Job in South is an experience

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In literary studies, when a character travels south, it often means the person is a troublemaker, looking to run away from his or her problems.

I left Walla Walla last summer and moved to North Georgia after a high school offered me a job teaching English. I am no troublemaker, although my casual disregard for the region's slower, more laid back approach to life earned me a few glares around town. I quickly learned that in the South it is not considered rude to spend five minutes chatting with the cashier while an impatient 25-year-old from the West Coast stands behind you.

Trying to succeed at work and make friends in a new part of the country, I did my best to avoid dwelling on the multitude of stereotypes that entered my head as I left the West behind. Yet, in the first month of living in the Deep South I had already started drinking sweet tea, picked cotton, seen a number of Confederate flags and floated lazily down an Appalachian mountain river doing my best not to imagine dueling banjos in the forest.

Having grown up in England, it was also pleasant to no longer be the only person around town with a funny accent, although it seemed I was the only one amused by words like "y'all" and "fixin's," and I still had to repeat my name four times before anyone could understand me.

I developed an appreciation for many Southern foods I had never tried, such as turnip greens, fried okra and fried green tomatoes.

It is also true what they say about Southern hospitality, although I'm not sure if the perfect stranger I met who offered to bake me a cake was truly being genuine. If she was, I should find her and ask for extra strawberries and not too much frosting.

My experiences ranged from the light-hearted and charming - catching fireflies and watching small town football - to the frightening - seeing a favorite restaurant of mine in a nearby town flattened after a deadly tornado sliced through the county.

I was also moved, as well as humbled, during our school's community service day when we were assigned to rake leaves in an old, abandoned slave cemetery. The South, especially Georgia, really is rich as well as complex in its history, which I realized after visiting a former plantation in Chatsworth, along the Trail of Tears, where a Cherokee family owned more than 100 slaves.

Some days were thoroughly Southern, sipping Coca-Cola in Atlanta and listening to former President Jimmy Carter preach in his hometown of Plains, Ga. Other days reminded me of how much I missed Walla Walla, as I drove around town passing signs advertising Vidalia sweet onions and desperately trying to find a coffee shop that would brew a decent latte.

Does anyone know how to make a sweet-tea-cappuccino?

Martin Surridge is a former area resident who was a student at Walla Walla University before moving to Georgia. Read the second part of this two-part column in next Sunday's U-B.

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