A Northern Girl in a Southern World

This semester, I’m taking a class that explores the development of our identity and the different factors that shape our sense of self throughout our lifetime. Today, I wrote a journal entry for class and thought it might be interesting enough to share with you guys here. I hope you get some value from it. I know I did.

It’s interesting to consider the role of my past relationships in the development of my identity because my move from Pittsburgh, PA to Blythewood, SC has divided my relationships into two sets with only a few relationships spanning this interruption. I lived in Pittsburgh for about 10 years and then moved to SC right after I finished elementary school. The timing of the move worked out well because the transition from elementary school to middle school would have been pretty disruptive anyway, so the added layer of being in a new state was less jarring.

Still, I pretty much severed the few close friendships I had in Pittsburgh. I am an only child, had three grandparents at the time, and was only really close to two friends. I kept my network small. Looking back, I feel like it was a good thing I moved when I did. My elementary school was really small, so everyone had classes with the same people from kindergarten to 5th grade. People didn’t really change because the environment and the people around us never really changed.

I didn’t realize that I felt limited in my old school until I moved and had the chance to start fresh. I could make new friends, talk to a lot of different people, be involved in different activities, and explore areas of my personality that I knew were there, but that just didn’t quite fit with the “old me” that the people back home would have expected. I had the chance to just be me without having to worry about whether I was fitting into the identity that others already had of me. I didn’t have to be the quiet girl who didn’t speak up in class. I could explore new areas of my personality.

What stayed consistent through the whole process, though, were my parents. Both journalism majors from Point Park University, they always taught me the value of a clearly communicated idea. Find out what you want to say and say it as clearly as possible. They always encouraged me to learn and to be independent. It’s interesting because being independent is an attribute that is incredibly valued in Pittsburgh, almost to the point of fault. Pittsburghers get stuff done and often have the mindset that if they want something done right, they have to do it themselves. I had this attitude as a child, but I feel like I really grew into it after moving to South Carolina which is interesting because the southern mindset, especially for only children, is much different.

In my experience, teens in the south are much more reliant on their parents than teens in the north. Parents fight their children’s battles at school, don’t expect them to get a job, and just generally don’t encourage their children to choose their own path. I’m not sure if this is the case everywhere, but I certainly experienced it. It was interesting to me that even though I moved away from Pittsburgh so early in life, I still managed to hold onto the values of my old community: hard work, independence, and living your life your way.

It caused some cognitive dissonance at times, but I took pride in my interesting mix. I had the independence to go my own may from my northern roots, but I had the opportunities to explore in my new southern environment. It’s a unique experience, and I am grateful for my parents being the living examples of making your home-grown values thrive in a new setting. They showed me how to be steady yet adaptable and they’ve truly helped me become the person I am today.