Caroline Calloway is fascinated. It's not just a running theme among her popular Instagram posts about her life at Cambridge University -- she repeatedly expresses amazement at the fact that a reporter thinks she's interesting enough to write about.
Constantly hurling insults at herself, Calloway laughs that she's not answering questions coherently, and claims she's suspicious some of her 418,000 Instagram followers are alias accounts her mom runs.
"It's definitely not cool to be so in awe of things," Calloway says, a nod to the posts about how glamorous Cambridge can be. "It's definitely very embarrassing and not very classy at all. But I can't tell what would be sadder: to react to these things in the right way or to live without wonder entirely."
Calloway, 23, has attracted Internet fame because her Instagram account doesn't just feature interesting photos, but a couple hundred words of prose with each post. She writes about her own life, telling her story over the past two years as someone who moved from New York City to England to study at Cambridge, and about her romance with Oscar, her charming neighbor on campus-turned-boyfriend.
To an extent, it sounds unreal, like something out of a Great Gatsby sequel -- her last name is Calloway, after all. She laughs about how her real-life friends at school also thought for a while her name was just made up for Instagram, but she flashes her passport to prove her identity is real.
Calloway's Instagram account is now the rough draft of a book she's working on, with hopes to publish it in 2016. Ever-fitting for the millennial generation, she's sharing much of her work in social media updates, although her Instagram account is about a year behind so she can better determine the most fitting or pivotal moments. Nevertheless, her followers will know her story well before a paperbound book ever hits the shelf.
Calloway is still working on her book proposal, according to her agent, Byrd Leavell. "We have a long list of editors who have reached out, though, including the heads of houses," he says. "There is a great deal of excitement out there about her book."
So far, Calloway hasn't made a cent off of her Instagram account. A book may be in the works, but she's declined to promote anything to make money on social media, unlike other famous citizens of the Internet.
Her take to writing on Instagram is not an outgrowth of writing long prose on LiveJournal, MySpace, Tumblr or any older social media platform -- Calloway never really used any of them, she just liked writing.
"When I was little, my dad wanted to take me to child therapy because I couldn't fall asleep without Harry Potter books," she jokes.
Calloway was born in Virginia, attended Phillips Exeter Academy, a boarding school in New Hampshire, and enrolled in New York University, where she hoped to start a writing career. She likens her naivete in New York to the gullible character Kimmy Schmidt.
"More than anything, I wanted to be a writer and I had no idea how to do that," she says. "I thought New York is the epicenter of the English-speaking publishing world, but that didn't mean I knew how to make my writing dreams come true."
She applied to many elite universities, including all the Ivy League schools, which she was rejected from. After attending New York University for less than a year before deciding it wasn't for her, Calloway applied to Cambridge University. "My dad went to Harvard and he used to say, 'I can't wait to attend your graduation in Cambridge,' so that -- as a writer -- is a story I like," she explains.
But in New York City, a place she adores, she began writing on her Instagram account about life in the Big Apple, her relationship with a guy named Josh, and road trips with one of her best friends, Kelsey, tagged on posts as #adventuregrams.
Kelsey, who met Calloway in high school before attending Wake Forest University, was featured in a few posts early on when Calloway was stateside. Kelsey insists that Calloway's account has always been realistic, rather than playing up a glamorous facade.
"She's pretty open and explicit about everything that's going on with her followers, she's very open and expressive," Kelsey says. (Calloway's friends are referred to by their first name only to protect their privacy.)
"There are times when she sends me what she's going to write," Kelsey adds. "But I trust her so wholly that I've never said, 'No, you can't post that.'"
When Calloway moved to Cambridge, she stopped writing for a time. "I found myself doing a truly spectacular amount of procrastination," she explains. "My account had been about Josh and we weren't dating anymore, and had been about New York and I didn't live there anymore. Things were complicated with my next-door neighbor, Oscar, at the time. It was too true to write about it at the time. It's one of the reasons I keep things so far in the past."
Calloway was still writing on Instagram in her early Cambridge days, but since it's delayed, it reflected things that happened months earlier. For example, when Oscar started dating her, she was still posting about New York.
"The juxtaposition of Caroline's Instagram narrative and my own memories
can be slightly schizophrenic at times," admits Oscar. "However, not only are her photos enhanced with filters; the storytelling is as well. So I take it all with a grain of salt."
Calloway can't pick a specific moment, but she felt like her account was starting to catch on when followers began commenting that they liked the writing, moreso than the pictures, on the photo-sharing app. People started writing her to share their own stories and how they related to Calloway's life.
"Since I'm writing these really personal things about my own life, in the comments, or especially in the emails, they'll send these really personal stories," Calloway says. "It's breathtaking that they would share their secrets with me as well. So that's different from someone who's famous for posting meme pictures. It's much more intimate. It's a relationship that's a much more actual friendship than I think it is for other people who have large following online. I don't think I could write such intimate stuff if I didn't view [my followers] as friends."
Calloway landed an agent this year and started working on putting her account into a book. She's hosted meet-ups with fans in Central Park, but still has another year of school to get her degree. She spent much of the summer in New York, but is returning to Cambridge to rejoin Oscar, who is often featured on the account, and their new puppy.
Calloway hesitates to say whether her followers will see the dog, because "the puppy would eclipse me in a moment," she jokes. "First of all, he's very smart and an excellent writer."
Calloway is unsure what will happen with her account, or career, in the long run. All she knows is that with a follower count so high, there are a lot of people she'll continue to share her life with.
"What's so interesting, what's so cool about social media, the people who are going through this story with me now, they’ll very likely see me get engaged, they’ll see me get married, they’ll see my kids," Calloway exclaims. "Though I'm not sure I’ll always post as often as I do."
Story by Tyler Kingkade. Video edited and produced by Marielle Olentine and Eva Hill, animations by Eva Hill.