Growing up in Pennsylvania I never thought of the differences between the North and the South. When I chose JMU a few people made comments on how I was going to adjust to Southern living. I wasn’t quite sure what they meant. I thought about a lot of the movies and television shows that I’ve seen and realized how people in the South are often presented. In television shows and movies such as Sweet Home Alabama or Duck Dynasty, people often said y’all, listened to country music, and wore camouflage. As the new school year was approaching I browsed through the JMU Class of 2017 Facebook page and realized that country music was a big part of the lives of many of my future classmates. During Springboard Orientation I found out that of the 18,431 undergraduate students here at JMU only 26.88% are out-of-state while 73.12% are in-state. (“Just the Facts”). I started to wonder how Southern all of these students were in Virginia and questioned whether I would get along with them. Would we have anything in common? Would we be able to relate as friends? Did I make the right choice when I selected JMU? Was I going to be immersed in a new culture?
When I started F.R.O.G. week I was really nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. Fortunately for me, by the end of the first day I felt like I had become a part of the James Madison community. I immediately bonded with the girls on my floor and the variety of activities familiarized me with the campus and my confidence level started to grow. I met lots of new people and quickly learned not to focus on our differences, but to concentrate on all the things we had in common. Over time I realized that there was a place for me here and I have grown to appreciate the differences in our two cultures. For example, one Southern slang term that I’ve heard a lot on campus is the word “y’all.” In the North we say “you guys.” My friend from home named Catherine goes to Virginia Tech and told me that, “My friends make fun of me for not saying ‘y’all’ and think that it is strange that I address a group as ‘you guys'” (Hayes). If I were to ever use the word “y’all” back at home I would get made fun of because it’s not a usual word that people say. Another word that I noticed many people say here is “Nova.” At first I didn’t realize that people were using it to describe the area that they’re from, which is Northern Virginia. Whenever someone said that they were from Nova I thought they meant Villanova, which is a university really close to were I live. Villanova is a pretty well known school up North and we call the school Nova for short. When I would ask someone where he or she was from and that person replied Nova I assumed they were talking about near the university in Pennsylvania. Then they would give me a weird look and say no they’re from Northern Virginia.
While I’ve been here I’ve noticed some interesting and new fashion choices that students wear here. One type of shoe that I see everywhere in Virginia are duck boots. I didn’t even know they were a type of shoe until I came here. Guys and girls wear them around campus mostly when it rains, but they wear them with anything and in any type of weather too. I don’t even think I owned a pair of rain boots at home. Another shoe that many girls in the South wear are cowboy boots. Another friend of mine from home, Laura, who also goes to Virginia Tech commented, “People down here in the South LOVE their cowboy boots. The girls wear them with any outfit from sundresses to jeans” (Hall). I don’t think these pair of boots will ever go out of style in the South, but we only wear them in the North for costume purposes. For example, I would only wear them for a Halloween costume if I decided to dress up as a cowgirl. If I wore cowboy boots with all of my outfits at home people would give me strange looks. Another huge look in the South is wearing camouflage. I’ve seen many people on and off campus wearing this. In the North people wear camouflage, but it’s usually trendy and in style. You might also see a few people in the North wearing camouflage if they like to hunt wild game like deer and turkey. We don’t wear it everyday and we don’t own multiple camouflage articles of clothing.
Before I came to JMU I was really worried that I would hear country music everywhere and I’m not a huge fan. The only “country” person that I’ve listened to is Taylor Swift, but I don’t consider her to be country because her songs have more of a pop essence to them. In fact, I don’t think her last album, Red, is country at all. After being here for about a year I have been introduced to new country songs and now I’m able to recognize some songs that I’ve heard my hallmates listen to in the dorm. Other than hearing my hallmates play country music I haven’t been surrounded by it constantly, but I have noticed when I’m in the car trying to find radio stations to listen to, almost every station is playing country music. Northerners listen to country, but not to the extent that Southerners do. Country music is a big part of the culture down here in the South and it’s just not as big in the North. Catherine revealed to me, “My friends have made fun of me for not knowing certain country and bluegrass bands” (Hayes). I can relate to her because when country songs come on at parties everyone sings along to them and I can’t join in because I don’t know them. My mom always teases me that by the time I graduate from JMU I will be listening to more country music. When she says that I laugh like it’s a joke, but deep down inside I’m worried that she might be right and that some of the radio stations in my car will change. So far it hasn’t rubbed off on me. (Fingers crossed.) I’ve also noticed that many of the radio stations play a collection of Christian music. There are hardly any religious radio stations in the North. Religion down South seems to be a large part of the culture. I’ve observed that Southerners are more public about their religious beliefs and in the North it’s much quieter. For example, some of the religious clubs on campus try really hard to recruit others to join and they encourage you to go to some of their bible passage meetings. They are very open in letting you know that they are proud to be part this religious community. In the North I think people are more conservative in letting you know their religion. One song that many Southerners have shown a particular liking to is “Wagon Wheel” by Darius Rucker. I can’t say that I join them in their love for this song.
One thing that irritates me a little bit is that Southerners are much more relaxed than Northerners. Laura mentioned, “The people down here walk so much slower and don’t see the need to make it to class on time. They would rather walk slow and get to class late instead of walking a little faster and getting to class on time!” (Hall). In the North everyone moves at a much faster pace – time is everything. We get in and out fast and try to move at an efficient rate. It’s annoying when I’m on my way to class and get stuck behind someone who’s walking slowly. Southern people also talk slower. I’ve been told that I talk really fast by a peer in my theatre class. She could tell I was from out of state by the way I talked. Another behavioral difference is that Southerners are much more friendly than Northerners. Laura stated, “People from the south, I have come to notice, are genuinely nicer and more polite. From always holding the door to making the extra room on the bus for one more person to sit. People from Virginia truly have some manners that have been lost back at home” (Hall). I agree with Laura that there really is such a thing called Southern hospitality. People in the South aren’t afraid to say hello to a stranger and strike up a friendly conversation with them. JMU is known as the school where people hold doors for you. Up North people will walk right by you without acknowledging your presence and they won’t take the time to say hello and they will definitely not hold a door for you, but rather let it slam in your face.
I’ve come across many different types of people here at JMU and it’s been really fun getting to know more about them and seeing their point of view on things. It’s great to surround yourself with a diverse group of people because you become more aware of the various lifestyles that there are in the world. Getting to experience the contrasting cultures between the North and the South has given me a stronger connection with the people I come in contact with. By being aware of the different cultures, I am able to appreciate them more. If you are open minded and embrace all choices then you will easily adapt to a new environment.
“Darius Rucker – Wagon Wheel.” YouTube. YouTube, 21 Mar. 2013. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.
“Duck Boots.” Ourearleylife. N.p., 4 Sept. 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.
Hall, Laura. Personal Interview. 8 Apr. 2014.
Hayes, Catherine. Personal Interview. 7 Apr. 2014.
“Just the Facts.” James Madison University. N.p., 2013. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
Kay, Abbey. “Poi: Green & Cream.” Abbey Kay. N.p., 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.