The St Andrews Paradox: In Defence of Americanism

Jackson Pieters points out the virtues of Americans abroad.

At a cursory glance, our St Andrews is nothing more than a quiet seaside town in a charming yet lonesome corner of Fife. Yet, within this ancient burgh is the most global and multicultural population in all of Scotland, with the exception of the major cities. The explanation for this phenomenon is obvious enough when one considers St Andrews as the home of golf, a town of incredible historical significance, and, of course, as the site of one of Britain’s greatest universities.

Yet even as a major university town, St Andrews is unique; unlike Oxford and Cambridge, which have each swelled to populations of over 100,000, St Andrews maintains its small town feel, with an unmistakable ethos of solitude enforced by its relative geographical remoteness. Even though our town is semi-affectionately nicknamed “the Bubble” for its isolation, the University is ranked first in Scotland and sixteenth in the world in regards to internationality. With only 56.2% of the student body being British, that means the remaining near-half hail from over 100 different countries.

And the largest demographic from the non-British cohort is, of course, the Americans.

Photo: Reference.com

It may surprise some to learn that according to data collected by the University in 2015, Americans make up 14.7% of the university’s student population. They seem everywhere. Walk into any American hotspot across town – Starbucks, an IR lecture theatre – and you’re more likely to hear Yankee accents than any other.

To many, this results in a frustrating realisation. Though I dare not speak for all of my fellow red-white-and-blue-blooded countrymen, I feel it is fair to say that many Americans attend St Andrews for the very reason that it is, in fact, not America. In our university choice, we sought someplace different, unorthodox, and – if you’re like me – stripped of any trace of US college culture: Greek life, football arenas, and the like. We made the decision to pursue a transatlantic education not because we wanted to Americanise St Andrews, but because we wanted to be Scotified.

Somehow, something so un-American has ironically become something very American. In attempting to seek new experiences in a new country, we’ve found ourselves in a town home to well over 1000 Americans and precisely one fraternity, a town where beer pong and toga parties are a regular occurrence, and a town where a Subway occupies a prominent point in the main square.

Should we be upset about this? No.

As mentioned, despite its meagre three main streets, our town is truly global. The Americanisms that we’ve come to either relish or loathe have, undoubtedly, become a distinct part of St Andrews’ cultural fabric. Rather than subjugating the town’s status as a bastion of Scottish culture, I’d argue the presence of a prominent American culture helps to foster our unique sense of universality and reinforces the St Andrews Paradox: a quaint town nestled in the Lowland coastal hills, so defined by its mediaeval and conservative charm, yet bursting at the seams with a mélange of international modernism and global influence.

The fact of the matter is, you make your own experiences. We are lucky to live in a town of such diversity that often times we take it for granted and are blinded by the unappealing aspects. The cultural boom the university has seen in the past decade has secured its place as an international university, and thus diversity of all sorts should be encouraged – even those American unpleasantries.

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