Know Your World

This post is in response to today’s Daily Prompt!

I grew up in a small mill town surrounded by second cousins and my dad’s high school girlfriends. I never brought a friend home whose parents didn’t somehow know my dad. I can proudly say that we have raised goats, peacocks, cows, and the occasional pet squirrel during my years. I graduated from a high school that had a 4 way tie for Valedictorian, and a Senior class of 280 max.

Until I came to college, I assumed that these factors were expected of a Georgia peach such as myself. While I lived only 45 minutes away from downtown Atlanta, it never occurred to me that people north of “the big city” (I live south of it) didn’t live just as I did. I wasn’t naive or sheltered. In fact, I’m was very well traveled, and considered myself well versed in the cultures of other states because of my dad’s job; ironically though, it seemed that I knew nothing about my own state.

I chose to go to college in downtown Atlanta because, as an 18 year old with what I considered eclectic interest, my small town had nothing to offer me. My father embraced this, but my other family members scoffed and claimed that I was “throwing myself to the wolves.” (I received about 5 bottles of pepper spray for graduation). Once I got here, I realized that my unique interests were now being catered at every block, but with that came the overwhelming number of people more hip than me who now considered me “the girl who didn’t understand” (How the tables have turned!). I also realized that everyone here was from north of Atlanta (Gwinnett County usually), graduated with about 500-700 people (whom they didn’t know), and had parents that were NEVER from the town they were from. Most of the students went to competing schools, or lived in the same suburbs. Meanwhile, I knew one person from my high school who went to the same college. It’s also important to note that the majority of my classmates moved on to the towns local community college.

*Side Note: people north of Atlanta refer to counties when talking of where they are from; people south of Atlanta refer to a specific city or town when talking of where they are from. What do you think of this?*

Now, I want to talk about the more dramatic differences between my two homes. Where I’m originally from, I drive. Here, we all walk. I would never walk a mile at home, but here, I do it often without realizing. I constantly meet people that are more interesting and intriguing than those I met the day before. There are bars and clubs here, or at the very least the occasional house (apartment actually) party. At home, we congregated around a bon fire after someone chopped down a few trees.

The most noticeable difference for me is that back home, I am in my small town USA, void of obvious economic differences. In Atlanta, I am often solicited for money or food or even just conversation from the homeless. This is something that I have been thinking hard about lately. I knew these things existed, but it wasn’t until I lived here that I realized the vast differences in areas that are just 30-40 miles from each other. That’s crazy!

I have had friends or family visit or try to discuss school, and the first thing they always ask is, “do you get harassed by the homeless?” Personally, I don’t like using the word harassed (though I have been guilty of using it). I have been asked for money. I have been asked for food. But I have also been asked for casual conversation. People tend to look away or ignore homeless people when they attempt to speak to them (I’ve done it, sadly). Can you imagine how this makes them feel? They are treated as if they are the plague of humanity. THEY ARE PEOPLE. Today, for example, my boyfriend sat with a homeless man who talked about school, politics, and the recent snow. By the end of it, he said that he originally had the intentions of asking for money, but while talking he lost interest in that, and wanted to make the most of the conversational opportunity. Just think about that.

I still act cautious around the homeless because I have had friends who have been threatened or assaulted, but I also act cautious around well dressed men that stand too close at the cross walk. Being homeless shouldn’t make you scarier or any less deserving of “southern hospitality.”

All of this is to say, that even within my own state, I have experienced three different communities, each with their different standards and expectations; each with their different culture. Every now and again I will pick up my deep southern accent, and get picked on, but sometimes I go home and say “turn up” only to be glared at by my confused family. Is their any set standard of communication? The south is clumped together as a unit; Georgians are clumped together as a unit; But do we even know each other on that basic level? How deep does the divide go?

I wish that my skeptical family could understand these differences, and learn to embrace them as I have. I consider both my home town and Atlanta to be my homes. We often run in fear of what we find different, but the differences themselves are what represent our culture. How can you know yourself if you don’t know all of the facets of where you came from? My advice for the week is to try and embrace the differences around you. Know your world!