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Phrases I’ve Learned at UMKC as an Out-of-State Student

When I toured UMKC, I felt like I was in a cooler version of my hometown. I’m originally from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which — contrary to prevailing ideas — is not a cowboy town, rural town with one exit on the interstate or part of the “Little House on the Prairie” series. I went to a high school with 2,500 kids, we had multiple Starbucks locations and exits on the interstate and our mall was, at one point, the largest one-floor mall in the United States. I thought I’d be able to fit into UMKC, no problem. For the most part, I was right; Kansas City is definitely bigger, cooler and more metropolitan than Sioux Falls. UMKC was the perfect choice for me. However, I did have to get used to some questions that I’d never heard before starting school. Here’s my list of common questions, compiled from 3.5 years of living here.

“Where are you from?” “Kansas City (or here).” “Really, where?”

You would initially think that a question that starts with where wouldn’t be followed up by another where, yet I have heard this conversation about a million times. Saying you’re from Kansas City could mean any of the neighborhoods with Kansas City addresses or any of the metropolitan suburbs in either Kansas or Missouri. I haven’t figured out exactly where the line between living in Kansas City and just living in a suburb is, but it’s at least a 30-minute driving radius from campus in every direction. Over time, I’ve finally created somewhat of a mental map to understand where most of the suburbs are, but if my friends and I are going to Blue Springs, Lenexa or Belton, I’m not driving (because I’m not entirely sure where they are to this day).

What high school did you go to?

I’ve confused many classmates from St. Louis by answering, “South Dakota,” to this question. But if this question is being asked, it means the asker is from St. Louis, and they’re assuming the answerer is also from St. Louis. If anything, this question was kind of comforting when I was a freshman for two reasons. First, if I was in a group with another person not from St. Louis, we could commiserate on what a specific question that is. Second, when I was in high school, I always wanted to know where other people went to high school, but there were only four high schools in my surrounding area; ultimately, the question just showed me if their house was around 10 minutes away from mine or more like 20 minutes away. 

General confusion about South Dakota or the fact that there are two Dakotas.

I don’t think I’ve introduced myself as being from South Dakota without someone making a connection to either Dakota or asking about distance. Despite the fact that Kansas City is the same distance to my hometown as Mount Rushmore is (both around 330 miles), I still politely laugh when people guess that it takes nine hours to drive between the two places. The only state that keeps South Dakota and Missouri apart is Iowa. That’s it! I also do appreciate when people ask me if I know someone from Presho, South Dakota (I don’t), if I’ve been to Standing Rock (that’s North Dakota, and no) or if I’ve attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (no, and especially no in a pandemic), because at least they’re trying. Good enough for me!

Any variants of a second kitchen joke when talking about Independence.

I had no idea about the stereotype regarding meth kitchens in Independence until I moved here, and my lack of understanding definitely killed the vibe the first time I heard the joke. However, since moving to Kansas City, I’ve learned that Independence is one of my favorite suburbs. Downtown Independence has so many cool local businesses, they have massive Quik Trips along I-70 and I recently found out that they have the only brick and mortar location of Cargo Largo (if you don’t know what that is, just go. It’s an experience). Now, when anyone makes the joke, I just quote South Dakota’s new advertising campaign, which is an outline of our state with the words “Meth. We’re on it,” and then start a conversation about either bad advertising campaigns or the drug epidemic in this country, depending on the mood.

The real meaning of “Downtown.”

Before moving to Kansas City, I had a picture in my head of what downtown was: one or two main streets (extra credit if one of them is actually Main Street), local businesses operating out of the storefronts, angled parking, City Hall and other city buildings. In a bigger city, that picture could include high rises, fancy hotels, banks and an events center. With this in mind, I thought that “downtown” Kansas City was basically 3rd Street to 20th Street, 71 Highway and Broadway. However, I soon found out through conversation that the Waldo neighborhood is downtown… UMKC is downtown… River Market is downtown… Basically, every place I went to freshman year was downtown. While I understand that the Kansas City metro area is much bigger than my hometown, the expansive definition still took a while to get used to.

These are the top five phrases I’ve heard since moving to Kansas City, but there are definitely many more (if I included pronunciations, this article would be twice as long, easy). However, I consider the phrases an essential part of learning a new city and learning to fit in. I’ve enjoyed the process, and hopefully, this article brings back similar memories for anyone who’s moved here for college too.

Hi, my name is Caroline Moriarty, and I'm a senior at UMKC majoring in Political Science and minoring in International Studies and Anthropology. I am involved with College Democrats, Student Government Association, the College of Arts and Sciences, and St. Paul's Outreach on campus. I am passionate about helping students become more informed about the world they live in, both locally and beyond.
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