A Cracker Barrel Frame of Mind

Something I have to say about being here at Ross is that I have never been in a more diverse place in my entire life. And I’m not even talking about the locals and being in a foreign country – I just mean the campus community itself.

In college, I thought being around a handful of “Yankees” and the occasional foreign exchange student made my life a culturally diverse atmosphere. Boy was I wrong. Yeah we were from different areas of the south, but we were (mostly) all still southern kids. We were all raised in the Bible belt, all taught to be polite to our elders, all grew up on a variety of deep-fried foods, and pretty much everyone at least knew who George Strait is (even if you didn’t actually listen to country music).

I don’t think I’ve ever lived in a place (inside the U.S.) where there wasn’t a church (of some type) on every other street, country music on restaurant radios, a Cracker Barrel at every interstate exit and a cashier calling you “Sugar” in every grocery store. We often call America a “melting pot,” and here I can finally see why.

Just in mine and the Mister’s usual group of friends there are people from North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, California, Oregon, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Arizona and even Canada. A couple of weeks ago, a small group came up to us and said they were “collecting southern phrases” to use to annoy a friend from New Jersey. They wanted us – the token Southerners – to pitch in ideas. Disturbingly, all their suggestions were phrases that, in their words, “Southerners use to make insults sound nice.” Wow. . .  what a good way to characterize the south.

Another friend and I were talking about restaurants we want to visit as soon as we get home, and this girl had NO IDEA what a Cracker Barrel is!!!! Mind. Blown.

We’ve met people with Northern accents the likes of which I’ve never heard – even from “Yankee” students in college. Is New York an entire city of people who talk through their noses?? Although I’m sure others have had comments to make about our “adorable” southern accents as well. One friend did teach us that when someone in New Jersey wants to say, “Hey friend! I haven’t seen you in ages. I didn’t know you were working this job. How’ve you been?” they simply raise their hands and shout, “OY!”

In Arizona, apparently it gets above 110 degrees regularly, but you can hardly tell because there’s no humidity at all. No water in the air! Who knew weather like that even existed? Tennessee is nothing without its humidity.

It’s like the Brad Paisley song says, “Not everybody drives a truck, not everybody drinks sweet tea. Not everybody owns a gun, wears a ball cap, boots and jeans. Not everybody goes to church, or watches every NASCAR race. Not everybody knows the words to ‘Ring of Fire’ or ‘Amazing Grace.’” True, a lot of these things I don’t do either. For example, I don’t like sweet tea (or unsweet tea, for that matter) and I’ve never watched a NASCAR race in my life. I don’t own a gun, but my husband does, and he never goes anywhere without his baseball cap. He has two pairs of cowboy boots in our apartment right now, and if his feet wouldn’t melt off in the heat he’d be wearing them everywhere.

But to have never driven a pickup truck? Or eaten a funnel cake? Or to not know the words to “Amazing Grace?” And I can’t tell you who sings most of the songs that I know, but to hear “Ring of Fire” and NOT know that’s Johnny Cash. . .  it’s beyond me how anyone can even get through life without those things. That’s just basic information that everyone should know!

We have learned a lot of things from people here about different parts of our great country and the ways the different people have grown up, and I feel like I can see a broader picture of the world now. Not everyone is like us, and we are like few other people. I can now name the five boroughs of New York and I understand that the New England students are not being rude all the time; it’s just how they talk. (No offense, but it’s true. Many of you probably hear a southern drawl and associate it with stupidity. It’s a common first impression.)

But the best thing about it is that this experience has solidified in my mind that I don’t want to live anywhere that’s farther than four to five hours from Nashville, Tennessee. Outside that circle and things just get crazy. (I mean, no Cracker Barrels? Seriously? How do you not starve to death?)

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What is something distinctive about your part of the country (or the world) that others may not know about? Or may have the wrong impression about? What’s something surprising you learned about somewhere you’ve never been?

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Top Ten Thursday – 10 Things to Know Before Going Grocery Shopping in St. Kitts

1. Be prepared for the sticker shock. A package of Charmin toilet paper can be $32EC.

2. Check all expiration dates and examine food through plastic windows whenever possible. If you buy cereal, ask at the register if you can open the box and inspect the bag.

3. Be familiar with the three major grocery stores and their standard prices so you know what items are cheapest where. Rams sells many items in Bulk; Best Buy carries more name-brand things; IGA has weekly sales and is sometimes cheaper.

4. Know that the stores generally restock on Wednesdays. This means go on Thursday mornings whenever you can.

5. Get produce at the markets first, then at the grocery stores. The campus market is small and on Wednesdays; the city market is much larger and on Saturdays.

