Bader capitalises on this universal, St Andrean sentiment in his videos.

 

Bader, however, is not the only international student showing the quirks of this town online. Like Bader, fourth-year marine biology student Bateman Solms from Washington D.C., is also quite the TikTok star.


Once a hobby, now a “part-time job,” Bateman described her TikTok endeavours as, “moving into the slightly more serious realm.” They have attracted attention from the likes of Student Beans and local businesses, resulting in gifted dining experiences, luxury stays away and paid work.


But when asked what she thought helped her videos gain traction online, Bateman admitted that a passion for recording was only half of the full picture: “It definitely helps that this is a really cool and unique place,” she said. “People are genuinely interested in what’s going on here.”


Although to a much lesser extent than Bader, Bateman, too, is no stranger to engaging in activities that could be classed as ‘stereotypically St Andrews’ and sharing her experiences with her followers. Whilst she described her experience of the polo club as “surprisingly down to earth,” she also recounted her experience of the recent Polo Winter Nationals, which told a very different tale.


“We were sat next to the Oxford and Cambridge teams,” she said, “and just hearing some of the conversations that were happening, it’s like, oh my gosh, maybe this is an entirely different reality.”


She agreed that there’s something exciting about gaining an insight into these more inaccessible areas of the St Andrews experience. “[Social media is] such a cool way to meet people and experience things that I couldn’t otherwise do,” Bateman added. 


“It’s like catching a glimpse of another world,” she noted.”It’s exciting.” 

Furthermore, Mckenna Steinbeck, a second-year film student with a budding YouTube channel, agrees with Bader and Bateman on this matter. “People are just really, really curious,” she said, when asked why she thought her videos perform so well. 


Not only this, Steinbeck acknowledges the influence that her international student status has on her own university experience, and as a result, the image of St Andrews that she projects onto YouTube.


“There’s always something unique and fun to do here. Even more so as an American. Even something like going to the pub — we just don’t do that [in the U.S.],” said Steinbeck. 


Finnegan Chamberlain, a second-year computer science student from Portland, Oregon, also quite literally ‘runs’ a YouTube channel documenting jogging routes around town. 


When asked why he thought American students in particular seemed predisposed to fetishise St Andrews online, Chamberlain simply replied, “stereotypically Americans are louder, more public, and more interested in the Royal Family.”

To Steinbeck, this is hardly a coincidence. “Not only are we international students in Scotland, but we are American kids, and the American social media scene is insane,” she added.


The intersection of cultures, it seems, is a huge motivator for international students to document their experiences on social media, and perhaps one of the reasons why most of this town’s social media stars are indeed American and not British.

Maybe that’s just it. Maybe it’s no more complicated than Americans being stereotypically louder, more public, and more interested in the Royal Family than the Brits. So whilst these local internet sensations admit that they are partial to romanticising this town online — given its potential to be romanticised — you can hardly blame them.




Illustration: Hannah Beggerow

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