I’m beginning to feel homesick already. Not homesick for Ann Arbor, where I spent the past year making some of the best friends I’ve ever made, but homesick for New Jersey, my home state and current place of residence. Even though summer has only just begun, I’m already dreading going back to school in September. Sure, it’ll be nice to see my friends again and be a pro-life scourge to the masses. But, for now, I’m really enjoying blending into the crowd of my small suburb, spending lazy hours writing my novel and hanging out with my family, who are an excellent example of how people can love each other even when they have wildly divergent viewpoints. (Imagine living in “Family Ties.”)
My homesickness has contributed more than once to the thought of transferring. You can imagine the “Catholic indecision” that contributes to such important undertakings. First, you have to do the regular, secular thing: make your list of pros and cons, ponder it and talk to people. Then you have to do the Catholic thing: pray about it and bring it to Jesus. Then you think about it some more. The next day, you say, “Jesus, I really don’t want to rush you, but realistically these schools have transfer deadlines.” Finally, you pretend that you’ve already made your decision and see if that helps you envision what the right choice is. Then, if you make the wrong choice, you say, “God wanted me to make this mistake so I would have a life experience.”
I’m not even being that sarcastic. This is pretty much the thought process driving my recent decision to switch from a Biblical Studies concentration to a double major in English and Screen Arts and Cultures and stay at the University, at least for now.
The recent influx of New Jersey-themed television shows and seeing my Garden State friends have made me think about my home state in a new way. If you saw my last column, you know that I’m too busy obsessing over “24” to find time to watch “Jersey Shore” or any of its silly-looking relatives. But a gap-year trip to Belgium and my subsequent life in Ann Arbor have given me a new appreciation for my own inner New Jerseyan. After all, stereotypically speaking, the New York metropolitan area is the center of the world, especially in the eyes of its denizens.
But at the same time, to those of us who grew up in this area, it can also just be home, and the only reason it’s more enjoyable than Ann Arbor or even Michigan in general is because our pizza is infinitely more delicious. I’ve learned not to fall into the same stereotyping that says the Midwest is one endless prairie of uncultured towns — and, in a much more important way, I’ve learned so much about other ways of thinking and modes of life, Protestantism in particular. Coming from a solidly secular Catholic and Jewish area, it’s both enlightening and necessary to meet people who worship in a similar vein but with a different doctrine than my recently Catholic self.
For a long time, I was dogged by the specter of not having a culture or background. Of course, my discovery of religion helped a lot with that, but going to school out-of-state has made me realize, as folk singer Dar Williams put it, “I finally think I come from someplace.” As a not-very-Italian, Italian-American who never had a sense of her heritage, I’m finding myself by both living in a place much different from Jersey (to the tune of $40,000 a year) and learning about people in a way that will come in handy when I write novels or make philosophical arguments. And when I come home to the Northeast and re-assimilate in all ways but my politics, I remember my friends — Catholic, pro-life, and those who are neither — in Ann Arbor and I carry them like a talisman on my New “Yawk” heart.
As for transferring, that’s looking out of the question for next year. But we’ll see where God wants me. For now, I think He likes Ann Arbor.
Anna Paone can be reached at email@example.com.