State of Mind

Out-of-state students find themselves relocated geographically, culturally
Teresa Wood, Cavalier Daily Staff Writer

On an average day wandering around Grounds, a student could be overwhelmed trying to count all of the popped collars, pearls and number of times someone says "y’all."

For many out-of-state first years, these common sights and sayings around the University come as an enormous culture shock. Depending on their city of origin, some students feel right at home here in Charlottesville, while others are left wondering if all those guys know their collars are flipped up like that.

"There are many colloquialisms here that I wasn’t familiar with before I arrived," first-year College student and Floridian Kat Trautman said. "I had never heard of ‘popping your collar,’ and pink polo shirts are something of a mystery to me."

Indeed there are things that may take some getting used to, but college is all about new experiences, right? Meeting new people, getting different perspectives, learning about diverse lifestyles — all college students, no matter what part of the country they are from, are subjected to that.

Yet when many out-of-staters arrive on Grounds, they find themselves immersed in a completely foreign atmosphere. Most in-staters can name at least a couple of high school buddies who are also attending the University, not to mention the fact that they are never more than a few hours from home. The non-Virginians, on the other hand, are not only faced with the challenge of adjusting to a collegiate lifestyle, but also that of acclimating themselves to an unfamiliar environment far from their families.

"Every out-of-stater has the ‘It seems like everyone is from Virginia’ problem,’" said second-year College student Dave Hondula, originally from New Jersey.

The difference in numbers of in-state and out-of-state students is quite evident, which can make for an environment in which the non-Virginians feel even more like outsiders.

"It’s a different feeling, knowing that if you leave something at your house it’s not an hour drive to get it, but six or seven," Hondula said. "I think you have a little more of a sense of being on your own, which can be very rewarding."

Not all out-of-state students are faced with the same degree of culture shock. The amount of adjustment needed to feel comfortable in Charlottesville can depend on where in the country the students hail from.

Kristen Peters, a second-year College student from North Carolina, said Charlottesville was similar to her hometown in many ways. Being used to the Southern way of life, Peters didn’t experience many differences culture-wise when she made the move to Virginia.

Kathleen Shannon, a first-year Nursing student from New York, however, arrived at the University aware of, and prepared to encounter, a lifestyle different from the one she was used to.

"Life’s a lot slower and laid-back south of the Mason-Dixon line," she said.

Coming from suburban areas like New York or the District of Columbia where courtesy isn’t exactly a priority, many out-of-staters like Shannon made another surprising discovery: "The guys are so polite! They open the doors for you and let you go in through the doorway first!" she said. "Southern hospitality is great."

Hondula also found that "people are generally a little nicer" here in Charlottesville, and the South in general, compared to other parts of the country. "I get ratted on a lot, being from New Jersey, for New Jersey drivers, which are generally more aggressive — although they are very good drivers," he said.

While Southern courtesy was more of a nice surprise than a shock for the out-of-state students, the differences in dialect remain an issue worthy of discussion.

"I’m amazed by how often

[my friends and I] get into the conversation about saying ‘y’all’ or [how] I say sneakers and everyone [else] says tennis shoes," said Julie Gdula, a second-year College student from New Jersey. "I can’t believe that we still talk about it, but we do. It doesn’t split friends apart or anything, it’s more of just something to talk about."

Gdula said she has yet to become accustomed to saying "y’all," even though she acknowledged its efficiency.

And then there is one of the most noticeable aspects of the University — one which some students have a love-hate relationship with: popped collars and pearls.

While these fashion statements came as quite a shock to some out-of-staters (and even to many in-staters), there were also those who were surprised to discover there was a more diverse University culture to be seen when one looked past the perceived sea of preppiness.

"Although U.Va. is very much a pearls-and-polo kind of school, it also has a lot of really liberal aspects to it," Peters said. "I was kind of shocked by all that."

Some students said they were even surprised to find that the University was not as Southern as they had expected. This is, of course, dependent on one’s idea of the South, or at least the part of the South in which Charlottesville is included.

Many students believe that the University doesn’t feel as Southern as they originally imagined it might because of the large number of students from Northern Virginia, a region more closely related to the D.C. metropolitan area than the South.

"I expected a lot of people to be talking real slowly and the stereotypes of Southern gentlemen and Southern belles," said Gdula. "It [isn’t] really like that, though."

For Gdula, learning about what life is and isn’t like in Charlottesville is one of the allures of going to school in a different environment.

"The culture shock is there," Gdula noted, "but embrace it because it’s good for you."

Copyright 1995-2004 The Cavalier Daily

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