Help me adjust to (or tolerate) the Midwest...
March 14, 2014 11:07 PM   Subscribe

I grew up and attended university on the East Coast. I don't know what I was thinking when I matriculated at a graduate program in the Midwest-- perhaps I thought that having lived in diverse settings would be a good life experience or something (?) ... Well, what's done is done, and I'm here for the next three years. Please help me better deal with this culture shock!

I want to give the Midwest a chance, and I've made an effort to connect with my community through volunteering activities, visiting museums, and participating in community-oriented events... but my impression isn't changing. I feel like everyone basically grew up around here, hasn't ever been outside of the US, only speaks English, gets married relatively early (not that there's anything wrong with that, but it was a shock to me), and doesn't have many intellectual interests... On top of that, the Midwest (outside of Chicago and the Twin Cities) is not very diverse. I'm a minority, so that has also made things a bit more challenging.

I admit that the Ivy / Northeast culture can be equally bubble-like and, in addition, can be very pretentious and superficial. I definitely don't want to have that part of my background cloud my perception of things or make me a pompous elitist. I don't want to be mean or narrow-minded. But I'm just having such a hard time feeling comfortable with speaking Minnesota Nice and feeling a real sense of community, mostly because I just find this place so... boring, stifling, and relatively conservative.

If it makes a difference: I am in a happy long-distance relationship, I am not depressed, and I like my classmates.

Any suggestions would be helpful.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (60 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The Midwest is a big place. Without giving too much away, can you narrow your location down a little? Big city or college town? Upper Midwest, Great Plains, Great Lakes?
posted by crazy with stars at 11:29 PM on March 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you are doing a lot of proactive things to meet people. I would encourage you to keep at it because there are surely friends for you out there. It might just take a little extra work to dig past some of the veneer to find common ground with people who grew up differently than you did.

Also maybe become of fan of the local sports team and then pursue your intellectual interests on your own time.
posted by gillianr at 11:41 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think a few more non-specific details may help everyone make better suggestions for you - I've lived in five different Midwestern states, in cities of varying sizes. Honestly, the sort of place that would match your general description of "the Midwest" are the smaller cities and towns, and that's probably true of most places of that size in the US. If that's where you are, that can be tough and it sounds like you're doing the right things.

Larger cities and college towns have a more diverse and geographically mobile population base, with people coming and going more often - and you'd probably be surprised at where there are communities of various ethnic/racial/religious/geographic backgrounds scattered throughout the Midwest, like the respectably large Hmong populations of southeast Minnesota and Wisconsin, the Somali and Ethiopian communities, the Middle-Eastern and Sikh populations of Detroit, etc.

(FWIW, I'm female, minority, and a professional, so that's just how I saw things.)
posted by vetala at 11:46 PM on March 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

OP, you might just want to say where you are (and possibly also have the mods anonymize this question). As it is, from what you say here and what you say in your previous questions we can pretty much narrow it down to two cities in one state.

Honestly, I'm kind of surprised you have enough free time to be bored, given your academic situation. Maybe you can leverage that to fill your time and feel useful/productive e.g. by getting involved in research?

But maybe the problem isn't that you're bored it's that your lonely? It kind of sounds like you're doing stuff to meet people, but the stuff you're doing sounds generic to me. Maybe you need to get deeply involved in stuff you care about instead?
posted by Jahaza at 11:48 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd try the school. Grad-student booze-up/quiz night/chamber music/bird count, that sort of thing.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:54 PM on March 14, 2014

Perhaps you can reframe a few of those dislikes, too. Your question does sound a bit pompous elitist to me, though you may not be. People who've never left the US- are also people who've really put down roots and committed to an area. That can be something you can learn from/about, even if it doesn't appeal to you. People who got married early have had the experience of being young and married- something you presumably haven't, from your post. Those things are not better or worse, I dont think- at least not as they stand. Prejudice, judgment and narrow-mindedness are, but not all young marrieds who speak only English are those things, if those are your fears (and they are the stereotype). Perhaps you are unwittingly being a bit close-minded yourself?
posted by jojobobo at 12:01 AM on March 15, 2014 [19 favorites]

[Note: Question has been anonymized by OP request for privacy concerns.]
posted by taz (staff) at 12:05 AM on March 15, 2014

Ha! I totally get this!!

I don't know exactly where you are, but you are correct, the culture is totally different and it is like your brain is pouring out of your ears because you're feeling so under stimulated. I know.

Maybe Memail me? I think you can get through this and turn it to your advantage, but I don't have the time to write at length right now.

I can give you pointers on how to appreciate and make the most of this time, but ultimately, I suggest making future plans and holding strict to those goals as you proceed through grad school.

You're not crazy. This place really is that different from where you came from.

That said, you might want to embrace that the uber competitive place you came from isn't as healthy or normal as you think... It just has a distinct and different culture from where you are now.
posted by jbenben at 12:30 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

The best way I have for dealing with such feelings is to develop a few closer relationships with longtime local residents. The culture and circumstances of the area surely do affect the experiences people have and the choices they make, but smart, interesting people are everywhere. They don't all speak the same way or do the same things, so it can be difficult to recognize them at first if you're used to seeing such qualities expressed in particular ways.

To me it sounds like you're randomly throwing yourself at the "local community," whatever that is, and bouncing off of the surface without making much of a dent. Jahaza's suggestion to get more deeply involved in things you care about is good because an investment in a particular project or organization will have you seeing and working with the same (local) people over and over again, and you're likely to develop respect and affection for some of them. In that context you might find it easier to ask those closer acquaintances about their lives, and hear the stories that make sense of their choices without the prejudice you obviously (understandably) suffer from now.
posted by jon1270 at 12:32 AM on March 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

I fled Iowa City for long weekends to other midwest cities/ college towns as often as I could when I was at the writers workshop. Chicago was an oasis.
posted by brujita at 1:54 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've lived in many parts of the country, am a minority, and am generally someone who has never really felt like she "fits in" many places - I have a hard time making friends or connecting with people, some of which is just my own shit for sure but a lot of which has had to due with certain places. As someone who has moved around A LOT, there are some places you feel comfortable at least, and there are places where you might never, at least socially. So you have to find what works. For me it was finding a hobby I could do anywhere that doesn't involve people at all - birding/hiking. I just go off into the wilderness and look for birds wherever I am and it's awesome. I take a lot of pictures, I have a blog, I paint them, I sketch them. I can do it everywhere. I'm into other wildlife and nature as well, so that helps when the birding is slow. I put my stuff on inaturalist and ebird and study my field guides and read articles about how to tell gull species apart and it works for me. Maybe you can find that one thing that, independent of people or where you are, works for you?

(This stuff often brings social circles with it too, which can be good or bad depending on your disposition. I'm not super social so I have a few people I bird with but I don't tend to join group hikes/outings or anything, though there are many.)
posted by primalux at 2:27 AM on March 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've moved around a bit with the same East Coast prejudices about everywhere west of Harrisburg. What generally happened is that I "found" my prejudices about backwater USA confirmed, because that was what I was looking for: validation that where I was from was better, cooler, more cosmopolitan than everywhere else. And then as I got to know some of these stupid rednecks I stopped seeing the world through my preconceived ideas. There are good and smart and "intellectual" people everywhere on the planet. No one has a monopoly on cool.
posted by three blind mice at 3:07 AM on March 15, 2014 [24 favorites]

Start a club for "Misplaced East Coast People" so you have some similar people to bond with as you transition.

