For any Midwesterners planning on (or currently going to) East Coast colleges; this is my experience migrating from Michigan to the University of Pennsylvania…Chances are, you’ll be able to relate.
1. You find yourself Googling things like, “what is a Philly cheese steak?”
I arrived in Philadelphia not knowing what a Philly cheese steak was. Although I did briefly consider googling this somewhat famous American dish as we neared the city, the thought was quickly pushed away as we pulled off the freeway and into the thriving metropolis.
2. A nine hour car ride from the Midwest to the East Coast is not exactly exciting.
After enduring a nine hour, 589-mile car ride, in which our battered minivan plowed through countless toll booths, corn fields, and mountainous terrain; I was itching to stretch my legs and explore the bustling, vibrant campus of the University of Pennsylvania.
3. East Coast colleges are…intimidating.
As a high school senior nearing the end of an era, I was admittedly very excited about the prospect of meeting my future classmates. I remember pausing at the edge of campus, and taking in the signs and balloons pitched everywhere, reading “Welcome to Quaker Days, Class of 2020.” My initial excitement however, was soon infused with an onslaught of nerves as I watched the prospective students pour into campus from all over the country. People sporting unseasonal tans, trendy clothes, and who all appeared to know each other completely surrounded me, and it was overwhelming.
Without a familiar face in sight, I quickly gathered my fleeting courage and forced myself to walk the full four-and-a-half feet to my left, where a group of friendly-looking strangers had amassed to socialize. As the day wore on, I became significantly smoother in my introductions (finally remembering to say my name), and I could feel my confidence shooting back up.
4. Finding other Midwesterners at East Coast colleges is rare.
Although most of the individual faces became a blur after meeting a dozen people or so, I started keeping a mental tally of the various states and countries people hailed from. There was a mass migration from some states, like Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York, a healthy sprinkle of Californians, and a rare handful of my fellow Midwesterners. In fact, I noticed almost immediately after telling people I lived in the state of Michigan, there was a slight furrow of the brow. An occasional eyebrow (or two) would shoot up, as they mentally ran through their second grade U.S. states song to figure out where exactly it was that I lived.
5. Very, very rare.
Following this initial interaction, it often morphed into some strange form of a game in which we compared the slang, state attractions, and political party alignment of our respective states. From these conversations, I soon came to the general conclusion that the feeling of being a Michigander on East Coast colleges must be similar to that of a rare, tropical bird sitting in a cage full of parakeets (or perhaps a parakeet in a cage full of rare, tropical birds).
6. Interpretations of the weather/temperature can be extremely relative.
What counts as “warm” in Michigan is synonymous with sweater weather for people from sunnier states. I couldn’t decide if I was more amazed or amused to see people busting out their newly purchased winter coats on the pleasant, 50 degree day. Having left the rather untimely Spring snow flurries behind in Michigan, I, on the other hand, had welcomed the glorious sunshine of Philadelphia wholeheartedly.
7. To an unfortunate number of people who grew up on the coasts, the Midwest is often summed up as one giant, monotonous corn field.
I patiently informed many of my new friends that yes, Ohio is very much different from Michigan. And again yes, there is more to Illinois than just Chicago.
8. Stereotypes aren’t always true.
In the same way that the Midwest is often mistakenly stereotyped to be a dull combination of barren land and farm silos, New Yorkers aren’t always rude. The East Coast “superiority complex” I was so warned about before making my trip was quickly replaced with a welcoming and supportive new community of friends. And to my relief, the preppy, uptight attitude I had associated with private school kids after watching too many seasons of Gossip Girl also dissipated, as there was an overwhelmingly large enthusiasm for sweatpants across campus.
9. That “outsider” feeling eventually goes away.
Leaving campus after two short days of manic socialization and exploration made me realize how the “outsiderness” I had first felt upon arriving was already starting to fall away.
10. You find a new appreciation for the Midwest.
I left the city looking forward to calling Philadelphia my home away from home, but also with the new found appreciation for where I had originally come from. The nine hour drive back suddenly seemed a little less painful, and as I pressed my face against the glass window, I welcomed the sight of corn fields coming back into view.