Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Perspective: When North meets South, cultures collide at GW

Coming to GW as a third-year transfer student has been a whirlwind of experiences that I never anticipated, but I did not expect to be one of the few Southerners at this University.

Growing up in Tennessee, it was difficult to find people with similar interests and ambitious mindsets. The student body at the small state school I transferred from was made up almost entirely of people from Tennessee. It was comfortable — but not challenging. I had always felt like a big fish in a little pond. From the moment my first year began, I knew I needed more diversity, intensity and motivation from the university I attended.

By the end of syllabus week at GW, I knew that I was no longer a big fish. While I had come to the right place, Southern culture is a foreign concept to most GW students. My peers are always surprised when I tell them I’m from Nashville, Tennessee, and they always ask me the same questions: Is everyone there racist? Is everyone white? Have you ever had good pizza? Although I am fond of the South, I can understand where the stereotypes come from.

I’ve always been used to being the odd one out, but it usually comes in the form of being the only person of color in the room. In 2023, most of GW’s students came from Northeastern states or Virginia and Maryland. The 207 students from Tennessee that year made up just 0.95 percent of the student body. When my peers from New Jersey talk about not knowing how to pump gas or my friends from New York talk about the importance of a perfect bagel order, I realize how prominent major cultural and regional differences are within the U.S.

For the first time in my life, I have caught myself constantly defending the South. There is a common assumption that Southerners are simpleminded and uncultured, and it never feels good when your home gets whittled down to harmful stereotypes.

Northerners are quick to judge, especially if they have never experienced true Southern culture, which is slow-paced, kind and welcoming to all. When I think of home, my mind goes to neighbors waving to each other on the street, people holding doors open for each other and the overuse of “please” and “thank you.”

Of course, racism and ignorance are prominent in the South. But even as a woman of color, I could never condemn my home. Yet I was taken aback by the negative responses and attitudes about the South when I arrived at GW.

When I returned home for fall break, I faced inverse attitudes from my friends in Tennessee. They asked me if I was a Yankee now and got annoyed when I used Northern slang. I’ve spent my whole life in Tennessee, so I never knew how deep the regional rivalry was for both parties.

I adore the cultures of both the North and the South and understand what they each lack. Historically, Southern states are a bit deserving of their negative reputation, but the beautiful aspects are often overlooked. When the question of racism is brought up regarding the South, I cannot deny its prominence — but racism is prominent everywhere in America. I’ve been called a terrorist in Tennessee and in D.C.

Learning about Northern culture has been exciting and humorous at times, especially with the petty, lighthearted comments I get from friends both here and in Tennessee. Now that I am no longer in Tennessee, I can recognize what it truly has to offer and appreciate where I come from. I look forward to long drives down plush, green backroads in the rural areas close to my homes. I miss a classic Southern-style breakfast, especially biscuits and gravy.

Transferring to GW opened my mind to the cultural differences in the country. The diversity here is everything I wanted — I just didn’t take into account how diverse the United States is.

Zay Naeem, a junior majoring in international affairs, is an opinions writer.

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