No lie, it's going to take some time and effort on your part, so have a few similar people can help ease things a bit. It's essential that you get to a place where you simply view the natives as mostly just different and not look down your nose at them all the time. Just every now and then when you're craving a cheesesteak sub or bagel.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:30 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

When I lived in a place similar to what you describe, I found the same problems despite volunteering, making huge efforts to entertain, join groups and everything I could think of to fit in and make friends. I made one super close friend, who had lived in several foreign countries and who had loads of other friends having grown up there, but they were less open to an outsider. I remained an outsider because of not having grown up there, gone to school there etc. but also because of having lived many places and having experienced many cultures and this had changed me in ways others there had no way to relate to and vice versa. I waited around for my one friend to be available to me-which despite having a busy life she frequently was. If I had had a compelling reason to stay there, as you have, I could have got through it, but I came to understand they would not change, nor would I. I was surprised by how closed, untravelled and insular a society it was compared to more cosmopolitan places, but really in retrospect why should I have been? My suggestion is acceptance and appreciating even small nice things that appear unexpectedly in this new and unfamiliar ( and don't forget temporary) life.
posted by claptrap at 3:50 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Except for a semester in Russia and a year in Vermont, I've lived my whole life in the Midwest. However, there are places in this region I don't particularly like and where I wouldn't want to live. Maybe it would help if you re-framed this problem. This doesn't have to be some big question of East Coast snobbery vs. Midwest parochialism. It can just be that so far you don't particularly like or feel comfortable in this particular place.

I once spent three years living in Ann Arbor, Michigan while going to school there. I don't like Ann Arbor for reasons I won't go into. However, I made it through just fine by focusing on my school, cultivating a few friendships, and having a good relationship with my future spouse (we were long distance for part of the time).

So, my advice is to feel less conflicted and guilty about the whole thing and just cultivate those people and activities you do appreciate. Maybe over time the place will grow on you. Maybe not. Either way, you can get through three years, particularly if you like the people in your program.
posted by Area Man at 4:05 AM on March 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I live in the Midwest, near a university that a lot of Ivy League grads attend for Ph.Ds. I, and many of my friends, are intellectually curious, politically involved, well-traveled to varying degrees. We're lovely people who know how to have a good time, and are generally welcoming to newcomers. This being our home, we are familiar with its shortcomings but also aware of where the gems are: where are the people who make and listen to live music, who brew craft beer, who run little art galleries. We know where the hidden-gem museums are. We also know what there is here that isn't a smaller version of the things they have in the big cities, but that is unique to our area and worth embracing: the summertime tradition of the Day at the Lake, the roadside stands for sweet corn in July, and so on.

I have known a great many people who came here from the East for grad school or professorships, and I would have been happy to befriend them. But I didn't warm up to them, and you know why? Because at the party where I met them, all they talked about was how much better it was back in Boston or New York. And that time we had dinner with mutual friends, they found making fun of the local yokels a good conversational gambit.

They come here ready to judge and suffer. I have a neighbor who has been here ELEVEN YEARS with her professor husband who still can't get through a day without mentioning how much better it was back at the Ivy League school where he used to work. Heck, just yesterday on Facebook she mentioned how much she'd been enjoying our snowy winter--and then ended it with, "of course, they got more snow back at Town We Used to Live In."

My reaction to that is, "Dude, that's my home you're talking about." I'm exactly the kind of Midwesterner someone like you could have a friendship with. But many of the Someones Like You I meet leave me not looking forward to another encounter.

There's a lot of that tone in this thread.

What I'm saying is, that it's possible your prejudices and condescension are unnecessarily cutting off opportunities to appreciate where you are and to make friends among the folks in your area who would welcome the friendship of an educated, worldly person.
posted by not that girl at 5:01 AM on March 15, 2014 [78 favorites]

Michigan is where you should have landed. It is a very educated state, with a very diverse population. What is your field of study?

Ann Arbor University of Michigan is a good fit, or Michigan State...depending on your field.

A large potion of Michiganders are mixed give you an idea of the population.
posted by squirbel at 5:49 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your presence, patience, understanding, and willingness to share your cultured interests without condescension or judgement is a gift to your new home. Seriously. I am from a small town in the midwest,and went to State U. At State U, my horizons expanded considerably. Life became more than how much budweiser I could drink and how cool my motorcycle was, etc. I stopped laughing at off-color jokes. "Weird" became "different", "different" became something like, doesn't really register in my brain anymore. I have a lovely life now, engaged to a wonderful person with a background far different than my own, and I've a comfy research faculty gig at a prestigious East Coast University. This has a lot to do with running into people such as yourself, who had some patience, were willing to have a chat, and share some of their world. And this is true of many, many people. I have thanks in my heart for all the diversity and breadth I was exposed to, and I hope you can take a breath, realize that those around you have potential to grow and change and often want to, and you're helping to make that happen - one awkward run-in after another.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 5:49 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I went to school in Ann Arbor for a few years. It's not conservative, but I still found it rather stifling and small-town, although now I miss it a little. And I'm from Chicago, so it's not an East Coast/Midwest divide.

What do I miss? The local food culture and hanging out with local journalists/bloggers. See if you can get involved with some of that.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 6:06 AM on March 15, 2014

You may be consciously or unconsciously putting out some "east coast snobbery" which we humble Midwesterners dislike. Pretend you are on vacation to expand your mind in an exotic location, and we are the local people. Sure, we are different from you, but we are more similar than you might care to believe. Perhaps focusing on what we have in common rather than setting yourself apart as an outsider will help you in your interactions with the people who call this "boring, stifling place" their home.
posted by gumtree at 6:08 AM on March 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have re-written this a number of times because I am trying to be polite, but: people are people, wherever you go. You will have something in common with some of them; you will have very little in common with most of them.

So it makes more sense to go looking for like-minded people in the logical places first, rather than in totally random places. And as other people have said, your approach to adjusting to the Midwest sounds totally scattershot. Are you doing things you would actually do if you were on the East Coast? Because it doesn't sound like it, and it also makes me think that you might experience a similar sort of culture shock if you stepped out the Ivy League bubble and went to a community meeting, for example, in a random working class town on the East Coast.

So I guess this question confuses me, because it is completely silent on the subject of your classmates. It seems like you would have the most in common with them, rather than with random people you meet in the community, so socializing with your classmates seems like the most logical place to start.
posted by colfax at 6:11 AM on March 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

It would help to know what specific area you're living in because, despite your claim, the Midwest is a fairly diverse region, but since you didn't specify that in your post, I'll give you my generic response.

I grew up in a well-to-do area of Chicagoland. My mother is from a small town and my father was a South Sider. So I was raised with a combination of my mother's version of Minnesota Nice and my father's version of what I call Chicago Mean.

