Guest Blog | Southern Hospitality Isn’t Just Southern

Southern Hospitality Isn’t Just Southern

When I first moved to Cleveland, I would tell people that I lived there, but not by choice. There’s a delicate balance between choice and fate when you’re married to a resident! Moving to Cleveland so my husband could fulfill his dream of becoming an orthopaedic surgeon by training at the Cleveland Clinic was a sacrifice I was willing to make, but not necessarily ready to do so quickly.

By accepting the residency offer, I was officially moving on from Marion, KY – my small hometown and family hub; my adopted city of Louisville; the University of Louisville, where I had acquired all of my degrees; and the McConnell Center, where I was immersed everyday as a student and later employee in my favorite subjects of politics, history, literature, and what Russell Kirk would call, “the permanent things.” I was effectively leaving behind my “Old Kentucky Home,” and trading the beautiful horse country, backwoods, Bluegrass music, rolling hills and mountains, and my “southern comfort zone” for what I heard people call, “the mistake on the lake.”

When I drove across the Kentucky line into Ohio with my dog Leo, I’m pretty sure we both shed a tear or two. There were looming, nagging questions like: “Who will employ me?” “Will I find a strong church family?” “How will I meet anyone?” “What will people think about my accent?” “Will they see past that and take me seriously?”

These seemed to challenge my faith.

Things started looking up rather quickly – I hadn’t even moved into my home yet when I received a job offer, and my neighbors in University Heights wasted no time to greet me at my front door to make me feel welcome and offer advice on when to ready the garbage and who to call to plow my drive in the winter! Who knew that was something I needed to consider?!

Only a few months later, I found myself settled in many ways: I found a wonderful church family in Mentor Church of Christ, where I made and sustain some amazing friendships, and I settled into a position at the Cleveland Zoological Society, the supporting arm of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. For a woman who loves animals but lacks the stomach to provide animals with medical care, this was an excellent alternative to a childhood dream of a future in veterinary medicine! I sustained friendships with accomplished women from Case Western Reserve University and attended some events during the Cleveland Young Professionals Week in October 2014, sponsored by Engage! Cleveland, that proved formative for my future.

With help from friends and new acquaintances, we founded Ambassadors Circle – the Young Professionals of the Cleveland Zoo, and this organization has brought so much fun and joy to members and to Zoo staff. Only a year in and we are still learning and growing, and making big plans for a sustainable future.

Is Cleveland really a “mistake on the lake?” Hardly!

There’s a palpable sense of momentum in Cleveland, what locals would describe as a renaissance of sorts – and I can see and feel it.

Cleveland is one of the country’s best-kept secrets. When I was afraid I would never see beautiful green space again, I was shown the “Emerald Necklace” – an outstanding display of a community preserving gorgeous woodlands and park space. When I was worried I couldn’t replace the rich, local traditions of Bluegrass music, I was introduced to the Cleveland Orchestra and mesmerized by the outstanding talent of Cleveland’s musicians. When I wondered how I would be stimulated intellectually, I was immersed in and amazed by the depth of research being conducted at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, and the groundbreaking work done by the staff to stay at the cutting edge of medicine and science in the industry.

Young professionals are coming in droves, and last I heard, the downtown Cleveland occupancy rate was nearing 100%. Millennials like me are trying to make a difference in their communities and instead of writing us off as lazy, entitled, or arrogant, Cleveland is seeing us for what we are: driven, passionate, thoughtful and hardworking. When I didn’t think I would have a place to call my own, Cleveland welcomed me in with open arms and said, “You’re home!” Southern hospitality isn’t just practiced in the south – it’s happening here, in Cleveland, every day.

Cleveland might not have been my first choice, but it was certainly my best choice.

Trisha Vaughn, Guest Blogger