Americans
Illustration: Olga Loza

Flipping through old archived issues of The Saint, Features Editor, Miles Adams, noticed a pattern. Each year, it seemed, an article announced an American invasion in St Andrews. Not one to deviate from tradition, I’ve endeavoured to keep this semiregular report going.

Though Americans hold a minority status on campus – around fifteen percent of students at the University hail from the United States – we are ascribed an outsized presence. I once heard a professor refer to the town of St Andrews as the 51st state with something less than affection in his voice. And it’s not uncommon to hear a non-American refer to our ilk as uniformly ‘loud and obnoxious.’ But while our national character certainly stands out against the reserve and propriety associated with the British, this dispositional difference has done little to stop Americans from invading this small town.

Perhaps the best testament to the growing American interest in the University of St Andrews is the fact that the New York Times published an article last spring about the influx of American students here. Its author, Jennifer Conlin, reports that, “In the last six years alone, St Andrews has seen a 41 percent increase in American undergraduates, and applications from the United States have nearly doubled.” While Conlin attributes much of this growth to what one might call the ‘Will-and-Kate effect,’ other factors are involved. University of St Andrews Principal Louise Richardson is quoted in the article saying that she believes the University has “benefitted from what is happening in the American university system.” In other words, as American colleges and universities become prohibitively exclusive in terms of admission (the most competitive schools in America have acceptance rates as low as 5.7%) and more expensive in terms of tuition (many American universities charge upwards of £30,000 a year in tuition and accommodation fees), American students are left searching for an alternative option. This predicament has led many an American high school senior to consider the University of St Andrews. Set in a beautiful Scottish town where the drinking age is eighteen years old (as opposed to twenty-one in America), St Andrews seems almost too good to be true for the discerning Yankee teenager. Furthermore, the University is keen to accept American students pay some of the highest tuition fees of anyone here thanks to the Scottish three-tiered tuition system. So while Americans feel they’re getting a bargain at about £16,000 a year in tuition frees, the University is making a relative fortune. (In comparison, students from the E.U. pay nothing in tuition fees while students from the U.K. – excluding Scotland – pay around £9,000.)

Aside from the effects on student demographics and University finances, though, what is the impact of the growing American presence on campus? The Saint wanted to find out and so we have put together a collection of interviews with American students about why they chose to pursue a degree here. Additionally, we have interviewed Students’ Association President Pat Mathewson, who hails from near Chicago, about his time in this Scottish town. Furthermore, our lifestyle feature on ‘American style’ will help you easily spot an American in a quickly moving crowd on Market Street. As they say in the States, “Cheers to that!”

True DeBolt

Third year Management student

Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Saint: What is one reason you chose to study at St Andrews rather than a school elsewhere in the U.S.?

True DeBolt: The town instantly felt like home for me, which is pretty ironic as it is nearly 4,000 miles away from ‘home.’ I like how accessible St Andrews is to the rest of the Europe compared to schools in the US, where at some you basically need a car to do anything.

TS: What do you perceive to be the biggest difference between home and Scotland?

TD: Less peanut butter and ranch dressing. Seriously, I think the Scotland has a much slower pace than at home – and America in general.

TS: How do you feel about the American presence in St Andrews?

TD: Sometimes it feels a bit odd, like I am coming home to America when I come back to St Andrews after visiting other parts of the UK and friends at other British unis.

Francis Ferrone

Third year Medieval History and Archeology student

Hometown: Hastings, Nebraska

The Saint: What is one reason you chose to study at St Andrews rather than a school elsewhere in the U.S.?

Francis Ferrone: I wanted to study in an environment that would enable me to experience medieval architecture firsthand (castles, cathedrals, etc.)

TS: What do you perceive to be the biggest difference between home and Scotland?

FF: The manner in which people interact and conduct business. It can be very difficult to establish relationships here.

TS: How do you feel about the American presence in St Andrews?

FF: I was quite surprised when I discovered how many other Americans there are. Some of my closest friends are from the States, yet I occasionally desire a more British/European cultural experience.

Emily Hirsch

JSA student from Yale University, studying History

Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio

The Saint: What is one reason you chose to study at St Andrews for a semester rather than a school elsewhere or remaining at your home school?

