With 15% of its students being American, the second largest national group behind the 55% majority of British students, St Andrews has a unique blend of American and British culture. Last week I experienced my first ever Thanksgiving, a charming (academic) family affair at the Adamson, filled with my American family members describing what Thanksgiving looks like at home, and even explaining the American holiday to the rest of us for whom this holiday only exists on Friends holiday specials.
Our table was a mix of American, British, and other European guests, and it was a genuinely lovely way to spend my first Thanksgiving. Our blend of nationalities and cultures created a warmth that may not be the same as a real homemade Thanksgiving, but I like to think (for the benefit of my US friends) came close to recreating it.
“There are so many Americans here” is a phrase I hear almost daily, by both visitors to the town and fellow non-American students. This is merely an observation – despite Americans only making up 15% (the largest minority by far, but still a minority), they often seem to dominate our university life. Event committees tend to be filled with Americans, and the strength of American culture (frat party themed nights, hundreds of Thanksgiving dinners held by various groups and families, strong political discourse regarding American politics) is clear for us all to see.
I find myself being educated on how Americans view Britain on a daily basis, as well as how Americans view their own country (most that I encounter seem to hate it enough to want to leave as soon as they could). And of course, our foreign peers must learn an awful lot about the United Kingdom in their four year stay here. I’ve witnessed Americans try a Rich Tea biscuit (they tend not to appreciate them), explained the concept of Love Island and Made in Chelsea to them (mixed opinions on that), and had to break down our political system. Similarly, I’ve learnt a lot about the current political climate in America (although I’m still not quite sure how Trump won), and have been told why everyone prefers Cadbury to Hershey (Hershey chocolate tastes like vomit apparently).
Whilst we all have a lot of preconceptions about what a stereotypical American is, I think its fair to say that the sort of Americans who come to St Andrews rarely fit that template. They may often be wealthier than the average American, but they are also far more intelligent (by definition, St Andrews students are), and often more politically open-minded. I have encountered so many students from across the pond whom I feel blessed to call my friends, and genuinely feel that this has broadened my horizons and benefitted me in a way that I would not have experienced had I gone to another, more homogenous university in Britain.
We are famous for being a massively international university, and all nationalities and ethnicities that we are privileged to have represented here in St Andrews improve our university. The USA just happens to have the biggest share of the international student body, and thus our university culture is most influenced by America (second only to the country we live in). No Brit can accept an offer from St Andrews without realising this, and although it is certainly an adjustment, I am always thankful for the diversity it adds to my student experience.