How about cheese grits for a snack, y’all?After spending three great high school years in the Boston area, I decided I needed a change. I enrolled at Emory University, planning to explore the “Deep South.” I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
On the day I arrived at the airport in Atlanta I was horrified: I couldn’t understand a word of what the bus driver was saying to me! Maybe my head had grown too big, but I’d had no problem communicating or adapting in Massachussets, even when I first came to the United States at the age of 16. I made many American friends and did well enough in school to get into Emory. But on that bus, it seemed like I didn’t understand English.
I’d never met anyone who spoke with a Southern “twang,” and for the next four years, I tried very hard to avoid saying “y’all.” Grits wasn’t exactly my favorite breakfast, nor were fried chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy my favorite dinner. Perhaps I had picked up too much Yankee prejudice in those prep school years, but the South just felt outdated and rustic to me. I missed the crisp, white New England winter mornings. I started to regret my rash decision to come to Emory. Everything was different and tough, and I wanted to go back to Boston, where I felt at home.
Looking back, my aggravation was just growing pains. Those first couple of years in college were tough. Though I had moved away from my parents during high school, college was a different world from the cozy life I had enjoyed at my New England boarding school. I didn’t know how to explain how I was feeling; blaming the South was all I could think of at the time.
The years passed, and I graduated from Emory. And I learned to love living in Georgia. I came to realize how great it was to be young and living in Atlanta’s cosmopolitan atmostphere.
I made a number of great friends and precious memories. And along the way, the Southern way of doing things grew on me. Now I miss driving down Atlanta’s back roads. I miss the smell of cheese grits in the morning at the college cafeteria, and the welcoming smile of the lady who would scoop enough of those grits onto my tray that I could take some with me for a snack later. I miss Peachtree Street, where Margaret Mitchell delineated Scarlet O’Hara’s Tara. And most of all, I miss hearing the nasal drawl of a Southern accent; I must confess that I now love to say, “Hey, y’all.”
by Eugine Oh
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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