Chicago Mean is not quite East Coast Mean, but it's close. It is a casual meanness nurtured by urban density. In Chicago, pedestrians loudly curse at bad drivers and slap their bumpers as they pass. Crosswalks are mere formalities, and I regularly do the exaggerated "what were you thinking???!!" look when I encounter a particularly unskilled motorist. But if there is no heavy traffic and somebody politely signals that they would like to cross the street miles from the crosswalk, I will stop and wave them on, smiling a bit, perhaps, but still somewhat annoyed at them.

People from other parts of the Midwest think Chicagoans are jerks. We will completely ignore one another in public spaces unless an occasion to be polite arises, and then we're all over it. The weirdest way I have seen this manifested is in the unusual cultural tradition I call the Vestigial Door Hold. That's when you are entering a building (or even just a hallway), and you see someone else coming behind you, so you hold the door open for them for a couple seconds, often necessitating that the person rush to grab the door, even though they are perfectly capable of opening it themselves. Then the door holder nods or smiles a bit and goes back to completely ignoring the other person. Mind you, this practice occurs even with doors that do not lock. It makes no sense, but that's culture for you.

But... the rest of the Midwest is not my bag. I spent four years in a decaying former industrial center with a private university (think Syracuse), and there was simply nothing of interest to me outside of a two block radius around campus. I couldn't wait to get out of that town. The only cultural landmark in the area was the university I attended, and after four years there, I simply couldn't bear to see the same sights any longer. Most Midwest towns, aside from Chicago and Minneapolis (and Madison, if I'm feeling generous), are not especially fun places to be if you are young and single. The sort of spot where book clubs gather are not usually the same place where one finds, say, a mother and father with their four children. So it could be that this mystery town where you reside is simply not made for you – you are, in fact, the minority, in more ways than one. If that's the case, you'll probably have to do what I did: hide in your university bubble, go to events at the library, and try to pretend like the rest of the town does not exist.

There is one thing that particularly bothered me about your post. Namely, your apparent class-blindness.
...everyone basically grew up around here, hasn't ever been outside of the US, only speaks English, gets married relatively early (not that there's anything wrong with that, but it was a shock to me), and doesn't have many intellectual interests...
The opportunity to travel internationally, to learn a foreign language with anything approaching adequate fluency, to acquire and nurture intellectual interests... delaying marriage... to have enough freedom from family obligations to be able to move to another part of the country... these are class indicators. I don't know your background, but you should open your eyes and realize that you are being a bit classist here.

The Midwest isn't like NYC. Outside of Chicago/Minneapolis, people of different classes and ethnic backgrounds tend to live in widely separated areas. Some of this has to do with politics and housing discrimination; some of it is just the nature of the region. There's plenty of space in places like Iowa and central Illinois for rich people to build their own little gated communities where they can hole away and ignore the crumbling infrastructure in the poor parts of town. In NYC, everybody is on top of one another.

I think a lot of what you perceive is an outcome of the struggling economy of the Midwest. Most cities in the Midwest have a hard time holding on to their educated class. College towns like Urbana/Champaign have some success, as there are research firms based there, and Chicago gets by because it pulls from the educated class in the surrounding states – Michigan, Ohio, even some from Tennessee and Kentucky. But inevitably a large portion of those people will leave after a few years to pursue better opportunities in cities that have more of an industry focus. I've personally witnessed most of my coworkers from a few years ago disappear to Seattle, Boston, New York, San Francisco, etc. I suspect I will follow them myself before long.

So you are right that, outside of a few anomalous urban centers, the Midwest is lacking in multilingual intellectuals and literati, and pretty much every other vestige of the upper middle class. That's not because there's something in the water. It's because people in the Midwest are poor.
posted by deathpanels at 6:23 AM on March 15, 2014 [26 favorites]

In fact, thinking back, the more excited someone was about "local" something, the more likely we were to get along, despite my overall lack of enthusiasm for the locale in question. So try throwing yourself into hyper-local culture that you can't experience anywhere else.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 6:41 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Good question. I moved to a university town in the Midwest (Madison, WI) after spending the first 35 years of my life in a tiny oval between DC and Boston. I didn't feel any culture shock and settled in happily. But I know other folks who moved here and just could not deal. And these people really weren't any snobbier than me. They just felt not at home in a way that didn't, in the end, have to do with objective facts about the city, but which are totally valid. If you gotta have the Atlantic, you gotta have the Atlantic. I knew a couple that moved to Norfolk rather than stay in Madison.

But none of this is advice yet so:

I would concentrate your social life within the university. That's pretty normal for grad students anyway, in my experience. The cohort of grad students, and even more so faculty, at any big public university in the Midwest is going to be more cosmopolitan, more intellectual, and more well-travelled (OK, not more racially diverse, though) than any bar in Brooklyn or Somerville.

Yes, then you're trading an East Coast bubble for a campus bubble, but I think given your experiences it makes the most sense.

(Warning: I'm imagining you being in a medium-to-large sized Midwestern city with a big public university, like Madison, Columbus, Ann Arbor, Bloomington, etc. You may be in a smaller, more remote place, and then my advice might not be as relevant.)
posted by escabeche at 7:00 AM on March 15, 2014

I'm not experienced with living in the Midwest. I am experienced with living new places and with starting graduate school. It took me about a year and a half to start enjoying the city where I went to grad school. Being in a long distance relationship also makes it hard to put down roots in a new place because, formulaic as it may sound, your heart is elsewhere.

I think that framing this question as how to live in the Midwest is a red herring. It is more of how to live in a new place. Phrasing it as an issue with Midwestern life and people ends up offending the people around you.

Ask the question again but phrase it as "I'm having trouble adjusting to living in a new place. What are ways that helped people adjust to living in a new place."

Also, are you just out of college? This is also a difficult transition - you're going from living and working with people who are similar to you in their interests culturally and intellectually and you're back to the real world (well grad school isn't entirely real, but that's a whole other kettle of red herrings).
posted by sciencegeek at 7:04 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm an East Coaster who ended up in a Midwest college town, and I feel your pain... sort of. When I first moved here, I think I felt a lot like you do. I felt really confused by the culture. I'm used to being pretty direct, and I had trouble understanding some of the indirect communication style that goes on here. Like, if I ask if it's ok for me to take a day off of work at a busy time, and they say "go ahead if it's really important to you," does that mean yes or no? (At work, I've solved this problem by finding the one director who is not from around here and asking all my questions of her. I think I'm still having some trouble translating my Ask Culture into Midwestern Guess-ese, and I've been here for almost five years.) I also felt like everyone was from around here, and I was a little weirded out by how often my friends would meet some random stranger and establish a connection having to do with my friend's grandparents living in the same tiny town as the stranger's aunt or one of their uncles having been pastor at the church where the other one taught Sunday school as a teenager. I felt like a big, glaring outsider, and I'm not even a racial minority.

(I am Jewish, which felt like much more of an outsider status than it ever has anywhere else I've ever lived, although that may partly be in my head. I don't think people care very much, and I certainly don't feel like antisemitism is at all an issue for me here, but I'm very conscious of there not being many other Jews here and of people really not knowing very much about Jews or Jewishness.)

