Arjun Gupta | Carolina in my mind
Frosh Quaker Oats | I knew I’d miss my family and friends, but who knew I’d miss the South, too?
October 15, 2013, 6:58 pm · Updated October 15, 2013, 11:43 pm·
Frosh Quaker Oats
When I left my home near Charlotte for Penn in August, I said good riddance to North Carolina.
I never liked the South. In third grade, I moved to Charlotte, N.C., from West Windsor, N.J., and hated the place. My (now casual) fandom for the New England Patriots began in 2004, specifically because they were in the Super Bowl against the Carolina Panthers.
But when I got to Penn it didn’t feel like home, either. For the first few weeks (and NSO really kicked off the mood) college felt like summer camp — but with classes. My dorm room was simply a roof over my head that was sparsely furnished and had someone else living in it. As I detailed very thoroughly in my first column, so much is thrown at you in such a small time frame that it doesn’t feel 100 percent correct.
Since then though, roles have flipped: Penn’s become my home, and I’ve started to actually miss the South.
What made me realize Penn was now really starting to feel like home was returning to North Carolina for fall break. As I packed up a few things, grabbed a jacket and headed out the door, I felt weirdly disoriented. I certainly wasn’t sad to be going home, but leaving my dorm didn’t feel correct. This didn’t seem odd — college eventually feels like home, right? But I didn’t expect myself to miss Charlotte.
I always told myself that I would at most go to college in North Carolina, but after that, never go back to boring, small-minded Charlotte. Life had bigger, better, more cultural experiences in store than country music, barbecue and drawling accents.
So naturally I never identified myself as a southerner — just someone who lived in the South. But the strange thing is, not only do I now miss my family and friends — I also miss the place itself. It started with the excitement that came from hearing someone with a southern accent, because it meant the speaker was from the South, and that I could say I was from “Charlotte” without the explanatory “North Carolina” on the end.
Recently, I got excited when I met someone from Gastonia, N.C. Gastonia is a small town about 45 minutes away from Charlotte, with almost nothing remarkable about it. Before I came to college, Gastonia was an insignificant pin prick on the map, near one of the drive-in movie theaters that I considered asking a girl to prom at (I didn’t … the Albemarle, N.C. drive-in proved more suitable). Now, though, the fact that he was from Gastonia is to be celebrated.
I also get excited when I see any UNC-Chapel Hill or Duke apparel. I get excited when the person I’m talking to has eaten Bojangles before. I get excited if I hear Darius Rucker. I get excited when I see grits and biscuits at the dining hall. I don’t even like grits and biscuits — they’re basically soup gone wrong and greasy bread. But I get excited when I see them. I get excited when people have shopped at Harris Teeter, have watched a Panthers game or have drunk Cheerwine before. I’ll get excited if you recognize two-thirds of the things I’ve just referenced.
To be sure, there are parts I don’t miss. The humidity, the cultural homogeneity, 95 percent of country music.
There’s a psychological phenomenon called Stockholm Syndrome, where prisoners of war will start bonding with their captors. North Carolina never held me captive, but it turns out that familiarity means more than one would think.
I think this is something we often forget and shun — we’re not supposed to miss home at college. We’re not even supposed to think about it, right? But the lack of familiarity can be more jarring than you’d anticipate — you might not miss the fried chicken and biscuits, strangely enough, but you might miss their presence.
Penn is definitely home now. But there’s also some perspective to be gained from being away from where you’ve grown up for much of your life.
I now embrace being a North Carolinian much more than I previously did. When I hold doors for people, I make sure to tell them it’s because I’m a southern gentleman.
Arjun Gupta is a Wharton freshman from Matthews, N.C. (a Charlotte suburb). Email him at email@example.com. “Frosh Quaker Oats” appears every other Wednesday.