An American in St. Andrews; John May‘s thoughts on the merits of diversity.

I’ll start by apologizing: I’m not a St Andrews student; I just studied abroad for the year. I’m a wannabe, woe is me. Regardless, the year influenced me in a way I’m only starting to grasp now, and I want to briefly touch on one such aspect, to interpret the experience, and perhaps reveal a few things to others who have been equally influenced but may just take it for granted or haven’t realized it yet.


“How do you say _______?” Probably best describes a majority of conversation starters by fresh-off-the-boat Americans in St Andrews. Sure, at the beginning of the year it may be flattering or good for a quick chat, but by the end of the first semester it’s not hard to notice the united European population has had enough of our American nonsense, and really don’t care so much anymore for the ‘bahsil’ vs. ‘baysil’ debate, or the ‘orehg-ah-no’ vs. ‘oreh-gaaah-no’ debacle (my attempt at US vs. general UK pronunciation, swing and a miss?), and God forbid you get into a three hour argument over what a Daddy longlegs is – P.S., they don’t fly (bite me).


Regardless of these quibbles amongst fellow St. Andreans, and the perceived time limit on their appropriateness, it seems to be that everyone enjoys the initial experience of learning about other peoples, languages, various long-limbed insects, etc. and that doesn’t wear out over the four-year stay in the Bubble. I certainly experienced this in my year abroad at St Andrews. I can tell you without a hint of doubt that it was much easier to make lasting friends across the pond than at my university back home. There is just something about the great diversity (withhold your judgment, I’ll get to it) of nations and cultures that establishes lasting camaraderie. My school, the last time I checked, is over ninety percent middle class Caucasian, with roughly two thirds of the population coming from the state in which it’s situated, and of the whole student body two thirds are girls. Essentially it is a school full of innumerable Regina Georges with a few guys here and there (myself included) having a grand old time. I had to explain what being in a fraternity is like to St. Andreans just enough times to realize I didn’t want to be part of that nonsense anymore. But I won’t digress from the point further; all I mean to imply is that the diversity of character at St. Andrews is something to be proud of. Sure there may be a lot of Caucasians there, even a big chunk are American, but I made friends from Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Scotland, Peru, Nigeria, and countless more countries. Each person has their own customs, language, dialect, and even within that they have their own individual experience. It is fascinating, to go from a school of middle class white kids rattling around in Daddy’s Mercedes to such diversity; can you really blame Americans for such wholehearted absorption in St Andrews? Perhaps it isn’t as noticeable to a UK or European student, or even unnoticeable altogether (I could be insane, oh well, it’s the cracked ones that let the light in), but to go a solid twenty years and only hear one language, and even more, one accent, to hearing upwards of twenty daily is quite a paradigm shift.


So what’s the point I’m trying to make, then? To be honest, I’m not sure. I’m not trying to paint Americans as perfectly naïve, innocent students completely in awe upon their arrival in Scotland. That’s a laugh. Rather, I’d say that it is just an example of how anyone thrust into a new environment may respond. It may be a bit of an interpretation or logical leap, but maybe we as humans have an inherent curiosity for new things? Do we look for patterns? Maybe “how do you say _____?” is an attempt to connect a known pattern with one that’s unknown. Maybe this curiosity is a part of our ability to adapt effectively to novel situations? If so, it’s doing a fine job to make shifts in locale and culture smooth, and even enjoyable, but this is all speculation. At the end of the day, regardless of psychology, at some point in our lives St. Andrews is a place we can all be proud to call home.


John May


Image credit: Brocken Inaglory