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Welcome home! Love, Culture Shock

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Welcome home! Love, Culture Shock

From the South to the North then back again

Amber Williams

1.5.17

In the small Texas town I grew up in, Walmart was the hottest hangout for teenagers on Saturday night. Friday night was mostly ruled by high school football games. Christmas parades ended with the confederate army, flying their rebel flags high and proud, while Santa waved in front of them.

When college applications rolled around, I jumped at the opportunity to get as far away as possible from this small “deeply-rooted-in-its-old-ways-and-stubborn-as-an-old-dog-with-a-bone” Southern town. All but one of my 17 applications were Northeastern universities. Soon, it was August 2015, and I was in the truck on the painstaking 23-hour drive from Texas to New York.

Back in Texas, I prided myself on not having the notorious "Texas Twang" or "Southern Drawl". When I started school in New York? Everyone knew I was from the South with the first word I spoke. Certain pronunciations for words like pecan, lawyer, and Bowie knife made my friends and I gawk and demand for repeats because of the stark contrast.

University of Rochester, for me, has an aura of acceptance that I’ve ever experienced. I was shocked to see so many people freely discussing and showcasing their various identities, some that I never heard of. I quickly realized that even with my incredibly progressive and culturally educated parents, I was still sheltered by my conservative town.

I’ve been at UR for a year and half now. I’ve come to acknowledge my Southern accent that only gets heavier with less sleep. I’ve gotten accustomed to people staring at me when I say things like “rubbernecking” and “the devil beating his wife.” I’ve tried my hardest to be accepting of difference and learn as much as possible so I don’t ignorantly oppress anyone.

While packing for Christmas break, my mind was preoccupied by thoughts I never worried about while in school. I decided against bringing 4 feminism t-shirts. I was worried about the Planned Parenthood cardholder on the back of my phone. On the plane, I had a heartattack when the Southerner next to me bluntly asked if my male suitemate is gay.

The slight culture shock didn’t stop at packing and traveling. After being home for about 4 days, I was angered and annoyed by a few rebel flag license plates, the “Hot wives deserve cold AC” billboard, and the stereotypical nonchalant attitudes of the South. I grew accustomed to Southern ways and the sometimes blatantly racist and sexist views when I lived there, but after a 4 month straight hiatus, I found myself embracing the Northern attitude with welcoming arms.

According to a 2014 Wall Street Journal article, “Rural America...has seen slower population growth for a decade, as more young people move to urban and suburban areas for jobs and aging retirees seek out more-populated places to live.” The outflow of especially young people, adds to the small town attitude of being stuck in their own ways.

The most notorious difference between the North and South is the controversy behind the rebel flag. Among white Southerners, the rebel flag stands for Southern pride while fewer Northerners see it as such. According to a 2015 CNN Poll, “57% of Americans see the flag as a symbol of Southern pride than as a symbol of racism,” compared to “75% of Southern whites describing the flag as a symbol of pride and 18% call it a symbol of racism...among Southern African-Americans, with just 11% seeing it as a sign of pride and 75% viewing it as a symbol of racism."

I know that my experience of the South is not equivalent to everyone’s and some hold different opinions of the North and Rochester. But, for the most part, I realized that there is a definite divide in our country and not just in the political sense. There’s a different way in how the South and North think, act, feel. Sometimes these differences is what makes us South and North USA, and sometimes it is what creates the divide that resonates from our current political situation.