Some People Call it a Fly-Over State, I Call it Home
Reflections on coming to Dartmouth from the Midwest
It’s all so typical.
I suppose it’s a Friday, maybe Saturday, and my friends are debating whether to stay out or abandon the (already slim) chance of us getting on table. I’m too focused on my feet sticking and unsticking from the semi-dried beer that coats the floor to hear another group approach us, and they don’t truly catch my attention until one of them asks the unfortunately ubiquitous question: So, where are you guys from?
The query bounces around the circle — London, Dallas, Lagos, New York — and finally reaches me. “I’m from Omaha,” I say. No response. “It’s in Nebraska.” This generates a sound of amusement, followed by a remark from the crowd that I’ve heard countless times before: “I’ve never met someone from Nebraska!”
After a while of tipsy, half-hearted conversation, they leave, and our group resumes our nonstarter discussion, when my friend — the one from New York — leans over and says to me, “You know you could just lie about where you’re from, right?”
Look, I know he didn’t really mean it; my friends and I joke about where I’m from all the time. On nights like this it’s not unusual for me to get a comment from someone I just met or even from one of my closest friends. It’s become almost routine at this point: laugh at the tractor comments, insist that yes, Nebraska is a real state and make a remark about how great our football is. But the reason this particular comment hit a nerve was because I used to feel the need to withhold where I was from because I felt it made people see me differently. I used to append every introduction with “I am originally from Chicago,” as if being from a city that was slightly more northern, but still equally in the middle of America, gave me more social credibility. This overcompensation is almost comical, but I’m not alone in the matter.
“Sometimes I tell people I meet that I’m from California because when I tell them I’m from Indiana they either look at me weirdly or make a sarcastic comment,” Maddie Shaw ’25 said.
Just like me, she’s not technically lying. Shaw was born in California just like I was born in Chicago, but both of us spent the majority of our lives in the respectively lesser-known states of Indiana and Nebraska.
“Just last Friday, I had a guy from Mexico say to me that he didn’t think people from Wisconsin existed,” Malik Terrab ’25, who is a native of Madison, Wis., said.
Obviously the commenter was being hyperbolic, but his joke highlights how sparse Midwesterners truly are at this school, to the point where people probably couldn’t even place many states in that region on a map.
Although regional stereotypes and presumptions often produce mediocre, harmless jokes, these projections can occasionally adopt a sense of hostility and condescendence.
“One day in class we were talking about college admissions just casually, and [the professor] basically insinuated that I got in because I was from Indiana,” Shaw said. “But I didn’t get into Dartmouth because I’m from Indiana. I’m just as qualified as any of my peers.”
In a school primarily made up of New England prep school graduates, metropolitan international students and the children of Bay Area tech magnates, coming from a single-parent household in the middle of the country made me feel quite out of place, especially during the first few weeks of my freshman fall. Whereas some people knew swathes of other students from their region or high school, I only knew one girl from my town who had graduated the year before me, and I was lucky even to have her.
“There were some immediate changes [after coming to college], because I felt uncertain. I didn’t know anybody and some people knew each other so well,” Isaac Weigel ’25, from Iowa City, Iowa, said. “There’s like one person from my high school, so I see him sometimes, but there are definitely cliques based on where you are from, at least at the beginning.”
Amongst the skuttle of orientation week at a school with a penchant for icebreakers, where someone is from becomes one of their identifying traits. I can’t blame them either; geography allows people a common and easy entryway to friendships that can last their entire Dartmouth career. Even now, almost at the tail end of my freshman year, I can still name several groups of people I know that are all friends and from the same state or international country. On the Midwestern end, it’s a little more precarious because there are so few of us from such a large group of states.
“I feel like [students from the Midwest] lack community. Even the international kids have a community that sticks,” Terrab said. “I don’t know if [making friends] has been much of a challenge for me, but I have definitely been envious of people who have a geographic community.”
When I bring up my early anxieties about my hometown with my friends now, they tend to think that I was being paranoid. Yet, these are also the same people who could not initially believe that I was from Nebraska, because I was everything they believed someone from the Midwest was not. To my disadvantage, Middle America suffers from a slight PR problem.
A lot of people automatically assume that because I’m from Nebraska I must be ignorant, poorly educated and less worldly than my metropolitan counterparts. At the beginning of my time at Dartmouth, I found myself constantly feeling the need to prove that I was just as smart as everyone else. This inclination did not necessarily come from the historical “imposter syndrome” suffered by college students, but rather from the desire to subvert the expectations predicated by my geographic origins.
“People from the East Coast are very different than I expected them to be, but I think I’m also very different than they expected me to be as well,” Weigel said. While he does not think that his New England peers are as snobby as their typical representations, he believes in the Midwest, “people are more open, and more friendly right off the bat.”
It feels a little silly to be writing about such a mundane topic in a more serious light, but honestly being from a lesser-represented state has occasionally led to feelings of isolation and inferiority in both social and academic settings during my time at Dartmouth. However, being a geographic anomaly does have its perks. For one, I’ve never had to remind someone where I’m from; they always remember the girl from Nebraska. And even though many stereotypes can be defeating, some are funny and fluffy. I often get compliments that I am “smiley,” and my friends have often classified me as “Nebraska Nice” because of my Midwestern pleasantness. In the end, I’ve realized that the right people will never make you feel out of place, even though they might make the occasional joke or two. As ordinary as Nebraska can be sometimes, the environment of Dartmouth makes being from Omaha a little more fantastic.