Photo: NBC News

The Americanisation of St Andrews

Airashi Dutta bemoans the number of Americans in Scotland.

When I first applied to St Andrews, I had no idea that I would be arriving at a University better described as the “fifty-first state.” In hindsight, the very fact that St Andrews is one of the few British universities on the American Common Application system might have been a bit of a giveaway.

Perhaps it’s a combination of expensive tuition fees and a Dorito-faced president that has led many Americans to consider a transatlantic education. While Oxford has more American Students, St Andrews has the greatest percentage of American students studying here of all the British universities. If someone told me that every state was represented, I would believe them.  The lecture theatres of the IR, Economics and Management departments are filled to the brim with American students, keen to proclaim how unique they are for deciding to make the journey over to Europe to gain an international education.

Now in my third year of St Andrews, I sometimes wonder if I’m in Scotland, or just a preppy east coast college in the US. The St Andrews social calendar is a funny one – a testament of how cosmopolitan this seaside town is. I have witnesses three Thanksgivings, all of which have been celebrated with greater exuberance than the three St Andrews Days I’ve seen in the same period. Numerous Facebook events advertising typical “frat stuff” (solo cups, beer pong etc), such as the Frat Party and Goat House. Even everyday fashion features backward baseball caps, distinctly American choice. 

Photo: Goat House

Walking down the three streets, it’s not uncommon to catch a glimpse of the star spangled banner hanging from someone’s window, or at a flat parties where the host might be a bit of a patriot, bringing out the flag. I think it’s completely fine to be proud of your country – but there is a line that needs to be drawn between being proud of where you hail from, and merely transplanting your culture into a new locality. It seems as though the presence of high street brands and the accent isn’t enough to remind them of home.

The attempt by members of the student body to transplant aspects of their home cultures seems like a bastardisation of the local culture of Scotland. Fraternities and Sororities were the very aspects of US university life that I sought to avoid by coming into The Bubble, and like I said earlier I often forget I’m even in Scotland. I applied to this university to experience the culture of the UK, and all the old world charm and history it brings, not be forced to keep up with Americanisms.

Now, two quick caveats here: Firstly, I don’t think for a minute that Americans are unique in these behaviours. I’m sure overseas students of all nationalities exhibit these behaviours – it’s just the sheer number of Americans that makes them more noticeable. Americanisation in St Andrews has also led to some very worthwhile initiatives – DONT WALK, the charity fashion show that was started by students as a response to 9/11, has raised over £220,000 since it began in 2001.

But, with the the annual Super Bowl weekend having just passed, and my newsfeed filling up with events based around this most American traditions, I have to wonder: Are we missing the point of being a Scottish University?

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1 thought on “The Americanisation of St Andrews

  1. While I do agree with the author in that the strong presence of American Students is surprising and sometimes annoying when those students do not educate themselves more on the beautiful and unique country this study in, this article reflects a major misconception about the University of St Andrews:

    Save for it being physically located in Scotland, St Andrews has never really been a purely “Scottish University.” I quote Arthur Herman in his book, “How the Scots Invented the Modern World:” “Despite their small size, Scottish Universities [like Glasgow, Edinburgh, and St Andrews] were international centers of learning, and drew students from all across Protestant Europe as well as England and Ulster…” (P.25).

    And, while it now draws Americans in addition to Europeans, we must also acknowledge that there really aren’t that many Scottish people in general, as Scotland’s population is smaller than most American states. In that regard, there really aren’t many Scottish people our age, let alone Scottish students who necessarily even WANT to attend St Andrews. I think it’s a blessing that this university is so cosmopolitan, and frankly, coming from someone who is studying abroad here from the States and experienced the frat scene first hand, St Andrews pales in comparison to most American universities when it comes to that kind of behavior. There are class issues and drinking problems here, but I think it is a mistake to write it off to an influx of Americans.

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