Growing up in a Southern town, I was used to sororities and to seeing Greek letters on every Instagram bio, so I wasn’t concerned about going to a conference filled with Southern girls. What I was nervous about was how my friends would react to my home. I’ve told them stories about my upbringing, but for the first time, they were going to experience it for themselves.
When we walked into the first dinner, the welcome reception, loud music was playing and girls were cheering. It was sensory overload, and I felt at home. It reminded me of the Friday night football games and the pep rallies before we took on our rivals. Flashbacks of cheering fans in the stands and the band playing our school’s fight song while we danced with our pom poms on the sidelines appeared in my mind.
Being in that room with all of the energy and the cheering was like being at home, and I immediately felt so comfortable. But now I was with my new friends, my friends from a totally different world, and I desperately wanted them to like where I was from. I was afraid if they didn’t like where I came from, then their opinions of me would change.
We were with women from the University of Georgia, and they knew some of my friends. Playing Georgia Geography with them felt so exciting and connected me to the place that for a while I had been running from. In that moment, I realized that I had to leave my hometown to truly appreciate it.
I think my friends were shocked by the yelling and by the excessive glitter. The only comment I remember one of them making was, “Wow, they curled their hair and put on their makeup everyday for this.” Our chapter didn’t exactly show up wearing heels and lipstick every day.
They didn’t judge me like I feared they would. I loved talking to the Southern girls. It was like being with my friends. Their accents were oddly comforting, and the more I talked with them the more mine came out of hiding. I believe that was the part that shocked my friends the most. Yes, I have an accent when I go home.
For many of the girls I traveled with, this was their first time in Georgia, and this was the first time any of my college friends had seen me in my natural habitat. On the last night, we had a color war, and some of the other girls went all out with glitter, paint, tutus and elaborate outfits. I yelled and cheered and threw in some smack talk. I was myself, and my friends laughed, shrugged and accepted me with a smile.
Not only was I home, but I had also never felt so at home with my friends. My fears were put to rest. They didn’t care that I was a high ponytail wearing Southern cheerleader from south Georgia. They didn’t care that I had ridden bareback or had driven tractors all my life. They just cared about who I was now and what kind of a friend I would be. They just cared about me.