In late May, I headed towards the exit of Orlando International Airport bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and already covered in a thin sheen of sweat. Wheeling two oversized suitcases that were respectively filled to the brim with twenty-two years worth of clothing, shoes, and other essential items, I was already out of breath before the doors swung open. Once they did, I was struck by the hair-curling humidity of Florida in the summertime. Having more luggage than limbs, I painstakingly fumbled all five of my bags across the uneven concrete walkway of the airport’s pick-up area.
Profusely sweating through the ripped patches in my denim jeans (a necessity for the unseasonable cold in Manchester, New Hampshire but definitely not for central Florida), I watched my aunt slowly inch her car up towards the curb. If I have learned one thing during my brief stint in the south, it is that nothing moves fast. Or moves at all. To put this into perspective, Amazon Prime, who normally has your package on your doorstep within two days, takes three days to deliver. Welcome to life below the Mason-Dixie Line y’all.
As a newly minted college graduate, I arrived in Florida with high spirits, even higher hopes, and a thirst for adventure and new beginnings. This fresh start took the form of law school. Before I packed my bags from the comfort of my childhood home in Massachusetts, I enrolled at Barry University School of Law in Orlando, FL as a 1L (first-year law student). Why would any self-respecting born and bred Bostonian under the age of sixty-five choose to relocate to Heaven’s waiting room? Well, the sunshine and year-round warm weather, along with the close proximity to my extended family and my boyfriend, all lured me to the Sunshine State. I enjoyed many pleasant experiences amongst my own millennial generation (yes, younger people do live there) during my countless visits in the years prior and I grew fond of the relaxed atmosphere.
Orlando was not my top choice for residency after post-grad, neither was it my second or third, but since I was broke and a horrible test taker it was one of the few places I gained admission with a decent enough scholarship to put me into debt for the next fifty years instead of the alternative one hundred. So here I am- unemployed and stuck in limbo a little over one thousand miles away from home.
Whether it’s that Yankee pride or northern naivety, I expected the culture in central Florida to be hick bordering on Confederate, and less, well, diverse. Don’t get me wrong, I still do my fair share of rolling my eyes at MAGA baseball hats and reminding my relatives that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was important for a reason, but that occurs in my hometown as well. (My parents do live just south of the border of those “live free or die” New Hampshire folks though.)
As a history major who grew up in the land of the Pilgrims and the tea-partying Patriots, I was surprised to be assaulted by so much culture and history that occurred well before Paul Revere shouted profanities about the British militia to a town full of sleeping colonists. My education about the southern states, particularly Florida, was confined merely to the Civil War and snippets about Ponce de Leon and his Fountain of Youth in the fifth grade. Sorry my fellow Yankees, but after visiting Saint Augustine, a beautiful historic town on Florida’s Atlantic coast, I believe that this is a disservice to young elementary students in the northeast.
In the oldest city in the United States, which beats the Massachusetts Bay Colony by about two hundred years, I was actually schooled by the south. From touring old military forts and haciendas to walking through pirate museums and Spanish-style avenues, I learned more about Florida’s history in the two days I visited than I had in over sixteen years of education in the north.
Although I’m still getting accustomed to homesickness, the southern drawl, and traffic-lined industrial roads in a city that lacks public transportation and decent drivers, I think I can learn to become a Floridian. Many northerners still gape at me like I have three heads and question my sanity when I tell them that I relocated to Florida for higher education but it isn’t as bad as they believe. In short, I’m here to say that the land below the Mason-Dixie Line isn’t just a home for racists and retirees after all.