During the spring of freshman year, I felt the atmosphere rise in pressure. Left and right, I was peppered with questions: What are your plans for the summer? Have you given any thought to an internship? Big travel destinations in the cards? Where are you working?
Soon enough, I was feeling overwhelmed.
So I went home, and I became a nanny.
Dallas, Texas — home to the Dallas Cowboys, sweet tea, glorious Mexican food and George W. Bush. Our skyline sparkles with that golf ball-shaped building that we know as Reunion Tower, and we have a 7-foot tall German who is excellent at NBA basketball, just to name a few accolades.
Dallas is no New York City, nor Los Angeles, but Dallas is home. Here, I learned how to ride a bike, experienced my awkward stage, went to high school and then I left. After a year in Washington, D.C., where I listened to Christine Lagarde speak about global economics, rallied against the Westboro Baptist Church and refuted every inquiry regarding “if I rode a horse to school,” I came back home to experience an interesting transition.
My perception of home feels different. Normal interactions with people that never made me think twice a year ago all of a sudden don’t feel so normal anymore. I’ve become hypersensitive and exceedingly more conscious of every difference between the Big D and the District, and it has proven to be very intriguing.
During my first day on the job, I was instructed to pick up the youngest girl (we’ll call her Susie Q) from her gymnastics class. As I walked in, skeptical to how I’d be perceived (older sister? teen mom? babysitter?), a mom walked my way.
“Are you Caitlin? Mrs. Q told me you were picking up Susie today and helping them out this summer.”
I smiled and continued with the formalities and small talk. Another mom joined the conversation, and we discussed her recently bought car . They asked me where I go to college and what I’m studying, and I politely replied with my generic and vague answer.
“Oh I’m not sure yet, an International Affairs sort of thing — I’m still working it out.” (aka undeclared in the SFS.)
Needless to say, the whole encounter was slightly awkward. I noticed how put together these women looked: white jeans, designer shoes, a full face of makeup. I had felt out of place in my T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. Were they judging me? Did I need a monogrammed tote bag to fit in as a “cool mom”? Is this what my whole summer will be like?
All of these questions were racing through my head as I saw the absurdity of the situation. I did not want to become a Dallas-type mom that dressed the part and drove an expensive minivan through the carpool line. But then I wondered, is this any different than the East Coast prep standard? I dress nicely for class every day. I participate in small talk with acquaintances and formalities with strangers. Am I being hypocritical?
I started to think about those dissimilarities again and reanalyze them. Perhaps it wasn’t so much the places that were vastly different, but myself. College has instilled in me a new curiosity that has changed what used to feel normal. And I’m determined to explore and develop the combining aspects of my two worlds in Dallas and in D.C. throughout my summer.
Caitlin Karna is a rising sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. The Southern Drawl appears on every other Sunday.
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