By: Andre Lopes Massa
Home is a wonderful place. It’s where you feel accepted and it’s full of the familiar surrounding you’re used to. But, after a time, you may crave something different from the culture you’re used to, but, perhaps because of the uncertainty surrounding leaving the place you’ve known your whole life. Don’t fear that craving. It just means that you have the courage to want to explore the world, take a risk and find out more about yourself and where you’re meant to be.
That brings me to today’s topic on the Historical Nerds. Recently, I just took a trip to Georgia to visit two friends of mine from college that got married recently and have a wonderful home now. Leading up to the trip and currently living in the epitome of Northern culture, much of what I was told by my friends about what I should expect involved stereotypes garnered off popular media depictions of the South used to circumvent the fact that they had never visited any part of the region. Now, having gone to George Mason University, I can say that Northern Virginia is not much different from Connecticut, with the terrible weather and people beeping at you constantly on the road because you are delaying their date with Netflix by 5 seconds. However, my debate career did take me briefly into what could be considered the South to places like North Carolina, Georgia and West Virginia, so I at least knew my friends’ statements of “They’re all just gun hugging rednecks who can’t say ‘you all’ properly” was at the very least an exaggeration.
To say that the trip made me re-evaluate my opinion of the South would be an understatement. I grew to become so fond of the friendly atmosphere down there that I would like to start my teaching career down there once my Master of Education is done. Today I’ll be sharing some of the standout things I noticed during my trip.
- Southerners place less of an emphasis on materialism
From the way that I was raised, I was always told that I needed to finish school, graduate college, get a high paying job, buy that big house and drive that fancy car you’ve always wanted while your bank account is always in six figures. Now, I graduated college but I certainly don’t have a high paying job or a fancy car, and ever since I’ve recently decided to become a teacher, whenever I tell my friends that I plan to become a teacher I am constantly told that it won’t pay well and, to them, I must justify my career choice with some kind of financial plan or investment profile because wanting a career that focuses on helping children just isn’t enough. Imagine my surprise when, throughout my interactions with those I had the honor of meeting and speaking to, that the first reaction that Southerners had when I told them I wanted to be a teacher was a sense of gratefulness that I was choosing a profession that placed emphasis on compassion for others. For Southerners, they place a great deal of emphasis on spiritual growth. As long as you work hard and care for your family and friends, that’s all that matters. Everything else is secondary and that’s not a bad thing.
- Southerners are generally more friendly
Now, I grew up in what is functionally a suburb of New York City and it’s hard to talk to people, especially when you’re an introvert like me. Generally, people in the North have embraced the hustle and bustle life, where you stop in a Starbucks to get your cup of coffee for 5 minutes and then run out all the while talking on your phone on the way to work. Okay, maybe that is just a stereotypical scene torn right out of a corny movie script but maybe it isn’t so out of touch. From my experiences, it seems almost absurd to stop and say hello to someone when you’re outside and chit chat for a bit. Perhaps it stems from Northern conceptions of individualism and the emphasis on devoting most of your energy to ambition and furthering your career that taking the time to know people by speaking to them is frowned upon. Yet, in the South, I grew fond of how everyone, from the local chief of police, to simple farmers and small business owners, knew each other and always took time to talk to each other and really form a communal bond. And it wasn’t just the people in their community, they were even friendly to me and welcomed me with open arms. Me, a so-called Yankee that I was told they hated down there.
- The food is excellent
Never leave the South without having some good, old fashioned Southern barbecue. During my trip, I went to lunch with my friends and their family a small, family owned café known as the Whistling Pig in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Now, I am a very picky eater and incredibly sensitive to certain tastes. I ordered myself a barbecue pulled pork sandwich with some onion rings and, on my fist bite, my mouth was in heaven. The meat tasted so pure with homemade barbecue sauce that I astounded how good pork can taste. I would later learn that the meat is carefully prepared from being smoked for a long period of time to marinating in the sauce for hours upon hours. It wasn’t just this place that had excellent food, but literally everything I ate was organically prepared. And, the funny thing is, that the food is so cheap it makes Whole Foods look like a pyramid scheme. If you find yourself down South, I recommend having an old fashioned Southern barbecue with a glass of sweet tea. You’ll thank yourself later.
- Don’t be afraid to attend a church service
Wow, who would have thought that I would have said those words? But hey, people can change and it’s not a bad thing. My friend recently became the head pastor at a church in Alabama, and during my trip, I accompanied him and his wife (whom I have also known a very long time) and their family to a service. And, I can say, I was wonderfully surprised at how openly the community welcomed me with open arms after replaying scenes during the drive of my friends in the North saying I was going to get shot with a sawed-off shotgun once they identified my accent. Each person in the community were wonderful, connected by a belief that God would guide them and always stay with them no matter what. Now, most of our preconceived notions in the North of the so-called “Bible Belt” is that they are a bunch of backwards rednecks with missing teeth that hate college graduates. After I took the time to hear their stories, I found that they were all hardworking individuals who valued their faith and service to the community above all else, and my own conceptions of the South were forever changed. Instead of seeing me as an of invader on their way of life, they expressed genuine gratefulness that a young person such as myself was open to the Christen message and had traveled to attend their service. To them, it warmed their hearts to see me singing with them and listening to their stories and sharing my own experiences with them. It doesn’t matter who or what you’ve done in the past, they will welcome you as long as you keep your heart and mind open. I look forward to hearing my friend preach their again, but this time as their head pastor. Open yourself up to new experiences, you may find that what you were looking for was hidden deep in a place you never thought you could embrace.
I hope that sharing my experiences may help lessen all your fears of taking a risk and trying something new. If you’re just out of college, now is the time to explore, try new things, and learn more about yourself and your passion. Perhaps leaving the comforts of your familiar surroundings is the best way to learn more about yourself. Till next time,