The first thing that has helped me is to approach the cultural differences as cultural differences. It's really easy for me to read them through the lens of my judgments and prejudices. It's easy for me to think that people here are insincere or provincial or whatever, rather than that many people here have an indirect communication style or that a lot of people here value roots and family very much and want to live close to where they grew up. And I've tried very hard to focus on the good things about the culture here, such as the fact that where I live now is vastly less class-stratified than the big cities in which I always lived before. And I've found close friends who are not at all closed-minded or provincial, which I think is just a function of having had enough time to find my people. I also had to get to know some people well enough to see beyond the surface. I have close friends who grew up in small Midwestern towns, settled close to home, married young, are deeply committed Christians, and who are awesome, open-minded, well-read, as-well-traveled-as-they-can-afford-to-be people who are deeply committed to the social justice issues that I care about. Midwesterners aren't the only people who can be a little closed-minded and provincial.

Finally, I have had a tough time getting involved in my community. I was really involved in the 2012 Obama campaign, which was run by outsiders who parachuted in for the campaign, and I naively thought that after that it would be really easy to join the local Democratic party and become active in local campaigning. (I have no desire to run for elected office, but I'm really good at the campaigning stuff, and living in a swing state, that stuff is important.) I've found the local Democrats to be a pretty tough nut to crack, and I'm still working at it after a year and a half. I'm really interested in immigrants-rights stuff, but the local groups that work on that stuff are all pretty churchy and don't feel very open to non-Christians. If you were planning to stay for the long haul, I would have some thoughts for you about how you might be able to overcome this, but since you're only there for a few years, I think I agree with other people that you might want to focus your community involvement on the university. If your university is at all like my university, I promise you there are huge glaring inequities that you could busy yourself fighting for the next three years.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:35 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Well, I'm in Michigan where I'm originally from and currently living after stints down south, out east and overseas. We get painted with the Midwest brush a lot; in some ways Michigan is the Midwest and in some ways it's really its own thing.

It will probably be helpful if you reframe your question (and your internal dialogue?) to adjusting to a new place. You sound like you think East Coast culture is inherently superior to Midwest culture -- this may rub off on the locals and if there's one thing you can generalize about Midwesterners (and Michiganders) is that they're not going to take the time to convince you otherwise, they'll just leave you out in the cold (literally and figuratively) until you knock nicely and ask for something to warm you up. If I picked up a vibe of "Wow, I don't know anyone and it's a little different here," I'd be friendly and accomodating, but if I picked up vibe that said, "Everything is better where I'm from and this locality is lame because they don't do things my way," well . . . I'd write you off because it's not my job to make sure you like it here. Especially in Michigan, which has a lot of problems that we bitch about all the time, but outsider criticism gets shut down fast.

Just do what you're there to do -- study hard, go to classes and maximize your academic experience. I also agree with what was said above about getting hyper-local -- these things can be hard to find in suburban sprawl, but here in Michigan a lot of people geek out about farmers' markets and local breweries. Also, look forward to spring -- it's been an unusual winter everywhere and particularly in the Midwest. In a few weeks, people will be leaving their houses again and you'll probably see all kinds of street festivals and fairs popping up. And when it really truly thaws, get out in nature -- the Midwest is so huge that there are many parks and wildlife refuges that are near-pristine. That's going to be a difference you can really appreciate if you spent most of your life in a city.

Also look around on campus for student groups, even undergraduate groups, that may have more diversity for people who weren't born and raised in your town.
posted by mibo at 7:50 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Here's my perspective from the opposite side of the spectrum:

I grew up in a poor, rural area of a flyover state and moved to NYC several years ago. Even though I was very interested in living here it was a painful transition and it took me about a year to adjust. For me it was very difficult to go from being one of the smartest people in the room to a backwoods hick who went to state school, which is how I felt many people perceived me. I still remember the shock of realizing that people were asking where I went to school not because they were interested in knowing more about me, but so they could figure out where to place me, class-wise. I remember the time I cried on the subway because someone barked at me for not taking off my backpack. AndI had to actively work on being less nice, particularly on the subway, because I could tell that my normal-to-me niceness was making people uncomfortable.

I practiced being curious and open and saying things like "I just moved here and it looks like people are seriously into bagels here. Has that been your experience?" Have a sense of humor about it.

Since then I've found lots of non-snobby people that I like and get along with, lots of groups and activities I enjoy, a career path that works for me. I will never completely feel I belong here. But I never completely belonged in my home town either.

I have friends from some typical east-coast families - wealthy (to me), privileged, Ivy-League educations. We bond around things that aren't related to wealth - personality traits, mutual interests. I don't talk much with them about class or growing up poor. Here it doesn't help to be frustrated (though I am) that some people live in pretentious bubbles of wall-street dads and trust funds. Back home it doesn't help to be angry about the lack of opportunity and culture (though I am).

Short answer: Give it time, be patient with yourself and those around you. Focusing your efforts on one area that you care about, as suggested above, will help. Making one or two good friends will help too.
posted by bunderful at 7:55 AM on March 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

What do people where you are value about where they live? Safety, integrity, family, farming, lack of pollution, ? Try to identify the good things and appreciate them. Maybe there's hiking, kayaking, stars where it's dark enough to see them. If you genuinely value diversity, practice valuing the differences.
posted by theora55 at 8:57 AM on March 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Along with investing in friendships with your classmates, digging into your studies and spending time on things you actually want to be doing, can you become curious about the people you're around? Maybe some of them aren't so into intellectual thrills, ok - so what exactly is it people get out of snowmobiling? What might it feel like to care deeply about patriotism (in case people do, I don't know)?

If you show an interest in what people love, they'll be more likely to want share it with you. It's fine if the interest is anthropological in nature, to start with. You might find yourself really liking bison burgers by the end of it.

(I mean, you don't naturally fit in, fine, you know it and and so do they - maybe acknowledge that, and ask questions. And maybe don't talk too much about Venice and Machu Picchu or how great the pizza was back home, in case you find yourself doing that as a protective measure, unless people ask.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:04 AM on March 15, 2014

If this was a relationship thread there would have been many cries of DTMFA already. Just move somewhere you actually like. The world is a big place.
posted by Joe Chip at 9:07 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

So, really, you've always lived in one place, and now, you're someplace else. IF wouldn't matter if you were in Paris or Novosibirsk or St. Paul--you'd still be in a place you don't know very well, and you'd be the outlier. So, you do the tourist stuff first, see the "must=sees" and do the usual things. Once you get that out of the way, then you begin to explore the lesser-known places and events, and start to make yourself at home. Shop at the same grocery, so you get to know and be known. Find a bar or cafe and become a regular. Try all the ethnic restaurants around--if people from Somalia can make a home, you can as well.
You're not going to develop an instant sense of community, because you are growing your community, and that takes time. You might also take a look at local MeetUps, and that sort of thing.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:11 AM on March 15, 2014

I moved to the Midwest from Australia 4 years ago. I had before then travelled & lived in the UK and had some extended travel around Europe. One thing I've learned about the Midwest is that people are not what they seem or how the media portrays them, don't fall for cliches anymore than you want people to fall for cliches about you

I am an Aussie, we know each others life stories within 15 minutes of meeting, or so it seems, but here so many people I have met & gotten to know that live here, have what I call the Midwestern front, you think you are meeting a friendly welcoming open person but what you are getting is the "front" they put on. Stick it out through the "white bread" blandness and you will find some amazing people, just as different and interesting as people from anywhere else in the world.

