The TikTok-Savvy Students of Fordham Lincoln Center

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COURTESY OF IZABELLA SCHILLING

Vienna Balsamides (top) and Izabella Schilling live on the same campus, but they ultimately became friends through TikTok.

By BEN JORDAN, Contributing Writer

TikTok is one of the world’s most popular social media apps, with over 1.5 billion app downloads worldwide and 123 million in the U.S. alone. Yet people tend to hesitate when it comes to admitting they use it. Why this may be isn’t entirely a mystery — the word “cringe” is frequently used to describe the app by its most devoted users and biggest haters alike. What may be surprising is not that a lot of Fordham students are on TikTok, but the level of success amassed by some of these content creators.

Jake Kuljis

Jake Kuljis, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’22, is a communications major and self-described “former theatre kid” — though he admitted he was the kid who could neither sing nor dance. Kuljis started making TikToks “for the meme” after seeing one of his friends on the app late last semester, without intending to keep using it for more than a few weeks. As of publication, he now has 45,700 followers.

“The only reason I’m famous on TikTok is this one video I made,” he said. He wasn’t planning to post it, but he accidentally uploaded it from his drafts when trying to show it to a friend. It went viral, started some trends and is currently sitting at more than 7 million views

“I’d love to get a big following on any social media, but of all media … it had to be TikTok,” he said.

Kuljis recounted one of the weird offers he’s received from a fan: two chow chow puppies (which is, by coincidence, his favorite breed of dog). “I honestly feel like I’m getting way too much attention,” he said while joking that his whole situation, especially being interviewed, is “awful for (his) ego.”

Kuljis doesn’t exactly have a formula for his content and usually works on TikToks by himself, jury-rigging his dorm room for production. His ideas come from a variety of sources; for example, he got the idea for a recent video by hearing a clip of a Phil Collins song he liked. “I was so proud of that one,” he said, though he claimed it’s one of his “worst TikToks, performance-wise.”

Kuljis has been recognized a few times around campus, and he once overheard some students watching one of his videos in class, but he doesn’t think there’s much of a TikTok community at Fordham. There’s “no Fordham TikTok group chat,” he stated, though he finds the idea hilarious. He thinks it’s the cringe factor that’s holding such a thing back. His success has kept him active on the app, but he doesn’t feel obliged to post regularly, saying, “The last thing I want in my life is to have a sense of responsibility to my TikTok.”

 

Izabella Schilling

Izabella Schilling, FCLC ’23, is studying new media and digital design as well as visual arts. She started making videos with friends out of boredom and is trying to transition to vlog and outfit style videos.

She thinks a main draw for her 16,200 followers is that she’s an 18-year-old in NYC, which is “everybody’s dream — that’s appealing to the majority of my audience.” A lot of her videos depict her out on the town, with the theme of one recent video being going through a whole roll of film in one night. 

Schilling said a lot of the comments she receives are along the lines of “I wish I had friends to go out with,” and she thinks her videos promote the idea of “teenagers living the dream” and having a “super perfect, super cool life.”

She tries to balance these out with videos more focused on her just relaxing in her dorm, though those get less attention. She’s been recognized by fellow students, but she wishes there was a bit more of a TikTok community at Fordham. 

Schilling said that “TikTok started out as a joke” for most people, but she now believes that everyone finds it “really addicting.” She admits that she recently checked her usage for the app and averages “four to five hours” a day, though said she hopes the numbers are incorrect.

“I kind of just make what I want to make, and when I’m in the mood to post, I’ll post,” Schilling said.

Schilling also appreciates the way in which TikTok has allowed her to continue dancing, albeit in a much more casual way that’s helping her transition back into more serious dance. A former competitive dancer who stopped after an injury, Schilling likes the idea that people without formal training can become a part of something bigger, even if some of the dances that become trends are pretty easy.

Schilling even met her friend Vienna Balsamides, FCLC ’20, when the latter saw a video shot in the McKeon dorms featuring Schilling and left a comment. “In a way, I met one of my best Fordham friends through TikTok,” Schilling said.

She thinks “it’s really bizarre” to find other acquaintances on the app because not many people are keen on talking about using it. But she also thinks that “secretly, it’s everyone’s dream to get famous on TikTok.”

 

Vienna Balsamides

Vienna Balsamides is also studying new media and digital design. Known as Vienna Skye on social media, she got her start when a friend suggested that she make a dancing video. She filmed one in Times Square, and it wound up with more than 100,000 views. Balsamides is now the biggest TikTok star on the Lincoln Center campus with 240,000 followers.

“I’m a trained dancer, but when I do TikTok dances it looks like I’ve never danced before,” Balsamides said, which she attributes to the fact that dances are essentially choreographed for anyone to be able to learn. Much like Schilling, she appreciates how the app has encouraged her to revisit her roots after not having not danced consistently for a while.

While she still makes plenty of dance videos, Balsamides is trying to shift toward focusing more on higher-effort content like day-in-the-life vlogs — and unlike YouTubers, she has the challenge of editing them to under 60 seconds. Balsamides especially enjoys the idea of vlogging on platforms like TikTok as “a little diary that I can look back on and share with my family.”

She attributes some of the success of her vlogs to the fact that a lot of people don’t really understand how to use the TikTok platform for that style of video. Balsamides thinks her major has played a role in her success of using platforms like TikTok because she enjoys getting into the “behind-the-scenes” of how the app works. She has fun applying the concepts she’s learned from her courses to her content and brand management. 

As far as recognition goes, she said that in her comments, “People will be like, ‘Is that Fordham?’ Or incoming students will be like, ‘How do you like the school? Lincoln Center or Rose Hill?’”

Recently, YouTube star David Dobrik personally surprised Balsamides’ dad in response to a TikTok she made about her dad’s love for Dobrik’s vlogs. Her original video now has more than  10 million views — with obviously at least one being from Dobrik himself. She said, “He’s literally the most genuine person ever,” and she firmly believes the meeting couldn’t have happened through any other platform but TikTok.

In spite of the reluctance of (seemingly) everybody to admit to TikTok usage, there are students who have put themselves out there. Perhaps you could band together with your friends to grow Fordham’s TikTok community, revel in the glorious cringe and use the platform to promote Fordham Lincoln Center as the TikTok-savviest school in the city.