Emily Hirsch: I wanted to study abroad in an English speaking country, and at a good school rather than through a program. St Andrews also has a great history department.

TS: What do you perceive to be the biggest difference, so far, between home and Scotland?

EH: St Andrews reminds me of Yale in a lot of ways: the class structures are similar, and the architecture is very similar. Honestly I sometimes forget I’m in another country until I have to use pounds.

TS: How do you feel about the American presence in St Andrews?

EH: I don’t really feel like an international student because there are so many Americans around.

Matt Heffernan

JYA student from the College of William and Mary, studying Physics and German

Hometown: Reston, Virginia

The Saint: What is one reason you chose to study abroad at St Andrews rather than a school elsewhere or remaining at your home school?

Matt Heffernan: I came to study at St Andrews because I’ve always wanted to study in the U.K. and St Andrews has an excellent reputation in physics. As I get credit for all my coursework here in addition to the opportunity to travel and to live in a different country, it was a no-brainer.

TS: What do you perceive to be the biggest difference, so far, between home and Scotland?

MH: The lack of a familiar support network. Back home, I went [to university] knowing some people from my hometown so it wasn’t too hard to adjust, but here, that network is greatly reduced. Plus it’s ridiculously pretty here.

TS: How do you feel about the American presence in St Andrews?

MH: I don’t really like the entrenched American presence. While the other study abroad students from North America are great, I find it reduces the international experience a bit.

Some of the most iconic symbols of American students in St Andrews

North Face brand jackets: Fresh from the Midwest, my friends. All about comfort and protection from the elements. See also: Ugg boots.

Baseball caps: Extra points if worn backwards. In Scotland, they provide the added benefit of shielding one’s face from the rain.

L. L. Bean Boat and Totes / Bean Boots: Straight from the East Coast, these two WASP-y staples are American mainstays. While the tote bags are best suited for a trip to the beach, they work just as well for St Andrews students lugging books back and forth to the library. Bean Boots are neither particularly fashionforward nor well suited to Scotland’s rainy climes, but they still maintain a devoted following of American coeds.

Sweatpants in class: Most American students here probably didn’t realize that in committing to attend the University of St Andrews, they relinquished all rights to wear sweatpants on a daily basis. Americans at St Andrews are peer pressured by the consistently stylish masses of European and British students here, in their trousers and belts and proper shoes, to abandon the casual brand of pajama dressing so common on American campuses.

Flip-flops / sunglasses: Nothing announces an American – or a delusional person – like these summer weather accessories worn within spitting distance of the North Sea. Ralph Lauren / Brooks Brothers / Vineyard Vines / Sperry Top-Siders: If someone looks ready to get on a sailboat or step out of a Polo ad at a moment’s notice, it’s a safe bet he (or she) is an American – specifically of the Northeastern variety.

Correction: This article initially suggested that EU and Scottish students paid tuition fees. It has now been updated to reflect the actual policy.

7 COMMENTS

    • Correct! To be more precise, the Scottish and non rUK EU students have to pay £1,820 a year, however the Scottish Government (as SAAS) pays the tuition fees on their behalf.

  1. As the parent of an American student who will be at St. Andrews for the next three years, I’ll chime in (that’s what we Americans do). I can say that securing a beyond-Ivy League education, at the price of a mid-tier American university, was the “no-brainer” for our family. Exposure to students from all over the globe is another plus. My children went through one of the best American public school systems, with a very diverse student population (office signs in their elementary school were in eight languages). They have had classmates from all over Asia, Africa, and South America, both residents, and children of diplomats. Strangely enough, they had much less exposure to Europeans. St. Andrews location allows for a much broader European interaction.

  2. P.S. I failed to add, that I also feel that my daughter is safer at St. Andrews. I’m not so naive to believe that St. A’s doesn’t have some of the same safety issues as American universities. However, at least UK universities don’t have a bunch of steroid-addled, misogynistic athletes that think, and act, as if they can offend with impunity.

  3. “Baseball caps: Extra points if worn backwards. In Scotland, they provide the added benefit of shielding one’s face from the rain.” Lol, I don’t know too many Americans, but how many of them have their faces on the back of their heads?

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