It is an honor to repost this great piece by Shannon Smith, Sophmore at University of Texas Austin, communications major, contributor to The Odessey and obviously a wonderful writer. Listen to the words of this Jersey girl in Texas and let them resonate with you as they have with so many of us so often as New Jersey residents.
Originally published in The Odyssey
Being an out-of-stater at a large university can be hard, but what makes it harder is coming from a state that has had its reputation tarnished by MTV and a not so impressive airport. These, combined, make for some comical comments:
"I thought only guidos live in New Jersey? But you have blonde hair.”
"I’ve been to New Jersey. It's dirty and disgusting."
"Your capital is pretty scary and dirty."
"Do you just go to clubs all the time?”
Contrary to popular belief, New Jersey is not made up of all high maintenance Italian MTV stars and vibrant clubs. Nor is the entire state a giant replica of Newark or Trenton. Those native to New Jersey will struggle with explaining to friends and colleagues just exactly what it is. But there is secret beauty and unexplainable sentiments that reside in the small Garden State.
To many, California is considered glamorous, Illinois is a very large Chicago and Missouri is the birthplace of rappers and national sports titles. New Jersey is just considered, well, New Jersey. Yet what makes this place so special is the inability to characterize it in one word, or even one sentence.
First there are the beaches. And no, we are not talking Snooki and Pauly D’s beach. Rather, the eastern border of the state is home to endless beaches, beautiful in appearance and rich in family vacation tradition. No native can explain what it feels like to take the first swim of the season, smell the salty air for the first time after a long cold winter or reunite with summer friends who, regardless of the time that has passed, will never feel the least bit distant.
The Garden State Parkway is one long freeway, each exit holding a unique piece to the Jersey Shore puzzle. Regardless of your preferred exit, the sentiments are the same. And though naïve people are quick to bash the Jersey Shore (thanks again Snooki), we really don’t mind, because we have no problem keeping the secret beauty of the place to ourselves.
As for the airport being a projection of the entire state, travelers be warned: you are wrong. Despite the cleanliness and seemingly outdated technology of Newark Airport, the rest of the state is clean and not so industrial. There are handfuls of tiny, peaceful towns where you greet neighbors as friends and wish a sincere Merry Christmas to your mailman, who may even give you a ride from your middle school bus stop to your house in the dead of winter (thanks Jeff).
The New Jersey naïves are one problem, but the geographically confused are on a different level:
“New Jersey? Is that a city or state? I always get so confused.”
“New Jersey has summers? I thought it was cold year round.”
So to spare you a trip to Google maps, yes, New Jersey is a state and, yes, we have seasons similar to the rest of the country. In fact, though small in size, New Jersey is birthplace to a number of famous people -- Bruce Springsteen, Chef Tom Colicchio, Derek Jeter and Kevin Spacey.
But more than famous people, NJ is also home to one of the most delicious breakfast foods in the world (breakfast taco lovers pay close attention): pork roll. Depending on what part of New Jersey you come from, you will call it pork roll or taylor ham. Both refer to the same magical breakfast meat that haunts the dreams of misfortunate relocated NJ natives. Pork roll/taylor ham itself is enough to make you want to adopt New Jersey as your home.
While many may not be privy to the many wonders New Jersey holds, those lucky enough to be raised there know the truth. And that truth is a truth worth sharing. Maybe if you are lucky, your New Jersey friend will invite you for a visit.
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