After filming slow motion videos of themselves biting their tongues, TikTok “besties” Ryan Manderbach and Evan Mehalov said they never thought sharing their daily college struggles would make them go viral.
Manderbach (junior-political science and criminology) initially made his TikTok account as a “coping mechanism” for life. Now, his coping mechanism is followed by over 110,000 others, as of Sunday.
“We just tongue-bite and keep going along with our days,” Manderbach said.
Since moving into Earle Hall as a resident assistant in August, Manderbach has posted daily “updates” to highlight the struggles of moving into college.
Manderbach said because he was alone for the first week at Penn State, he resorted to making TikToks, but he said he never thought his account would gain this much traction.
“Every day when we make the TikToks, it’s so enjoyable,” Manderbach said. “It feels like we literally have [117,000] other besties with us.”
Manderbach said he satirically used the word “bestie” at first, but after introducing “Bestie Evan” and “Bestie Nick,” the term has stuck with his account.
Although the account introduced them as new besties, Mehalov (junior-marketing) said he’s known Manderbach since their encounter on the Penn State freshmen group on Facebook two years ago.
Mehalov said he jokes about how Manderbach “rejected” him as a roommate but later found they had a lot in common — including living in halls near each other.
“We’ve been inseparable ever since,” Mehalov said.
Aside from going viral on TikTok and being an RA, Manderbach said along with focusing on schoolwork, he’s involved with the Blue & White Society, State of State, College Democrats and Phi Alpha Delta, a pre-law fraternity.
Mehalov is also involved with the Blue & White Society, Valley Magazine and the Fashion Society at Penn State, in addition to working at the downtown Urban Outfitters and managing his own brand deals with companies such as Maybelline, Amazon and Coach Originals.
Mehalov said while many of Manderbach’s followers assume the “besties” are freshmen, he said he believes it’s taken their three years of experience to be able to create the relatable “updates.”
“We’ve sort of been through the trials and tribulations,” Mehalov said. “We try to take those darker experiences, make light of them… and use them as a sort of empowerment.”
Manderbach said he wants to make sure his followers know everything he and Mehalov post is “100% authentic,” because he said he understands how to navigate college life.
For those who may be struggling to find friends at Penn State, Mehalov and Manderbach agreed students should look for core interests to link them together.
“Always keep going,” Manderbach said. “The idea that you’re lonely and no one wants to be friends with you is ridiculous.”
Manderbach said while his friend group is small, they’re all comfortable with being themselves, and he said he believes that’s one of the key things to finding true friendships.
“No matter what chapter of your life you’re starting, be authentically yourself,” Manderbach said. “The right people will come to you, and that’s the best thing you can offer to the world.”
Mehalov said one mindset he initially struggled with is that it’s impossible to be friends with everyone.
For Mehalov, he said he realized people who try to befriend everyone lose the opportunity to connect with the right people.
For example, Mehalov said when he first joined the Blue & White Society, he felt “natural” with the other members and didn’t have to force a different facade.
When beginning college, Manderbach said he was an anxious person who struggled with his identity because he cared about what other people thought.
Overtime, Manderbach said the one thing that helped ease his mind was realizing how everyone is in the “same boat,” and he encouraged others to start focusing on finding their “inner confidence.”
“If you’re not 100% there with yourself,” Manderbach said, “how are you supposed to give your all to everyone else?”
While Manderbach said he’s a Pisces, Mehalov is a Leo, which Manderback said he believes leads to Mehalov’s outgoing, confident energy that has been with him since high school.
Mehalov said ever since he thrifted jean shorts — or jorts — in high school, he prides himself on not caring what “small-minded people” think.
Oftentimes, Mehalov said people are too worried with themselves to care about another person’s minor flaws.
“The thing that you’re so concerned about with yourself or the thing you did that embarrassed you — people don’t notice those things,” Mehalov said. “People aren’t looking for things to tear you down about.”
Mehalov’s roommate and off-camera TikTok bestie Nolan Bradley said Mehalov’s mindset has helped him too.
“It’s very easy to feel alone, but you just have to realize everyone’s going through something,” Bradley (junior-marketing) said.
When Bradley came to Penn State from Illinois, he said he didn’t know anyone. After meeting Manderbach and Mehalov, Bradley said they inspired him to get more involved.
“I realized I have to just do things,” Bradley said. “Ryan helped me with pushing my own boundaries and putting myself out there.”
Regardless of where a person is mentally in their own lives, Bradley, Manderbach and Mehalov agreed being yourself will get you where you need to be.
“Even though you go to an institution with 40,000 people, you have a voice no matter what,” Manderbach said. “While we still have an audience, we want to spread as much kindness and positivity to the world as we can.”
Although the TikTokers are “flying by the seat of their pants,” Mehalov said they have more ideas to keep the “besties” entertaining and welcoming.
Manderbach said he wants students to know they belong, despite going to a large institution.
“You were picked to go here for a reason,” Manderbach said. “You’re not someone small — you were chosen to be a part of a Penn State journey.”