6. Do not trust the shelf stickers. Compare the sticker item numbers to the bar code numbers on the box/can before trusting that it’s the right sticker. Also, when things don’t have stickers, it’s a gamble. You can’t just estimate based on the prices of similar items on the same shelf.

7. Try not to buy things out of the freezer section if you can help it. First of all, the freezers are never cold enough to actually keep things frozen, which brings the safety of the food into question. And secondly, if it has to be frozen there’s a reason for it, and it will be thawed by the time you get home anyway so there isn’t much point.

8. Sign up for all the shoppers’ numbers and cards, since they do sometimes get you discounts. However, they only process the applications once they have a full “batch” (however many that may be), so you might go shopping for the next three weeks and not be able to benefit from the number. Also, you collect “points” when you shop with your card or use your shoppers’ number, but it’s not like at home where you can redeem them for things. Here, at certain times of the year (I’m told in December), the points will suddenly become redeemable and you can use them on certain products.

9. Put your groceries on the belt in the order you want them bagged, because the cashiers and baggers don’t care how they are sorted. A package of frozen bagels will go right into the bag with bathroom cleaner and hamburger helper if you’re not careful.

10. Call your taxi when you get into the checkout line. It will take the taxi 10 minutes to get back to the store (at least) and you’ll be in line at least that long anyway while the cashier ignores you and talks to her friends at the other register.

(10b. If you’re riding in a taxi, don’t buy more than 3-4 bags of groceries and make sure the tops can be tied. You’ll want to tie them closed and tie them together before putting them in the taxi so you know they are yours and so they won’t roll everywhere. If you’re riding in a bus – good luck with that.)

Top Ten Thursday – 10 Basic Things to Know Before Moving to Ross

*My Top 10 lists are not necessarily in order of importance.
**Some of these things are for couples in particular, since that has been our experience, but single students can learn from them as well.

1. When applying for housing, it’s easy to look at the housing rates and decide “We’re married. We can live in the same room together for four months to save the extra money on a bigger dorm apartment.” I strongly caution you about this. Yes, it’s cheaper, but there is literally nowhere to move around. Everywhere you go you’re in the same place and there is no room to get away from each other when you are both home. Living on campus is not such a bad idea the first semester, since you won’t have a car for a while and it helps you meet people, but don’t go with an efficiency (studio) apartment. Splurge for a two-bedroom or opt to go off-campus right away. (Efficiencies are fine for single students.)

2. Make finding a car your first big financial priority. Yes, there’s a public transportation system that can take you virtually anywhere you want to go, but trust me, it gets old fast. Cars down here are not like cars in the states; they all have weird problems and would never be given a second glance off the island. But here, it’s all you’ve got, so bring your standards down and get used to it. The average vehicle around here in between 5-7,000 US dollars, when you wouldn’t pay 2,000 back home. But take heart, you can probably sell it to an incoming student when you leave and make most of your money back. (Single students will want to keep this in mind as well, although it’s much easier for a single student to use the public transportation or bum rides off other students for the first semester and buy a car once you move off-campus.)

3. Bring plenty of cash with you in your luggage. The Mister and I only brought enough cash to pay our Visa fees, which we thought they would take at the airport, and brought the rest in traveler’s checks. You don’t pay your Visa fees at the airport, and you don’t deposit traveler’s checks until 5-6 days after you arrive, so thankfully we were able to use that cash for spending money or we would have been in a lot of trouble. You’ll eat out A LOT during orientation week, so be sure you have enough cash with you for a week of expenses. And remember, it’s a tourist economy so things are expensive here.

4. Wean yourself (or your husband, in my case) off milk and soda. Ram’s is the only grocery store that sells large packs of soda bottles (or cans, for that matter), and a 24-pack pallet is around $60EC ($1US = $2.7EC. You do the math. Still not good.). Milk is about $11EC a quart, so we only use it for cooking now and the Mister has just had to learn to live without his three gallons a week. Milk is also very unpredictable, since it’s not processed in all the same ways as in the states. Regardless of the printed expiration date, it’s a toss-up. I’ve bought milk and had it last in our fridge beyond the printed date, and then I’ve bought the same brand from the same store and had it be semi-solid in 3 days (long before the printed date). So you never really know.

5. Also wean yourself off chicken, if that’s a personal favorite, and prepare to eat a lot of fish. Ground beef isn’t such a problem to find and usually turns out well, but chicken is another story. You can find it, but I wouldn’t always eat it; let’s put it that way.

6. The VIP (very important partner – aka, the non-student) needs some sort of creative/productive hobby. Lots of VIPs have online jobs from the States, which is awesome if you can find one, but otherwise, you need a hobby. Whether you paint, sew, crochet (like me), read, write, do complex mathematical formulas, it doesn’t matter. You just need something to occupy your free time, because trust me, you’ll have a lot of it.

