Josh Bastin poses for a portrait on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, outside Russell Hall in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Julian Alexander, jalexander@randb.com)

Freshman year of college is already a strange time between worrying about your major, your classes, making new friends and, this year, COVID-19. University of Georgia freshman Joshua Bastin has to balance something else on top of that—over a million followers on TikTok.

Bastin, who goes by the handle @handsomesouthernboy on TikTok, has had an unconventional experience at UGA so far because of his social media following.

From Las Vegas to Athens

Bastin is from Las Vegas but grew up an Auburn University fan. Some of his extended family went there, and he went to the 2014 National Championship where Auburn played Florida State University.

“I just always grew up around that culture [of] the college football, and I just loved it, so I always knew I wanted to go somewhere where I would get that,” Bastin, who’s studying psychology, said. “I think this is definitely a better choice for me than Auburn.”

Athens was also a draw. Bastin’s roommate Tanner Bowers is from Athens and was “a big help” in navigating the city for an out-of-state student. The food is one of Bastin’s favorite parts so far: “Taqueria Del Sol is so good.”

Bowers and Bastin met through a roommate search page on Instagram before his account got big. They FaceTimed often before school started.

“I’m so close with him. He’s like my best friend,” Bastin said. “I know I can tell him anything.”

Enter TikTok

When he met Bowers over the summer, TikTok “was very much a hobby” and where he could post for fun, Bastin said. By the time classes began in August, he had hundreds of thousands of followers across multiple accounts. His largest account, @handsomesouthernboy, is now verified and has over 756,000 followers and 64 million likes as of press time.

The username was a play on Bastin’s hometown, Las Vegas, even though it is definitely not a part of the South. Bastin’s friends from the app, including Chase Rutherford, Haley Sharpe and Claire Drake, suggested the username over Zoom.

“It was funny because originally I wasn’t from the South. I wasn’t a Southern boy, so [my friends] were like, that’s kind of the humor in it,” Bastin said. “Then it kind of opened a new personality or character for me, I guess, where I would put on a cowboy hat and make a video.”

Having people know who he was is a double edged sword as a freshman at UGA. Bastin was concerned about increased scrutiny before he got to Athens and if he would be able to have a normal college experience. But it’s also opened up opportunities for friendships.

“People talk about it and it’s like, oh, you have to meet him, instead of actually wanting to meet me as a person,” Bastin said. “I’m just like every other freshman going through the same things you guys are.”

Being recognized whenever he left his room was also a strange feeling for Bastin, who said he feels very much like a normal freshman. The chance to meet a lot of people was a good opportunity, though, one he wouldn’t have had without his TikTok account.

“It is weird because in my mind I’m just so normal and average and very basic, and it’s kind of just a side thing that is completely separate from the person I am,” Bastin said. “I just got to meet a lot more people than I think the average freshman would.”

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