In my first year here I would have sworn, like you they were all the same. In my time since then, as I have learned to give them time to realise that yes I am different (ie a scary foreigner with a weird accent that will use the word fortnight in a sentence) but I won't bite. I have learned that the old guy down the road that cuts his grass & washes his car every weekend the weather allows before taking his wife to Chillis for lunch, was a Rhodes Scholar and lived in the UK for years and has written numerous books. The rough as guts truck driver that works more hours a week than pretty much anyone I know, love to play D&D & plays 3 different games a week. That sweet old 70 yo woman I met at the office when she bought cookies in, has been in a committed relationship with another woman since her 20's and throws a mean St Paddy's party where she still wins the whiskey drinking. Of course there are assholes, there are assholes everywhere in the world, but I don't think there are any more of them per capita in the Midwest than anywhere else been.

As a sweeping generalization I have a theory that Midwesterners are shy and scared of causing offence so they put up a polite bland front, you have to get through that, and the only way to do it is time. Instead of throwing your net so wide in the attempts to make friends, find one or 2 things you like doing and keep doing them and slowly get to know a small group people, they take a while to thaw but really they are no different to any other people I've met travelling the world.
posted by wwax at 9:18 AM on March 15, 2014 [10 favorites]

I'm not going to argue that the Midwest isn't culturally different from the East Coast in many ways and, depending where you are, can feel racially/culturally/etc. homogenous. Wherever you are in the world, it is tiring getting to know people who have limited experience relating to someone with your specific background (whatever that may be), who don't "get where you're coming from" in a broad sense. I think your best bet will be to lay off noticing and inventorying all the aspects of "Midwest culture" that are throwing you for a loop and just focus on developing individual relationships. All places are different from other places. Moving anywhere new, it probably takes a year on average to have developed strong ties and begin to feel have a leg up in that you have a built in community at the university to draw on. Could the long-distance relationship and missing your SO be impacting your desire/motivation to forge new friendships and social connections where you are?

Maybe you are feeling the effects of moving big city-small town/small economy that doesn't support a wide variety of cultural programming/events/new restaurants but it's not going to get you points with locals for blaming this on "Midwest culture" not being interesting or people there not having diverse interests.

Also, I really recommend asking the mods to add your specific location or at least state! I grew up, went to school and have roadtripped/worked in wide swaths of the region and I would love to give specific advice about things to do/ways to appreciate local culture if our geography happens to overlap. (Or MeMail me...I know stuff about Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, South Dakota, little bitta Wisconsin...)
posted by dahliachewswell at 9:24 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The mid-west is a big place. If you found a country of similar size, many of your comments would probably be just as true. Now, what would you think of an Amercan who visited france, or nigeria, etc and had your attitude? "Ugly american," perhaps?
posted by Good Brain at 9:29 AM on March 15, 2014 [8 favorites]

Also, seconding wwax's suggestion that there are some really darn interesting people in the Midwest once you let go of your assumption that everyone married early/never travels/has limited intellectual interests/has the same values. Are your impressions of homogeneity being colored by the Midwestern undergrads with limited life experiences you're having to interact with on campus? Keep digging, branch out and assume everyone has an interesting story to tell (they might not, but at least you will have tried...)
posted by dahliachewswell at 9:33 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

...yeah, being a born and raised Midwesterner who spent a few years in NYC, I definitely ran into that unconscious snobbery. ("This is called THAI FOOD." Oh really, you don't say. I only grew up half a block from 3 Thai places and two Indian restaurants, I couldn't possibly know about that. We just raise cows and corn in CHICAGO. Asswipe.)

The reason it rankled wasn't because it was correct, it rankled because it was wrong and unfair. For every New Yorker sticking their noses up at me for not summering in Provence, there were three who'd never left Manhattan for more than 24 hours in their lives.

Everyone is provincial, and everyone assumes their province is The Only One that Matters.

And as deathpanels so ably observed above, stop blaming a poverty of mind for what is in fact actual poverty of money.

In short, get over yourself, man. Midwesterners value that above most other things.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:21 AM on March 15, 2014 [23 favorites]

It's easy for me to think that people here are insincere or provincial or whatever, rather than that many people here have an indirect communication style or that a lot of people here value roots and family very much and want to live close to where they grew up.

The mid-west is a big place. If you found a country of similar size, many of your comments would probably be just as true. Now, what would you think of an Amercan who visited france, or nigeria, etc and had your attitude? "Ugly american," perhaps?

I grew up in the poor, rural Midwest and have now lived in Chicago and DC. You don't have to love the Midwest-- I don't necessarily, and I grew up there, and I know what everybody is saying about intellectual wastelands and brain drain-- but you do sound exceedingly provincial yourself despite your experiences which most people around you probably couldn't afford, or have no frame of reference for due to their class status. I think the two above quoted passages are very valuable.

Also, I don't know if I'd jump in to the broader community in a search for companionship first. Do your fellow graduate students suck that much? Try socializing with them. Having grown up in a small Midwestern community, the last thing the "community" wants is someone barely concealing their contempt coming in and trying to make everything dubiously better. They are living a way of life.

I grew up feeling like I didn't belong, and like things around me weren't stimulating or quality enough. And despite finally getting out and having chances to experience all of the brilliant, novel things that I coveted all my life, I still miss home deeply and painfully, and would love to settle back there some day, if I weren't worried about putting my children through the same rigmarole.

And I am quite the intellectual snob. But I don't know, like_a_friend has it. And don't try to be someone you're not. This doesn't sound like the area for you. But maybe conclude that you just miss being around people like you, instead of concluding that none of these people have anything interesting going on in their lives?
posted by stoneandstar at 10:31 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

And hey, I am not without empathy for your situation. I left because I thought I was too cool and too smart for the Midwest. And when I moved back to the Midwest, I still kind of thought I was too cool, PLUS I was practically a New Yorker, and... the reintegration wasn't exactly seamless. I grumped heavily about how early everything closed here, why oh why was the mass transit so shit, oh my god, this pizza is terrible.

Luckily I was coming back to family and friends who could, in their brilliant Midwestern way, tell me to get the fuck over myself without saying a word. ;) I do still miss the pizza.

I have been back for almost ten years now, and I am aware vaguely of being the least cool or cosmopolitan person I know. I only speak TWO languages fluently, and my third is kind of meh! What a rube! (Yo, also, none of them is Spanish, so nobody here gives a shit about my languages.)

But the reason I'm only vaguely aware of this is, "coolness" isn't a very valuable currency round here. To use an East Coast simile, it's like we're all old money here. Everyone knows I went to The Fancy School, because eventually people just know and because some of them have seen my resume. My friends and I DO take exotic vacations, but we don't name drop 'em, because that's rude, because Steve is unemployed, man!

