Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 22, 2021
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COURTESY OF MOLLY GAHAGEN

Gahagen reflects on the pleasant surprises Baltimore has provided her.

I walked along N. Charles Street this morning, Taylor Swift’s album Red playing in my ears and the crisp, 63-degree air necessitating a cardigan to keep me from shivering. The feeling of the cool air, complemented by the warmth of the sun’s rays, made me feel excited to see the turning of the seasons, the likes of which I had never seen.

I couldn’t help but think how ridiculous that may sound to others, but to me this is nearly the equivalent of what I am used to calling winter, or at the very least a chilly autumn. I feel as if I am continuously immersed in various unknown experiences, letting the realization of the seismic shift of moving from Key Largo, Fla. to Baltimore sink in. 

I spent the last year learning remotely in my hometown, over 1,000 miles from campus. In between my Zoom lectures and time spent reading and writing for classes, I worked full time as a waitress in a restaurant and bar, where I was consumed by the gossip of the happy-hour crowd and the throngs of sunburned, bug-bitten tourists and self-proclaimed pirates. 

I felt as if I was living two lives, spending my days contemplating the theories of Arendt and prose of Dante and my nights slinging drinks and memorizing the usual suspects’ orders. Although the two occupations were vastly different and a rather unorthodox combination, I found them both stimulating. I learned to be book smart and street smart simultaneously, receiving dual sets of world-class instruction.

Despite my contempt for the year-long heat and humidity as well as the limited amenities the island has to offer, there is an inherent sense of comfort created by being in familiar territory. It may be as simple as knowing where everything is in the grocery store, the names of everyone in the post office or that I can’t get lost driving down the only highway, windows down in my Jeep as the sun sets, letting the ethereal orange glow shine in. These details are infinitely present in our daily lives, and although they may seem trivial and minute, they make us who we are.

I have always idealized moving away as soon as possible, fearing catching “Keys Disease” and getting stuck on the rock, just as those lost in the Bermuda Triangle are doomed to remain eternally. 

However, when the time came to leave, I became overtaken with anxiety and apprehension. I couldn’t imagine missing a moment of the local drama or being unemployed for the first time since my freshman year of high school, much less watching my family and friends change without me. Though it was nothing compared to my mom boldly moving to a new continent when she was my age, I felt like I may as well be as the miles we drove put distance between the person I was and whoever I was going to be.

The idea of grappling with new challenges, such as purchasing a winter coat and boots or trekking the seemingly endless city blocks, soon pulled me out of my head and into action. In my one week of experience living in Baltimore, I have found that the city is constantly busy and certainly never dull. 

I feel I have experienced a reverse version of Paris Syndrome, where rather than being disappointed and culturally shocked to the point of psychosis, I am pleasantly surprised and invigorated in my new environment, which is not something I expected from the grim reputation that is often bestowed upon Baltimore. I have made lists of all of the things I mean to go to, see and do in my time here, attempting to ensure I don’t get trapped in the Bermuda Triangle which is the “Hopkins bubble.”

As for being homesick, if I look hard enough, the comforts of home are everywhere. They can be as silly as seeing a professor wearing flip-flops, having a cup of coffee that tastes the same as what I brew at home or even experiencing a downpour from tropical depression, which is routine during the wet season in Florida.

Although I may never be a true city dweller who can walk down the sidewalk without turning to take a second glance at cute dogs and can continue unblinkingly when sirens blare at all times of the day, I can try to adapt and make the most of my new surroundings. Constant change and evolution is essential to personal growth, and I needed to be shaken out of my complacency. The shock to the system which “Baltimore Syndrome” provided me certainly seemed to do the trick.

Molly Gahagen is a sophomore from Key Largo, Fla. majoring in International Studies and Political Science. She is a News & Features Editor for The News-Letter.

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