The Un-United States of America

Seattle, a land made famous by Microsoft, Seahawks and 50 Shades of Grey. The image that usually comes to mind when one pictures Seattleites is a group of hipsters, bong in one hand, Starbucks cup in the other, scattering through a dreary city with the Space Needle set in the background.

But to me, this liberal hub is more than just the weed capital of the nation. It’s home. When coming to Durham, I never heeded the admonitions of my friends who warned that I was in for quite a culture shock.

“What culture shock? It’s still the U.S.! Damn you closed minded liberals!”

I knew they were picturing Durham as a redneck locale set in the prairie amongst a herd of cattle and not the progressive Research Triangle we all know and love. It wasn’t until I officially moved here that I realized that maybe in some aspects, they were right.

For one, the Chick fil A here is actually fast food and not the two hour wait that had to be endured in Seattle. I still remember its grand opening in my town…the countdown, the jittery buzz of excitement, and the hundreds of clueless people (including me) who wondered what the hell Chick fil A even was. After two hours of fasting, those beautiful bronzed chicken nuggets were a treasured delicacy. And since coming here, I have learned that people in Durham are spoiled to a degree that my friends and I have never known. They can squeeze Chick fil A in between classes and never even wait in line.

Still, the biggest revelation I learned (if you can picture something more consequential than Chick Fil A) was that no one really cared about the “West.” The first time I said I was from Seattle I expected a wave of enthusiasm, followed by an inundation of questions from my inevitable Seattle groupie fan club. Seattle’s cool factor would support my incessant urge to keep talking. Obviously.

But in reality, I got, “Wow that’s far. Hopefully there’s a direct flight.” That’s pretty much the worst answer for a chatterbox like myself. I should’ve known there’d be people here from France, the UK, China and probably even Abu Dhabi. How can you begin to compete with Abu Dhabi?

So instead of Seattle, I found that one point of conversation here often surrounds the divide between the North and the South. On the West Coast, the closest thing to regionalism is girls adorned in Brandy Melville hashtagging #PNW on their Instagrams.

Coming to Duke, all of the sudden people dubbed me as “from the West” and others as “Northerners” and “Southerners.” Even more, there was this underlying bitterness between the “North” and the “South.” I didn’t even known this still existed, but then again “the West” is the hippie brother who is too high on life to notice what the hell’s going on with the rest of the fam.

I felt like an outsider looking at the world beyond the Rocky Mountains. I’d overhear phrases like “Yeah but he’s from the South so that’s typical” or “She’s like that because she’s from the North.” What does that even mean? Does the North and South breed two different species of humans?

I knew the stereotypes of the South from liberal political cartoons which usually show something along the lines of a Trump lovin’, redneck drawlin’, “Mary Anne where the hell is my gun?” kind of people. But my only background knowledge on the North surrounded the fact that they supposedly talked fast and lacked a filter. And at Duke, I hadn’t met anyone who fit either one of these excessive stereotypes.

Before I went on my manhunt to uncover these regional misconceptions and break them down, I began to wonder why the hell we were making them in the first place. We’re supposed to celebrate our geographical diversity and branch out, not cling onto people who hail from the same regional cul-de-sac as us.

Could it be that Duke studentsstrong, fearless, overachieving Duke students-were actually afraid and in a state of desperation, longing for acceptance? The answer might be yes. It puts us more at ease to surround ourselves with our regional kin, so we can bond over exceptionally fundamental facts like “OMG I too had acai bowls for breakfast!” or “Ugh soul sister you say yes ma’am too?”

Instead of going out of our comfort zone and opening our mind, we latch onto this cycle of grasping for familiarity and strengthening stereotypes.

Now I know how this sounds. “Look at this Seattle chick writing about peace and love. Someone hit the bong too hard last night.” But hear me out. It’s always easy to pick the cop out: make friends quickly and efficiently and have surface level conversations about how much you miss your hometown all while barricading yourself off with stereotypes.

But I understand that all of this is human nature. It provides that security blanket to cuddle with during those homesick nights. In turn, we stop looking. We stop opening our mind. Because what are the chances you would’ve ever been friends with someone who lived 2,000 miles away from you? Duke gives us this amazing chance to have something in common with people from all around the world. It gives us the opportunity to meet each other and break down our previously held beliefs.

Because North, South, East, or West, chances are most of us are not anything like the stereotypes people have used in the past. I for one haven’t had Starbucks since I got here, and I’m a perfectly functioning human being. So branch out. End the civil war. And stop all this stereotyping bullshit.

You birds of a feather may flock together, but it’s time to fly the coop.

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