Southern Belle in Training

Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle Blog || Est. 2012 || Virginia Beach, VA

January 24, 2022

The "Southern Belle in Training" Origin Story: How I Fell in Love With the Southeast.

      2022 is a milestone year for me in a few different ways. June will mark 10 years since I graduated from high school, and September will mark 10 years since I started this blog! (This year will also bring some smaller 10 year milestones: like it being 10 years since I joined Instagram as @miss_alk, 10 years since I got my belly button pierced, and 10 years since I made the mistake of perming my hair for the first and only time. Ha!) But my first milestone that turns 10 this year is one that happened in January 2012- probably right around this exact week. And that would be the day that I had the epiphany that I  needed to move to the South for college.

The most "Southern" outfit that I think I ever have worn on the blog- from this 2015 post!

     My blog is called "Southern Belle in Training," and I've blogged a lot over the years about how I am a Maine native who fell in love with the Southeast, and how much I love living here. But I don't think I've ever shared the full backstory on the blog about how that love for the South began! You might think that I grew up taking a lot of vacations to the South, or had a lot of extended family here. Both are false! Prior to 2012, I had been to the Southeast a grand total of once in my life. My parents and I vacationed in Williamsburg, VA when I was 8 or 9 years old. We visited Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown, but I think the real highlight of the trip was actually eating at a Cracker Barrel for the first time. (If my memory serves me right, we ate there five times during the vacation! Maine wouldn't get a Cracker Barrel location until many years later.) But aside from that one Williamsburg trip, I had no experience with anything else related to the South. (I did go to Disney World a few times growing up, but I don't consider Orlando to be very "Southern.") 

     Fast forward to January 2012. I was a 17 year old college senior who was actively applying to colleges around the Northeast. Most that I was looking at were in Massachusetts, but I think I applied to schools in every New England state except Vermont (which cracks me up since I ended up living there five years later!). I even applied to one school in Quebec, as Canadian schools are often pretty affordable for American students. My faith was very important to me, and ideally I wanted to go to a Christian or religious school. For awhile, my two top picks were Gordon College (Evangelical) and Emmanuel College (Catholic), which are both located in or near Boston, MA.

     Although by January 2012 I had already been accepted to several colleges, nothing felt right to me yet. To make a long and detailed story very short, I didn't have the best high school years, and didn't have a very fond view of Maine or my hometown. The year prior during 11th grade, I'd suffered from extreme anxiety and some depression. My senior year of high school was going better than the year before (I wasn't depressed anymore, and for the first time in high school I had a decent amount of friends), but the tough years before that still left an impact on me. I've written more about my complicated relationship with Maine and my hometown in this blog post, which goes a lot more into detail about all of this. 

     As I said, nothing was feeling right on the college search. While there were things that I liked about all of the Northeast schools that I was getting accepted to, nothing made me super excited. A lot of my high school classmates had already committed to certain colleges or accepted scholarship offers. I started feeling like I was running out to time to find the right college for me.

My senior yearbook photo - 2012

     One afternoon in mid-January, I was driving home from school. Freezing rain started falling around the time that I was pulling out of my high school parking lot. (In the South, school would probably already be cancelled if there was any threat of freezing rain. In Maine, it has to be a significant amount of snow accumulation or very bad freezing rain to get a snow day!) I had only had my car for about a month at that point, so I wanted to be extra careful driving in the inclement weather. I was slowing driving along, maybe not even a mile from my high school yet, when I started thinking about how frustrated I was to live in a place with weather like that. As a little girl, I loved playing in the snow and going sledding. But the older I'd gotten, the less that appealed to me. Now that I was a brand new driver, winter weather really didn't appeal to me.

     Suddenly, I had what I can only describe as an out-of-body moment. I believe that it was 100% God speaking directly to me. I've never quite had a similar moment before in my life. It was the ultimate "lightbulb" moment, in one second I had the greatest epiphany of my life. It really felt like God placing a sense of knowing and peace on me. I don't know how else to describe it! I suddenly had a realization that I didn't have to go to college in New England and stay in a short driving distance of home, but I could and should go to college in the South. There it was- clear as day! The first bit of peace that I'd truly felt about my college search. The only problem? Aside from that one Colonial Williamsburg vacation over 10 years before, I hadn't been back to the South, and I knew absolutely nothing about colleges in southern states. 

