If you're anything like me, attending an out-of-state school was a dream. Forcing myself out of my comfort zone by moving to a new state with essentially nobody I knew was scary, yet so attractive when applying to schools. After two years at Michigan State, I promise that culture change lived up to every expectation; however, I've also picked up on several Michigander quirks that I think every non-native should prepare for.
So, without further ado, here’s how to survive a year at MSU as a non-Michigander from a fellow out-of-state student.
Your first several days at MSU — and first few weeks-worth of interactions with Michiganders — will all go fairly similarly. You’ll go up to someone and start with the classic first-day-of-college icebreaker question: “Where are you from?”
The Michigander will answer, probably saying a small town you have never heard of, but they will think you know and assume you are a Michigander yourself. Sometimes you’ll come across people who will point on their hand — a figure that eerily resembles the shape of Michigan — where they’re from, but I've found this trick to be less common amongst Michiganders and more typical for out-of-staters to understand the state’s geography.
Back to the point: the Michigander will likely say a town you don’t know, and you won't have much time to tell them you have no idea where they are talking about before they follow up with the same question back to you.
At this point, you’ll smile and nod at their response and continue to recite where you are from. If you’re from a big city, like Chicago in my case, the Michigander will likely respond with an “ooohh," “aaaahh” or even a “wow.”
I found most Michiganders to be pretty intrigued by my out-of-state status, which played a large part in why being from Chicago has now become one of my main personality traits.
After you assure them that you're just like them, only from a different state, you can now reasonably say you do not know which town they are from. They'll explain where it is, which will likely be on the east side of the state, and you can now add that one to the long list of Michigan towns you will learn throughout the year.
Flash forward a week or two, and it will be the first long weekend of the semester: Labor Day. As you sit in your dorm or apartment and discuss plans for the extra Monday off that college kids like to take advantage of like it’s another spring break, you’ll find many of your friends announcing they are going “Up North.”
A very broad term indeed, but in the Michigander language, it generally means the same thing. “Up North” is like going on a beach vacation, one of their favorite and most relaxing things to do. The area it refers to is in the northern part of the state or the Upper Peninsula. Most people will go to a lake house or cottage with family and friends. That’s really all it is, but I guarantee by the end of the year you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.
So, now it’s football or basketball season and maybe your out-of-state parents are coming up for a game. As a freshman, you may not normally have your car, but with your parents — and their car — in town, you're introduced to an entirely new East Lansing obstacle: campus driving.
Scratch that, campus driving isn’t the obstacle. It's Michigan driving as a whole and more specifically these things called “Michigan Lefts.”
Now I wish I could go into more depth here but to be frank, I don’t even know the rules. Honestly, the only advice I can give you here is to drive with a Michigander in the car to tell you how to do it. You can basically turn left on a red light, kind of. I don’t really know, maybe for legal purposes forget I said that.
Just remember it's confusing, and you might want to take the long way home some days to avoid as many left turns as possible. Time consuming? Yes. Worth it? For sure.
But as the year goes on, you'll learn that the best thing about the Michiganders is that they love where they live, and they’re happy you’re there.
They’re genuine and sincere, and you’ll find comfort in how willing they are to take you to their hometown for a long weekend when it’s too much effort to tread your way back across state lines to your own home. And no matter where you come from, you'll leave East Lansing feeling a bit like a Michigander too.
This article is part of our Summer Mail Home issue. View the full digital issue here.
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