From the good vibrations of the West Coast to the fast-paced, cosmopolitan atmosphere of New York City, it seems as if Emily Kerzin has seen it all.
Be that as it may, last August Kerzin, a self-proclaimed “liberal, secular, Jew queer,” moved to the rural plains of Auburn, Alabama.
Can you say culture shock?
“I feel like I’m in the honeymoon period,” Kerzin said of her time thus far in Auburn. “I like it so much more than I expected to.”
Kerzin, 24, is beginning her post-graduate work in clinical psychology at Auburn University.
Auburn, which is characterized by it’s tight-knit, conservative community, is a radical change from Kerzin’s previous experiences, both from her upbringing in a California small town and her undergraduate times at New York University.
“Initially after graduation I thought I wanted to be in a place where I knew the community so I wanted to be in New York or California,” she said.
But, according to Kerzin, she was unattached and willing to forget everything else. The spirit of wanting something completely new, as well as a desire for warmer weather, led her to Auburn.
I am a little bit self-conscious of being tokenized as being another Tegan and Sara, Emily Dickinson, Ani DiFranco type
“I felt a good vibe when I came here for the interview, and I was kind of just like, ‘Okay, Let’s do it,’” she said.
Kerzin had no idea what to expect from the unknown region of the Deep South. Though she hates to admit it, her only knowledge of the South lay in the stereotypes of her Northern counterparts and stories from history books of a troubled past with race, class and gender differences.
“I’ve always been really interested in the South, maybe admittedly I [fixated on] it a bit,” she said. “I was always skeptical of any idea because really smart people in the North just unanimously disregard it. And I was curious, always thinking, ‘Is it really like that?’”
Her two months in Auburn have all but proven those stereotypes wrong.
“I think I underestimated people’s cosmopolitan-ness here,” she said. “I thought people wouldn’t be as down or with it as they are in New York, and certainly it’s more progressive in New York. But people aren’t dumb, they know what’s up. Especially around the school.”
Nevertheless, though Kerzin has been pleasantly surprised with the openness of her new community, she realizes it is no paradise for an openly queer progressive. She is conscious of how she may be perceived by her peers, and Alabama’s harsh new immigration law is a reminder for her that, in many ways, the South is different when it comes to social progress.
“I do think sometimes that if I were to disclose my politics or my sexual orientation, I wonder how that would change,” she said. “I identify as a queer and a feminist, and in New York that was kind of a given, but here I am a little bit self-conscious of being tokenized as being another Tegan and Sara, Emily Dickinson, Ani DiFranco type.”
Regardless of how she is perceived, for a student of psychology, Kerzin looks at her stay in the South as an immense learning opportunity.
“I’m learning a lot about how to negotiate, really listening and getting to know lovely people and appreciating them, even if they have really different values than you and being okay with that,” Kerzin said. “When you actually live here you get a more complete picture of the people.”
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