Ocean breezes, pork roll and cheese sandwiches, boardwalk fries and shopping malls—the staples of New Jersey living. Growing up, I used to stroll down the shore with a bagel in one hand and a Wawa coffee in the other. This felt normal. This described my life. I loved it, but I felt I needed more.
So I left Jersey to become an out-of-state student in Florida.
I never identified myself as a “Jersey Girl” while living in New Jersey. I had no desire to plaster Jersey stickers on my car or wear a T-Shirt with my exit number on it. Rather, I saw myself as a girl who happened to live in Jersey. “I can live anywhere,” I told myself when applying to schools, and I completely believed that. But once I moved away for college, that belief completely changed. From the outside looking in, Florida doesn’t seem that different. It’s full of beaches, right? Sunshine? They might have a bit more country stations on the radio, but it’s basically the same thing. Right?
After the first month of my freshman year of college, I felt convinced that I had somehow landed on a foreign planet. Known as the Sunshine State, I wanted to call it the Humidity State after arriving. A decent slice of pizza seemed harder to come by than something that wanted to eat me. Even worse, no amount of diversity experience could prepare me for my first political conversation with a Southern man. I felt completely out of my element.
As time went on, I missed Jersey more and more. Every new experience I had come across seemed somehow worse than how it would’ve happened back home. Club meetings at the local coffeehouse never had coffee that tasted right. I regularly had to pump my own gas at midnight while actively avoiding a homeless man. I never thought I would feel this homesick. Additionally, informing someone that I lived in New Jersey turned into a conversational topic upon first meeting. “You made smoothies on a boardwalk? Like one from The Jersey Shore?” “Did you just say ‘wooder’? Don’t you mean ‘water’?”
It didn’t help that going to a state school meant going to school with a lot of people born and raised in the state. They understood each other. They didn’t find it ridiculous that nothing stayed opened past three in the morning. I turned into the odd one out, so I decided to wear my Jersey born title proudly. In doing so, I successfully isolated myself from the Floridian world around me.
Here’s the deal: Jersey is like a cult. We have our own food, our own language and our own attitude. We know “the boss” always refers to Bruce Springsteen, not any working citizen’s actual boss. We make three rights to make a left, and we curse off every out-of-state driver who slows us down on the parkway. We think we all have different music tastes—until someone puts Bon Jovi on. We claim we don’t care how we look, but we have a hair or nail salon on every corner.
We’re a culture of our own. And like every cult, our culture makes perfect sense to us until we get out. We flourish in our own environment, but when we leave we don’t know how to adapt. So we survive by telling everyone around us why they have a home worse than ours and we use our loudness to voice our negative opinions. We do it because that’s how we grew up, but we don’t have to continue acting that way.
It took me until the end of my sophomore year to realize this. With less than a handful of friends, many of which also fell under the out-of-state student category, I couldn’t understand why I didn’t really enjoy college. High school friends posted sorority and club pictures to Facebook. The people on my campus appeared to have the time of their lives in their friend groups. What was I doing wrong? I figured that if everyone else could fall in love with college then I should, too.
So I made a change. I applied for a summer job at a water park, and I decided to keep my state of origin a secret for as long as possible. I made a Floridian friend, and I actually said yes when she invited me out to dinner. I kept my negative, state-related opinions to myself. As a result, my social circle grew. It turns out that political sparring with Southerners doubles as both educational and kind of fun. While I can’t enjoy boardwalk attractions, I haven’t found a shortage of theme parks. My “Florida resident” passes to Disney World and Universal Studios have become my best friends.
I won’t lie to you, accepting my new state is still a learning process. Some days, I think I could drop out of school if it meant I could have a pork roll and cheese on a hard roll again. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the drivers, the humidity or the camo fashion. But powering through the hard times doesn’t feel so impossible when I can take a beach trip in February. If you keep putting yourself out there, you may surprise yourself by how much you come to appreciate your new state.