Take it from a New Yorker — a northern perspective of U.Va.

My voyage down South proves differences between expectations, reality


Coming to the University as a native New Yorker, I was expecting to be hurled into a culture shock. Ever since I accepted my offer, Virginia seemed like a distant, mystical land that — instead of growing clearer as the move-in date quickly approached — grew foggier and more muddled in my mind. 

Of course, the big question of what to pack loomed over me for months and tore me apart as I made the difficult decision between purchasing a fleece or cotton robe (I went cotton). Ultimately, I packed four different blankets set aside specifically for sitting on the Lawn (convincing myself that hauling four different blankets from New York to Virginia was entirely necessary, as if Virginia was having a blanket shortage). Simultaneously, I forgot to bring essentials like warmer clothes — which would have come in handy as I currently write this in sultry 55 degree weather, sporting five layers of clothing.

As I watched the whizzing view from the car window shift from glass skyscrapers and overpriced cafes to stout, red, brick homogenous-looking colonial buildings and family-owned restaurants, I realized that this was going to be a bigger change than I expected. 

First, there was the Virginian accent to get used to. Compared to the “New Yawk” accent — which extends vowels and subsequently makes certain words sound a mile long — the Western and Southern Virginian accents make entire sentences sound like very long foreign words to me. Amidst the shouts of arguing New Yorkers and honking cars stuck in rush-hour traffic, I was always able to pick up bits and pieces of foreign languages spoken on the sidewalks of Manhattan. I guess my experience in Virginia thus far does not sound entirely different from New York.

Second, I realized that “southern hospitality” is a thing, or maybe it should simply be called “human decency.” The first time I came to Virginia and a stranger asked me how my day was going, I interpreted it as sarcasm. I just could not wrap my mind around the seemingly simple fact that some people are genuinely interested in me. 

Obviously, I just mumbled the automatic response that we New Yorkers are programmed like robots to say — “Fine, thanks.” Maybe it is because I am so accustomed to passively dealing with a lack of verbal communication (unless you count the endless, thoughtful “hey, sexy” remarks from catcallers), and more actively dealing with the physical communication of being elbowed out of the way in the midst of five o’clock crowds. 

The idea that I must always keep my head down, never make eye contact with strangers and walk like a New Yorker if I want to get anywhere in life — literally and metaphorically — has been ingrained in me from birth. When I finally made the “big move” to Virginia, I was forced to turn that notion upside down and chip away at my social barriers by keeping my head up, daring to make eye contact with strangers (even throwing in a smile here and there) and driving like a Virginian.

Okay, the latter part is not entirely true, but it sounded like a nice segue into my third and final point, which is more of a confession — I do not have a driver’s license. With 472 subway stations, 22 different subway lines, 4,373 public buses and 13,237 taxi cabs outside my front door, I have never even given a second thought to getting a driver’s license. It was the least of my worries, with my decision between a fluffy and thin robe obviously being my priority. “How do you NOT have a driver’s license?!” so many people would exclaim at me, as if I had just confessed to having lived in a cave for the past 18 years. This response would always prompt me into my defense mode lecture in which I explain that parking a car in the City ends up costing more than the car itself. 

Similarly to the way I originally and (very) naively thought of Virginia as this storybook land, I came to the realization that others possessed a comparable mindset about New York. New York is not all flashing lights and dreams coming true like an adult version of Disneyland, just like Virginia is not all tractors and people saying “y’all.” 

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