It's a particularly NYC/East Coast/Ivy thing to feel like you MUST prove your bona fides at all times. Because those places are exclusionary; they will fight to keep you out, and you must fight to show you belong after all. Maybe one thing you can do in your Midwestern stint is try to enjoy how little fighting, proving, competing, and cut-throating will be required of you. Also enjoy how you can wear jeans urrrrrverywhere.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:59 AM on March 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

I grew up in and around Boston and then went to college in the midwest - St Paul, to be exact, so there was urban culture, but also many, if not most, of my classmates were from rural/suburban MN, Iowa, Wisconsin, etc. So I experienced a lot of culture shock, and I understand what that's like. And I'm white, but I was pretty surprised at how sheltered many of my (white) classmates were when it came to issues of race.

So I understand where you're coming from. Culture shock is a real thing, even within the US. I remember in grad school (back in Boston), one of the deans told us that the students from California had a harder time adjusting to Boston than international students, mostly because the international students expected to be in a different culture and were prepared for it.

So I say: embrace that you are in a new and different place. You say in your post:

I don't know what I was thinking when I matriculated at a graduate program in the Midwest-- perhaps I thought that having lived in diverse settings would be a good life experience or something

Yes, this! Don't just dismiss this initial thought. I'm guessing that you've been there for about 6 months or so (assuming you started school in September). One thing that anyone who's moved to a vastly different place will tell you is that this is around the time things get hard. You've been there long enough for the initial excitement to wear off, but not long enough to have your routine, your people, your life sorted.

I think there are two ways to go here: one is that you can take some of the excellent advice above about throwing yourself into the community in a more intentional way (as not that girl suggests). Really honing in on the types of things you like to do and people you like to hang out with, and finding those things in your location, but also opening yourself to hang out with people and do things you wouldn't have done back home. The other is to just stick it out. Find the people in your program or university who are from NYC or Boston or wherever you're from, get your culture from Netflix and the internet and the occasional book reading, etc.

Personally, option 1 is harder in the beginning but will be a lot more rewarding in the end, and you can still sprinkle it with things from option 2.

FWIW, when I was at the aforementioned midwestern college, there was a significant group of students from NYC who all hung out together. I can understand why, but they really kind of isolated themselves from the rest of the school. Most of them ended up transferring, and the ones who stayed mostly seemed unhappy. Take from that what you will.

Oh, and you know what was even more surprising to me than the culture shock at my midwestern college? The sheer amounts of bullshit provincial attitude I got from some people back on the east coast about Minnesota. Some people refused to believe that it wasn't just a homogenous boring provincial backwater. I would tell people actual facts about Minneapolis (ie, that it has the second most theaters per capita of any city in the US, that it has large Hmong, Somali, and Mexican populations, that it has a really thriving arts scene in general) and people would either straight-up not believe me, or try to tell me why those things didn't matter. And these were people who thought of themselves as educated, cosmopolitan people. It was maddening. So I just want to echo that some level of provincialism can be found pretty much anywhere.

And yes, the people who are suggesting socializing more with people in your program: yes! Is there a reason you're not doing this?
posted by lunasol at 11:11 AM on March 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

My ex is from small town Midwest where we never lived but spent a lot of time and, as a woman there was no way I was ever going to fit in or be accepted there for who I was. I think the experience for women in those towns is staggeringly more confining and conservative than for men. It's a very male-centric culture and the women I met, all educated and smart, still saw themselves as sidekicks to their men. And they weren't shy about pressuring me to be the same way.

I recall one of his relatives moved to SF and told us that in order to explore the city she'd set up a series of online dates. So basically she'd arranged male chaperones for herself. Everyone thought this was an excellent idea! That's when I gave up trying to fit in!

If this is what you're experiencing my advice is to find other outsiders and cultivate their friendship.
posted by fshgrl at 11:44 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ha! I have rewritten my answer a couple of times: I did not know I had feelings about this topic until now :)

What you're experiencing is for sure A Thing. I had the same experience when early in my career my head office sent me out to what we called "the regions," to pay my dues. I spent two years in a small bland town, which I did not enjoy.

I got that the people in my town had different values than me, and for the most part I respected that. (I did not respect the frequent casual racism.) But their values *were* different.

People kept urging me to appreciate the place -- the awesome farmers market, the great hiking, the jazz and blues festival. I felt like there was an element of defensiveness and anxiety to that, and it felt weird to me. I didn't much like the place, they did: no harm no foul.

I got through my two years hanging out with a few close friends, going to stuff at the university and building in lots of vacations elsewhere. It was fine. I don't think about it much now.

So my advice to you is to just get through it. Don't trash-talk the place (that's rude) or wallow in unhappiness. Let yourself like what you like, and ignore what you don't. Then leave and go somewhere you like better :)
posted by Susan PG at 11:57 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

If this was a relationship thread there would have been many cries of DTMFA already. Just move somewhere you actually like. The world is a big place.

Yeah it seems like a lot of people are coming to the defense of the Midwest in general for various reasons, which is cool. I have moved a lot and have defended my own southern upbringing to both New Yorkers and Californian hippies who have never left Cascadia. But there are a lot of places that are not particularly interesting, and a lot of people who never really leave the places where they were born. I find those places brain draining as well. I get the appeal and respect the people who live there, their entire family and support structure is there, they have the kind of community and deep roots and values that I have never had in any place I have lived. But for someone like me who is vaguely sort of from a region and doesn't have those roots, I say just move on.
posted by bradbane at 12:03 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I felt like there was an element of defensiveness and anxiety to that, and it felt weird to me

This is the attitude I find most alienating-- that because small-towners might like a place, they are defensive and anxious. Maybe they're anxious for you to enjoy yourself? Instead of just "defensive" bores. Maybe they're really just trying to suggest anything that you might like ("I don't care for those big music festivals, but maybe an out-of-towner looking for something more exciting would"-- this is a common small-town attitude). I mean, people do this to me about my own hometown, because I'm obviously bored there at times, but it doesn't mean they're particularly defensive. They're just trying to help. I mean, everyone is a little defensive about shit that they like. And people can sense when you're contemptuous, even if you don't say it outright.

Anyway, I am a little defensive though, and this is the reason why-- I currently live in a major urban center with my boyfriend, who is from the area. He would never in ten million years move back to my hometown, because everyone agrees-- it's small, it's poor, it's provincial, there's no culture, even the surrounding urban centers aren't exciting enough for anyone who's lived in a "real" city, blah blah blah. However, when I say that I find the place where HE'S from tiring, close-minded, difficult to make friends in (no one understands my rural poor background), judgmental, self-centered, expensive, boring, materialistic, &c.... well, no one cares, because everyone (everyone from this urban center, with comparatively more cultural capital and "voice" than from my rural hometown) agrees this place is better. That is exhausting, and makes a person defensive.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:14 PM on March 15, 2014 [8 favorites]

I can't speak to small towns or really to anyplace other than the college town where I currently live, but I really haven't found it to be any more male-centric than any other place I've lived, and as a single woman, I think I'm especially sensitive to that kind of thing.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:34 PM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure how to say this exactly but I want to mention -- as a devoted transplant to the midwest -- that even though I absolutely love where I live, there are towns in the midwest where I think I'd have a really difficult time making friends. In fact the town my parents live in, despite being a university town, is one of them.

