Most people’s first thoughts when I say I am from a small town in Western Kentucky are assumptions. An assumption that, because I am from a tiny rural town, I am the traditional "hillbilly" stereotype — that I am racist, homophobic and close-minded. An assumption upon hearing my voice and the traditionally Southern accent that it holds, that I am uneducated — that correct English and proper grammar might as well be a foreign language to me. An assumption that someone from a country that struggles with poverty and addiction, where only 77% of high school students graduate, will never make it in life.
These are the assumptions I have had placed on me, like a twisted crown of connotations that crept into my brain and made me feel that I should carry shame for being from a place so removed from the cities and skyscrapers my peers were accustomed to. These are the assumptions that pushed me to cover my accent, to over-correct my vowels and drop colloquial terms that used to frequent my vocabulary so I sounded like everyone else. These are the assumptions that drove a wedge composed of resentment and distaste for the place I was once proud to call home.
At the end of my sophomore year, I was offered an opportunity to intern with a hospital in their marketing department, which was an absolutely amazing chance for me to build upon the education I had been receiving at UK, as well as utilize the skills I had developed over the past two years. The only catch: I would have to move back home, to a county that is only one-tenth of the size of Fayette County. This was, at the time, a big con for me. On one hand, I have been given an opportunity that was a dream for me. On the other hand, I would have to leave the comforts I had grown very fond of, as well as my friends who were staying in Lexington, for what felt like the capital of Nowhere, USA. I ultimately decided that this was something I needed and chose to accept the internship.
I have been back in Muhlenberg County for almost a month now, and at first I felt as if I was in a different world. In towns such as my own, it is rare to leave somewhere without an accent-laden voice wishing you to have a good day. Doors are opened for those with their hands full and held for those behind them. Leaving family members' homes is an event, moving from laughter-filled conversations inside to losing track of time standing at your car door. There is always an extra plate made when you are at a house when it’s dinner time and there is always a tight hug and a "Bless your heart!" when you need a shoulder to cry on.
Being back in Greenville has been transformative for me. I take drives through back roads, enjoying the warm sunshine that beams through my sunroom and taking in the fresh scent of the colorful, blooming fields. I work at a place that I love, catching up with others who have known me since I was born and who dedicate themselves to making our community the best it can be. I enjoy the comfort of home-cooked meals and get to buy local groceries at the farmer's market. In the past few weeks, I have re-learned to love where I am, and I have found radiance in the roots I’ve planted.