    I made it home from school safely, and during the rest of my drive all I could think about was how insane this seemed. But I also had the most excited feeling deep within me, a feeling that I'd honestly never felt before in my life! I did know that the South was considered to be "The Bible Belt," and since I wanted to go to a Christian school it did seem like the odds would be in my favor to find more religious schools to apply to in these states.

     My mom was out running errands that afternoon, so I was home alone for a couple hours. I had no motivation to do my homework, and instead all the motivation in the world to start researching colleges in the South. I had no idea what the prices were of schools in this part of the country, but I quickly and happily realized that out-of-state tuition at a lot of them was cheaper than a lot of schools in New England. One of the first schools that I found during my research was Clemson. I had never heard of Clemson before, and I had no idea how big it was. (This always cracks me up now, as over the years I've met many people who have gone there, and I know even more who are big Clemson sports fans!) I quickly realized that Clemson was a little too big for the type of college I felt comfortable looking at that far from home. That day was also the first day that I ever heard of Liberty University in Virginia, which is (I believe still?) the largest Christian college in the US. Like Clemson, Liberty also seemed a bit too big for me, so I started focusing my search on smaller, private colleges that were more similar to the ones I was looking at in New England.

     After a couple hour hours of searching, I found Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina. It was a Christian university of about 5,000 students, which was perfect for the size that I was looking for. They had a Communications major, and lots to get involved with on campus. Looking at the pictures on the website made me absolutely giddy inside. While the tuition was expensive, it was less than some of the New England schools that I'd gotten into. And the best news I discovered was that it wasn't too late to apply for some of Gardner-Webb's merit based scholarships! They also didn't have an application fee. I spent the rest of the afternoon into the evening working on my application, and I sent it in without telling my parents. (Imagine my mom's surprise when she got a phone call on the house number a few days later from a random college in North Carolina that she'd never heard of- ha!)

My second-ever trip to Charlote, NC - March 2012

     So that's the story of how my love of the South began! I was accepted to Gardner-Webb and got to visit with my dad the next month, in February 2012. The second that our flight to North Carolina touched down on the runway, I felt at home. I was ready to officially to commit after that college visit, but my parents encouraged me to still tour a few more of the northern schools that I've been accepted to in March of that year. Later in the spring, I officially committed to Gardner-Webb, and I moved to the South on August 17th, 2012. I ended up staying at Gardner-Webb only for a year, and then transferring to Queens University of Charlotte, which was about an hour away. I fell head over heels in love with living in Charlotte, and absolutely treasured my years there. My next stint in the South was here in Virginia. I recently wrapped up 3.5 years of working and living in Charlottesville, and as of this past July I'm making a new home for myself in Virginia Beach. 

     I am so, so thankful for the epiphany I had in the car on that cold January day in 2012. I really can only describe it as God talking to me. I can't even begin to imagine how different my life would've been for the past decade if I hadn't taken the risk to get very out of my comfort zone and move to a different part of the country. As in love as I have been with living in the Southeast, I do want to note that of course it isn't a perfect place. (There is a lot despicable history in Southern states regarding slavery and racism. I don't want this blog post to seem as though I am overlooking or disregarding that horrible part of American history.) 

    The South is not a perfect region by any means, but all of my experiences living here have been perfect for me. It's been so much easier for me in the South to make other likeminded Christian friends, In high school, I struggled so much to find community with other Christians. Just making friends in general has been one million times easier than it ever was for me in Maine- both in college or as an adult in my 20s. I absolutely love the weather of Virginia and the Carolinas- short winters (but still a winter!), beautiful, lengthy springs, long and hot summers and pleasant autumns. I have chosen to make my home in Southern cities, but I also love and appreciate the small towns. Southern hospitality is a real thing, and I love how a lot of Southern women still prioritize traditional values and skillsets. 

     Wow- this post has gotten a lot longer than I intended!! But I hope you did enjoy my "Southern Belle in Training" origin story. 😊Cheers to the next 10 years!

     God Bless,

      xoxo Annaliese


1 comment

  1. What a cool story- I love learning more of your backstory & how your love for the south began! So glad to have you as a southern friend :)


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