I think spending more time socially with people from your program is a good way to go. If you find over time that the town grows on you as well, great. If not, you'll just move away when all your school friends do, and that's okay too. I haven't loved everywhere I've ever lived and that's all right.
posted by gerstle at 1:08 PM on March 15, 2014

I've lived in Chicago for 12 years, since my early twenties, and the longer I am here the more I get what you're saying. While I can't speak for the entire Midwest since I've not experienced much of it, people in Chicago are insanely conservative in their mindset and their approach to life. I was, somehow, relatively oblivious to this for many years, but once I actually began to see it more and more it made more and more sense, and began to explain why I've always had trouble meeting people with similar interests, or a similar (non super conservative, work, work, work) approach to life. However, the people I did find and ended up being close to were life time mid-westerners, and we were close because we fit in the kind of way that over-comes little (relatively) culture differences. So I would advise trying to find a few people that it makes so much sense for you to be friends with (the kind that you would have naturally gravitated to in kindergarten), rather than trying to feel like you have to connect with the whole community because you don't (granted social events might be a way to meet those few special people). I also find that in graduate programs there are always a few people from other parts of the world. Hanging out with them can give you a bit of a feeling of closeness at least in the sense that despite their particular differences there will be a feeling of closeness that comes from not seeing everything the given way a Midwesterner might.
posted by Blitz at 1:09 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's some great advice above. To which I will add:

1) Living in a place that isn't a great fit for you is a great learning experience. Notice how you feel about where you live now and why, notice what you miss about where you used to live and why. Later, that can help you identify a great place for you, where you will wake up every day with a profound sense of gratitude and well being because you will know you are in the right place.

2) You have a choice in how you respond to the feeling of 'doth protest too much' that arises when locals will tell you how amazing the midwest is to the point where you begin to wonder if they are trying to convince you or themselves. (This isn't an east coast/midwest thing - I definitely noticed this, and I'm not from the east coast.) You can either get really frustrated by this and spend a miserable however many years there or you could try saying 'you are so lucky to live in a place you so clearly love so much' and then asking a question about their experiences there. And maybe make a friend.
posted by susiswimmer at 1:13 PM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, I was originally supposed to go to grad school in Oxford, Ohio, and when I arrived there to look for apartments I had the most horrendous reaction I have had to any place in the world ( and I've traveled to lots of non-western countries). I don't know if it was culture shock, that seems too weak a word, but it was incredibly visceral. I am multiple minorities rolled into one and everything screamed to me that I did not fit in there. After a truly agonizing 3 days I realized there was no way it was going to work and I turned them down. So it could be worse. I could not have made it even a semester there, so if you're already working your way through your program and living there then you're already getting by (to some degree). Don't feel bad about your reaction or assume it has to be a "prejudice". That would be a huge assumption and there are very real reasons why you could be having a negative reaction. Just try to make the best of it, obviously, but that doesn't mean trying to convince yourself that everything you think and feel is "wrong".
posted by Blitz at 1:25 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you tried to connect with the local alumni association from your Ivy/Northeast college? Most of them have a club/chapter in large midwestern cities and welcome new members. Many of the members are transplants, too, or in grad school and may be able to offer tips on how they survive/tolerate the midwest. Having attended many such events with my Ivy-educated husband, you might find the "people like us" atmosphere at these gatherings enjoyable. They love to sing Old Nassau or Fair Harvard or whatever and relive their undergrad glory days. You might find a kindred spirit or two.

It is true that a lot of midwesterners have been here always, have their circles established, and it can be hard to break into groups like that. They don't necesssarily need you, but you need them if you want to adjust to/tolerate the culture. There are opportunities to be involved and meet people, but an attitude of "these people" are probably boring, non-intellectual or whatever won't get you far. I agree with not that girl upthread about how tiresome it is to continually listen to how much somewhere else is better than where we are right now. Kind of like talking to someone who is looking over your shoulder to see if there is someone more interesting to talk to--rude and annoying.

in a university setting there must be others from away, not to mention groups/clubs/meetings on just about any interest you might have from fat bikes to yoga to gaming and more. Finding these would give you more options. The old adage "bloom where you're planted" is something to keep in mind. Three years can be a really long time if you are yearning for something else or dismissing opportunities or it can go quickly if you find a social group and activities that you enjoy. Keep trying. It can take awhile.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 4:58 PM on March 15, 2014

I had a similar reaction just going from an "urban" neighborhood of Chicago to the university in Madison, Wisconsin.

At first I literally could not tell my classmates apart, which was sometimes painfully embarrassing.

I also discovered that many of my friends who had grown up there or elsewhere in the Midwest had a lot less experience with people from other races or cultures, and as a result they said earnest yet occasionally cringe-inducing things. Basically, I found myself keeping my mouth shut a lot.

The standard local organizations or the usual student groups didn't work for me. Instead, I sought out the international community. I helped immigrants learn English and I got involved in cultural groups that included or were dominated by immigrants. That helped a lot. I still ended up leaving the midwest and now live abroad.

Some people here have floated allegations of classism. I was often one of the poorest people when I was with a group of Madison locals, yet I usually had more direct experience with other cultures and was often the only bilingual person. Exposure to other cultures and races has nothing to do with class, and my own exposure was due in part to my non-upper-class childhood.
posted by ceiba at 5:24 PM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you are in graduate school and can't find a bunch of people who have been outside of the US and speak multiple languages, then you are not looking. Also, many people attend grad school far from home so you probably have more in common with your cohort than you think.

Like a few other people said, there is a big difference between "I'm slumming it in flyover country and no one here appreciates my ivory tower" and "I moved to a new place and am having trouble adjusting." You've gone somewhere new before. You've gone to college and found out how to make it there. You've apparently traveled outside the US enough to think you can dismiss intra-country culture shock and seem to have enjoyed foreign countries. You have done this all before. is often recommended for meeting people with similar interests. Someone else also mentioned looking at undergrad clubs on campus. Grad students pay fees for those, too! Join them! When I transplanted to the midwest from the east coast, I found a lot of things I hadn't encountered back home. I made a list of things I wanted to do in the midwest and asked around my department's office for anyone to join. Sometimes people joined me (trying salsa dancing, visiting all the megachurches in town and the state parks nearby were popular) and sometimes I went by myself (chess night at a coffeeshop, gym classes). It's like meeting an SO: you do you and let relationships happen.
posted by thewestinggame at 7:31 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

You've come from "outside," are having a negative reaction (to your credit you're trying be open minded, but trust me, it's been noticed), and are busy-bodying yourself with volunteering and museums, etc. Honestly some of this is going to read like status-seeking or resume-puffing behavior and play right in to the stereotypes mid-westerners have about east-coasters.

Look, it's also a stereotype that mid-westerners are reserved, but it's also pretty true. Pick a couple of your many intellectual interests and follow them. Unless you're at the tiniest of tiny schools in the middle of nowhere, you're going to find some similar people. They aren't going to wear it on their sleeves quite the same way you might be used to. You need to get to know them a bit first.

