by Nadijah Campbell
I was born and raised in Philadelphia, traveled to Miami for college and studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. In those cities, familiarity lay in the loudness of the streets, crowded transportation and the ability to adapt to the various lingoes. I was comfortable with everything about city life, and for that reason each of those cities wound up in a special place in my heart. Through them I learned the world could be my home, and in home I found comfort.
Last summer, I discovered the beauty of stepping out of that comfort zone.
I learned I had an opportunity to be a part of the Chips Quinn Scholars program when some editor from Wisconsin, who would soon be my supervisor, emailed me. After reading the email, I called my mom, confused because I had listed only major cities as my geographic preferences on my application.
“What do you know about Wisconsin? I may be there this summer.”
She responded with her usual, “Look it up.” I did. W-i-s-c-o-n-s-i-n f-u-n f-a-c-t-s. The search results showed that Wisconsin is known for cheese and beer, which I knew, and revealed random things about the state’s plants and animals, which I could care less about.
I went to Facebook and started asking friends. They, too, sent me back to square one. After reading through three pages of search results, I found headlines about Wisconsin’s being the worst place to raise a black family, which led to my researching the state’s demographics, which led to my wondering if being a “Chipster” was even worth it.
If I chose this internship, I would stick out for an entire summer because of my skin color, and I was scared. City life was comfortable because of my love of diversity and my ability to blend in or be seen. With Wisconsin, I’d have no choice. Was I ready for that?
I chose to go forward. Within a couple of months, I was on the road to Appleton. During my drive I saw trees, and land and more land. And signs for places I couldn’t pronounce. When I finally arrived in Appleton, I saw white people, and white people, and, Oooh, a mixed family! This was, for sure, going to be rough.
I spent the first few weeks going to work, and heading straight home afterward, before I opened up to the community. I decided just to explore. Although I didn’t fall in love with the place as I did with cities, I fell in love with the differences. There was quiet. Neighbors knew each other. And even during rush hour, my car glided along the highways.
Fast forward to the end of the summer. Luckily, I hadn’t faced discrimination. I learned to embrace the unfamiliar because it helps build character. Now, if offered a job in the middle of nowhere, I won’t be scared. I can take the town by storm.