7. Be comfortable being apart. Clingy couples will not make it here. Neither will over-protective/jealous couples. You won’t spend a ton of time together during the week because the student will be in the lab or studying with other students, so the VIP has to be comfortable on his/her own. If you’re not good at making friends without your significant other around, practice before you come. If you don’t like your significant other having a lot of friends of the opposite sex, get over it. Most students are female and most VIPs are male, so if you’re a male student and a female VIP, that’s going to happen a lot.

8. iPads are something I think all students should consider here. It’s an investment that will really be beneficial in the long run. The Mister has apps to track his constantly-changing class schedule, to organize and search through his notes, to view class powerpoint presentations and to create flashcards with images of the various bones, muscles, etc. iPads are also much easier to carry around campus and to use at other places on the island (beaches, pools, restaurants, etc.) if you want to study on the go. You can also hide them down in your bag easier than a large laptop, which is important to not getting it stolen.

9. Don’t order your textbooks from the campus website. Just don’t. Find them on amazon.com or through another online retailer, or see if upperclassmen are selling them on the various Ross students facebook pages (that’s probably where you’ll get the best deal). If you HAVE TO order them from the school page for whatever reason, only do it if you have several months in advance of when classes start, and don’t bother paying for more than standard shipping. They won’t get here when they are supposed to. Period. It never happens, so just don’t even waste the money or the brain cells worrying about it.

10. Bring a camera, one for each person if you can afford it. It doesn’t need to be a big fancy camera, just something to keep in your pocket for those off-guard moments when you glance across the sea on the way to class or the market and see Nevis haloed in mist and rainbows. Trust me; you’ll want to snap that. Also, if it takes underwater pictures, be prepared to share because everyone will want to borrow it. It is gorgeous here, despite the discomforts, and you’ll definitely want to have those pictures to look back on and remind yourself that the experience wasn’t a loss after all. (And to post on Facebook and make your friends and family jealous. :-))

The Nut House Goes House Hunting

All first semester students here at Ross are given the option of living in the on-campus housing (dorms). And I’m not saying that’s a bad option – it puts you in easy walking distance of the main campus, with its ATM, fitness center and eating options, and you meet a lot more people in your class that way – but for us being a married couple, it has definitely had its challenges. We live in an efficiency room, which means we have about 20 square feet of space that serves as bedroom, living room, study area, kitchen and dining room all at once.

Yes, we’re married, and we’re close, but there comes a point where you get TOO close. . .

There are other types of dorm rooms – two bedrooms, and even split-level townhouse-type apartments – but everything is first-come, first-serve. So we have an efficiency. It is what it is.

But everyone has to move off campus for second semester, so we’re house hunting! I think it’s a lot of fun to go around and look at all these places with the realtors, although it would be more fun if we had our own car and didn’t have to call a taxi every time. (Cross your fingers and toes – we should have possession of our car within the next two weeks!)

Our future roommates (M and B) and the Mister and I have looked at a few options with a lot of potential and have our eyes on one in particular, if we can work out some kinks in the rental agreement. I won’t post any pictures or give any real details until we settle on something, since there may be other Rossies reading this trying to hijack our house, but let’s just say the one I like best is a real catch. (I know you’ve already got your fingers and toes crossed, so go ahead and cross those arms and legs too while you’re at it.)

We’ve looked at three so far: two in quiet neighborhood-type areas and one up on the tippy-tip top of a mountain overlooking basically the entire island. The view is breath-taking! But the drive up is pretty frightening, so we’ll have to see how that one goes.

Ross is really good about helping students find housing, and they have an entire website dedicated to listing the available units and showing extensive pictures and details about each one. The school is really good about understanding exactly how much students can be expected to tackle alone in this brand new area and new culture. They conduct security checks on all the properties and list the approved units on the student housing site; they include all student housing in the safety rounds and help write the lease agreements on whatever units we choose. However we are still responsible for setting up our own appointments with the realtors, finding our own roommates and making our own final decisions. You can choose to live somewhere that’s not Ross-approved, but it’s a decision you make at your own risk. And even then, if you ask, they will still send out a security team to conduct the check on your unit and give their professional opinions.

So we’re on another leg of this continuing adventure. But at least we are making friends, learning our way around, testing our wings and trying to make the best of it. So wish us luck in the house hunt. I will soon have an oven again, hallelujah!

 

 

**NOTE: I am trying to start a weekly blog theme called “Top Ten Thursday,” and I am open to any and all topic suggestions you may have. The Top Ten lists can be cultural, like local customs we’ve seen; they can be photographic, like local flowers, birds, colorful headdresses, etc.; they can be personal, like marriage lessons; or they can be how-to tips we’ve used, like about flying internationally or driving on the left side of the road. Anything really. realLeave your suggestions in comments and I’d appreciate it. 🙂