Also, maybe go hang out at a bar or something and be a little less aggressive about making the right connections or social matches. This is your opportunity to get used to a more relaxed approach before you have to go back east and into the fray. That will be a good life experience.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 7:33 PM on March 15, 2014

I want to give the Midwest a chance, and I've made an effort to connect with my community through volunteering activities, visiting museums, and participating in community-oriented events... but my impression isn't changing. I feel like everyone basically grew up around here, hasn't ever been outside of the US, only speaks English, gets married relatively early (not that there's anything wrong with that, but it was a shock to me), and doesn't have many intellectual interests... On top of that, the Midwest (outside of Chicago and the Twin Cities) is not very diverse. I'm a minority, so that has also made things a bit more challenging.

I don't think he is being a pretentious snob. It sounds like he wants to make an effort to dig in and enjoy his surroundings. Sometimes a a person and a place just don't fit. The town may actually be boring. I moved to Madrid for a few months and found it relatively dull. I wonder what reaction he would get if coming to New York from the mid-west?

Culture shock is a real and is the result of differences in values and lifestyles. Even successfully adapting to a new culture, it is common for there to be doubts or complaints about the new culture. You can read about the process here.

You might also want to check out The Bennett scale, also called the DMIS (for Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity). Can you recognize yourself as anywhere on this scale? If so, maybe you can try to act as though you have progressed to the next level and see how that goes?
posted by Che boludo! at 9:48 AM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

As someone who moved from a relatively intellectual, at-least-slightly diverse part of the midwest to, well, basically the platonic ideal of a insular rural tiny midwestern town...

1. Give it time. Midwesterners are very nice, but it takes awhile for them to be friendly, IYKWIM. Most people have their social lives all set up from HS, close family connections, etc, and they're not looking for new grownup friends. It will take awhile to find your niche. Look for other cultural 'expats.'

2. Find the good stuff. There are perks to small town midwest life too. And sometimes they're the other side of the coin from the big-city stuff. Like... I'm a foodie, and most people in my town have never heard of pilaf, let alone quinoa. BUT, I can get the most amazing fresh produce from CSAs and Roadside stands. Getting into canning was like the perfect venn diagram intersection between the whole hipster foodie thing, and the rural farmer thing.

3. Keep an open mind, and find your respect. The guy in my office who went to work straight from High School? Way better than me at math. Guy who only talks about beer and NASCAR? Actually his wife is from the Philippines and he spent a year there.

4. Ask for help. This kind of goes with #1, but Midwesterners are generally willing to help when asked. And you tend to like people better once you've helped them/they've helped you. It's weird, you'd think you need to break down barriers BEFORE asking for a favor, but actually the asking helps break them down in the first place. People here are always willing to help me like, when my car breaks down. They take me to their trusted shop that they have a longstanding relationship and make sure the guy there knows to 'take care of me.'
posted by Caravantea at 10:18 AM on March 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is independent of inland / coastal, but I know that I personally have a habit where -- if in the first 30 seconds, I judge someone to be someone I 'don't like', I will spend the entire rest of the interaction trying to show that I am different or better, even for a nonexistent audience.

This is a luxury I can afford right now because I am around lots of people who think like me and can be a defective human being in this respect. But it is a defect in that it will prevent you from finding connections, and if what you're looking for is more connection, I suppose you'll have to do the painful rewiring of turning off every trace of this habit that you might have.

Also, I am going to call out a comment from deathpanels that I perceive to be American provincialism:

There is one thing that particularly bothered me about your post. Namely, your apparent class-blindness.

...everyone basically grew up around here, hasn't ever been outside of the US, only speaks English, gets married relatively early (not that there's anything wrong with that, but it was a shock to me), and doesn't have many intellectual interests...

The opportunity to travel internationally, to learn a foreign language with anything approaching adequate fluency, to acquire and nurture intellectual interests... delaying marriage... to have enough freedom from family obligations to be able to move to another part of the country... these are class indicators. I don't know your background, but you should open your eyes and realize that you are being a bit classist here.

Delaying marriage and intellectual interests, sure. But the other things are done by all immigrants. Not everyone has to learn a second language, besides English, which is what you mean by 'foreign' language. And 'being outside the US' doesn't mean you traveled there or went there on study abroad: it might mean that all your family is actually there.
posted by batter_my_heart at 1:44 PM on March 16, 2014

I grew up in a Midwestern college town and now live in Southern California, so I totally understand what you are feeling. I would suggest seeking out foreign students for friendship and activities because you will feel that you are having a culturally broad experience and they will understand how you are feeling.
posted by Dansaman at 9:21 PM on March 16, 2014

You know how people who love punk often can't stand to listen to classical music, while classical fans are aghast that the rockers won't sit still long enough to hear the subtlety of their favorite pieces? It's like that.

I grew up in Minnesota, then moved to the East Coast (Boston and then Rhode Island) for the last 20-odd years. I have lived and traveled abroad. I will make two points:

1. Don't keep saying "Back home we did blah-de-blah in such-and-such a manner." I often did this when I was studying abroad (despite having been warned against it!) and it was like sand in the gears. Feel free to silently note the differences, but start swimming with the flow.

2. There are a lot of amazing people around you, but they aren't going to tell you right away. In The Midwest there's a tendency to downplay onesself in order not to stand out and to make sure everyone gets along. If people have been told how awesome you are, they might feel bad about themselves -- so upon first meeting him you won't know that, for example, my dad -- who totally looks like his corn-farming cousins out in the boonies -- goes to Tokyo several times a year and has visited most of the continents. Or that my salaryman brother keeps bees. Or that my so-quiet uncle makes guitars and is so funny that he will make milk come out your nose before you even fill the glass. Or my friend the assistant high school principal used to be a wild rocker. Or or or.

In important gloss to what you are seeing is that a lot of folks think family is very important. At the age where you are pursuing advanced study, and uprooting to do so, others in your field are balancing out professionalism with domesticity by pairing up and settling down. So you're right: they are using their "emotional capital" at home, and spending evenings & weekends with the people they love. You've got to get to know them before they'll let you in -- but when they do, you will probably find completely fantastic people right under your nose.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:31 AM on March 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ask for help. This kind of goes with #1, but Midwesterners are generally willing to help when asked. And you tend to like people better once you've helped them/they've helped you. It's weird, you'd think you need to break down barriers BEFORE asking for a favor, but actually the asking helps break them down in the first place. People here are always willing to help me like, when my car breaks down. They take me to their trusted shop that they have a longstanding relationship and make sure the guy there knows to 'take care of me.'

This is a good point!

Everyone's favorite thing to talk about is themselves. When you are living in a culture that emphasizes self-deprecation, then a good outlet is to let local strangers show you (the newcomer) something by helping you with their knowledge & skills.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:34 AM on March 17, 2014

Last, ArbitraryAndCapricious is 100% correct: you are an Ask person living in Guess-land now and you may not have made the necessary adjustment yet.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:36 AM on March 17, 2014

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