Geographical Struggles, Adjusting to the South, and Getting Settled
Let me start off with some confessions: I can’t point to Birmingham, Alabama, on a map. I’m not even sure I could point to Alabama if the states aren’t clearly marked. I don’t quite understand the categorical difference between “y’all” and “all y’all.” I don’t like my food fried. Up until two months ago, the only times I had set foot in this state were for an unremarkable Spring Break trip and an entirely memorable interview.
I was born and raised in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. Yes, that Detroit. No, it’s not as dangerous as you think it is. Yes, there are derelict houses sprouting everywhere like pimples on an unwashed teenager. Yes, it is safe to walk around Detroit without a machete. No, the Lions still haven’t had a winning season (but this could be the year).
Moving to Birmingham was, in short, terrifying and hot. As a Northerner born and bred, I knew the South would be warmer. But it’s one thing to hear about a little humidity and another to lie on the floor of your new apartment wondering if it’s possible to drown on your own sweat. I’m told it should cool down… by November.
At the time of my move-in, I knew exactly three people in Birmingham. One was leaving within a week. One was the head of our program. And the last one was me. Not exactly what you’d call a large support group. I expected my first summer here to be rife with long video chats back home, marathons of my favorite television shows, and getting my apartment looking Pinterest-worthy.
Confession time, part 2: It took me over a month to get all of the boxes unpacked, I’m still not caught up on Supernatural, and to date, I’ve had two video chats back home. That’s not to say there hasn’t been time to get settled – there’s just been better things to do. From the very beginning, what drew me to UAB was the exceptional group of people in this MSTP. Within a week, the older students hosted a barbeque to welcome the new first-years (that’d be me). My other year-mates and I stated having weekly dinners together. Research rotations started. We bonded during a weekend retreat on the gulf.
In short, life began. Birmingham laid out the welcome mat, and we – terrified newbies – daintily wiped our feet, took off our shoes, and dove in.
I’m not going to list UAB’s many attributes, the prestige of the MSTP program, the funding, or the program structure. Those are important facts and impressive, to boot. But you can look those up, and likely already have. I’ll try, instead, to give you a bit of insight into what those statistics can’t tell you – what you won’t learn from a spreadsheet. I’ll try to let you see the people here, the place, and the experience. They’re good. So that’s what I’ll focus on: the adventures of a UAB MSTP first-year.