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I came to Granville, Ohio to attend Denison University without ever having been to the Midwest before and, coming from the West Coast, it was a bit of a culture shock. Denison is a very diverse school with people hailing from a wide variety of places, so there are many things I have never encountered before. Here’s a list of what I’ve experienced for the first time here:


  1. Fireflies. One evening, walking back from transfer orientation, a couple of lights appeared on the grass in front of us. I was so excited and quickly pointed out the fireflies, which I had only seen before on TV. My new friends laughed at my reaction and my terminology, seeing as the preferred term here is “Lightning Bugs.” Whatever they are called, they’re beautiful to encounter on a summer’s evening. 

  2. The woods. While I’ve been in my fair share of coniferous forests due to past excursions in Washington and California, I had never seen deciduous woodland before. Denison has many green spaces and I’ve spent several days walking around the bio reserve and exploring the wooded areas around campus. The trees here are so different; the Eastern U.S is mostly in a biome where the trees change leaves in the fall. The forests are much more dense and abundant because of the layer of plants underneath the trees that the West is too dry to have. I’m so excited for when leaves begin to change, I’m looking forward to having my own fall woodland wonderland. 

    walkway through the woods in the fall
    Photo by PGloutnay from Pixabay

  3. Fishing profile pictures. I’ve seen plenty of memes about men posting pictures of themselves holding up fish, but I honestly thought that it was just a joke. I haven’t really ever used dating apps until I downloaded Tinder last month out of curiosity. As I was swiping through the profiles, I quickly learned that fishing profile pics was actually a real phenomenon, which I had never seen before in real life. 

  4. Frat boys. Similarly, another archetype that turned out to be very real is that of the “Chad:” typically a white, upper-middle-class, preppy, athletic boy in a fraternity. While I had been made aware of frat boys through pop culture, no one from home had come close to actually being one. The majority of people I knew throughout my life would rather attend a DIY punk show than a football game. However, as an economics major, I am seemingly surrounded by stereotypical frat boys who frequently wear Vineyard Vines shirts and salmon-colored shorts. I think it’s a good look.

  5. Regular American food.  I’m used to health food being promoted everywhere I go. No one at home drank soda, the most popular drinks were kombucha and Yerba Mate. At the market of my last school there was a Kale smoothie bar and a fridge full of turmeric wellness shots. Things were served with a side of quinoa instead of onion rings, and there was absolutely no ranch dressing in sight. While sometimes I miss a good Acai bowl, the toxic health culture can be a lot. It’s nice to be able to order a side of fries without judgment. 

  6. Republicans. Though I myself am a Democrat, it’s refreshing to see people with different political viewpoints as myself. My old college was a far-left leaning echo chamber and, as a polysci student, it became very repetitive because no one had any opposing opinions. Class discussions featured “Trump supporters” as some far-off concept that only existed in theory, so seeing MAGA hats on people walking through town was a much-needed reminder that the views by a progressive, outdoorsy, liberal arts college in Washington state are not held by everyone else. 

  7. Tornadoes. Every Wednesday a loud bell blares during my Econometrics class, which is located in a tent outside. The first time it went off, no one in my class even flinched, despite it sounding like the commencement of The Purge. I was told it was the tornado warning sound, but also that they hardly ever happened here. When I got the texts last Monday that said “DU Alert: There is a Tornado Warning issued for Licking County. Please seek shelter” followed 15 minutes later by “TAKE COVER NOW! Move to a basement or an interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building. Avoid windows,” I flipped out. Luckily it was alright, but my friends in the library basement were roasting me, for everything I knew about tornadoes came from The Wizard of Oz. 

  8. Other forms of freakish weather. Though LA has been in the news lately for temperatures reaching 121° degrees, I would take the desert heat any day over the humidity of the last few weeks. From thunderstorms that come out of nowhere to weather that changes by the hour, it’s been a wild ride and I am often ill-prepared for the sporadic weather. 

  9. Ice cream. Most of the ice cream in LA is modified: low-calorie, gourmet, overly expensive, or flavored with unusual things like rosemary and balsamic. While those are fun options, the ice cream in the dining hall and at Whit’s Frozen Custard in town has made me learn the ways of traditional, super creamy, and very tasty ice cream. 

    gif of Jimmy Fallon saying "you're my best friend and I mean that"
    Jimmy Fallon via GIPHY

  10. Kindness. Everyone I have met here is so genuinely kind, and I’ve been told it’s a Midwestern thing. Although I am a new student, people at Denison have been incredibly welcoming. People here make a real effort to talk to you instead of just asking for your Instagram. And after my last college in Washington that fell victim to the social phenomenon called the “Seattle Freeze,” the warmness of Ohio has made me feel at home. 

Though a lot of things about Denison and Ohio have been different from home, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am so happy to be here and these new experiences are pushing me out of my comfort zone in the best way possible.

Penelope is an economics major and political science minor at Denison University. She is passionate about social and environmental justice, and wants to go into politics one day. She spends her time obsessing over Taylor Swift, making collages on Pinterest, and denying that she is still in her emo phase.
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