Before becoming a student at the University three years ago, I had lived in Cincinnati for my entire life. Even more than that, my parents had grown up in “The Queen City,” and their parents were also raised there. Needless to say, I had been deeply enmeshed in “Cincinnatian” culture for 18 years — the bloody battle between chili-serving fast food chains Goldstar and Skyline, the family of bovines that chilled on my “suburban” neighborhood’s farm and the glorious heaven-on-earth deliciousness that is Graeter’s ice cream. I had lived and breathed Cincinnati and, though I loved my hometown, I was ready for a change after high school. So I was surprised when I decided to attend the University; after all, it was located only one midwestern state north from Ohio. How different could Michigan really be?
As it turns out, Michigan was quite different. I remember sitting up late with my new hallmates during Welcome Week and being utterly perplexed at the Michigan hand locater everyone used to demonstrate where they were from. When people asked where my hometown was, I would have to explain that Cincinnati is not Columbus nor Cleveland, and is located at the south end of Ohio, which I would sadly try to demonstrate by making a modified “Hang 10” hand symbol to mimic Ohio’s shape.
But the hand locater wasn’t the only difference. For weeks, I had no idea what the “UP” was, and mistakenly assumed it as a cool hangout location on campus. I couldn’t list the five Great Lakes in the rapid-fire manner that Michiganders could. I didn’t understand the phenomenon of going up north for the summer, or what it meant to be from the Metro Detroit area. And I had never seen so many Blackberries or leggings or North Face coats in my life. I’m sure many out-of-staters had the same minor culture shock and, like me, adapted quickly to the new environment. I came to love Ann Arbor and consider it my home away from home.
Fast forward to this past summer. After spending a wonderful five weeks in Florence, Italy, I spent my first summer in Ann Arbor. I was here to experience the infamous summer Art Fair and the unpredictable weather. I went “up north” twice with friends — once to Glen Lake on the pinky (where I went to my first Cherry Republic) and once to Pointe aux Barques on the thumb (where I tried Mackinac Island Fudge ice cream for the first time) — and interned at the Detroit Institute of Arts. These experiences, especially being involved at the DIA, made me feel, finally, like a true Michigander.
Ohio will always be where I’m from, but I can now appreciate and feel part of Michigan culture. The Great Lakes State has some beautiful natural landscapes and impressive cultural institutions. I couldn’t explain the gorgeousness of northern Michigan to my sister or express how sublime it was to wander from gallery to gallery in the DIA, pausing to appreciate its world-class collection. These Michigan gems were no longer just vague conceptions I associated with the state — they were real, tangible places that I had been to, connected with and became a part of.
This summer made me think about what — or where — exactly, is “home.” During this period of transition in my life, is home Cincinnati, where my family and childhood memories are based? Is it in Michigan, where I came into my own and currently spend most of my time? Or have I yet to find the place that I will ultimately call home? While each individual will have a different answer to this question, I like to think (along the lines of the adage) that home is where the heart is. Right now, my heart is split between Ohio and Michigan, and those are the places I consider as my home. I don’t think of “home” as a finite concept; people can have many homes, geographical and otherwise.
And, while I can’t technically consider myself a Detroit native, like indie musician Sufjan Stevens, I can now understand what the hell he’s talking about on his album Michigan when he sings about Detroit, Romulus and running up to the top of the Sleeping Bear Dunes and being in awe of the breathtaking view.