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Transition Tips from a Tiny Town to a “Two & Out”-er

May 3, 2016 Sonja Ardoin, Ph.D. Appalachian State University

You can take me out of the country
But you can't take the country out of me, no
Cause I'm still the girl from [Vidrine]
Had to get away so I could grow
But it don't matter where I'm goin'
I'll still call my hometown home.

    -Kacey Musgraves, Dime Store Cowgirl

Vidrine, LA (my hometown) to Baton Rouge.  Baton Rouge to Tallahassee.  Tallahassee to College Station.  College Station to Raleigh.  Raleigh to Vidrine. Vidrine to Wilmington, NC.  Wilmington to Boston.

I have moved 7 times in the past 16 years.

It is odd to think about it all in hindsight.  I grew up in Vidrine, LA, a rural town without a zip code, and stayed in the same house on the same road for 18 years.  The first time I packed a box was to become a first generation college student at LSU.  In what felt like the biggest move I would ever make, I ventured 1.5 hours southeast to Boston Rouge – the “big city.”  There were more people [300] in my first class at LSU than in my entire high school.  People made fun of my Cajun accent and the fact that people in my hometown chased chickens for Mardi Gras.  In short, it was quite the transition.

After learning about student affairs as a career option and exploring graduate school programs, I shattered my family’s plan for me by making, in their opinion, the ludicrous decision to move out of state.  OUT. OF. STATE.  People in my family did not do this.  People in my hometown did not do this.  What was I doing?!

Pursing a career path.  A calling.  One that I found.  One that found me.

And so it went.  I ended up becoming the “two and out” person I once declared I would never be.  You know who I mean.  The employee who leaves a job after two years to pursue the next phase of their career, in a new position, at a new institution, in a new city.  I was that person.  I might still be.  [And I’m not endorsing that pathway as the right way or even a healthy way.]

Through my 16 years of transitions, I have learned a few things:

  • I get to decide where and what is home.  If you ever ask me where I’m from, I will tell you Louisiana … but I don’t live there anymore.
  • I take home with me.  It is in my speech patterns, the art on my walls, my musical choices, and the spices I put on my food.
  • Sometimes I feel like I’m running to something.  Sometimes I feel like I’m running from something.  A few times it’s been both.  And that’s okay.
  • I own more stuff than I think I do.  Packing up my entire life reminds me that books are heavy and fancy dishes don’t have much purpose in my life.  It is also a great excuse to “tidy up.”
  • Snail mail is awesome.  There is such delight in seeing something in my new mailbox with my new address from someone I love.  It’s like a hug through words. [Thanks Mom!]
  • I have to find at least one place or thing that feels familiar.  For me, that has been a church because Catholic mass is the same everywhere.  For others that might be a gym, coffee shop, Target, etc.
  • Doing stuff alone is scary … and worth it.  I started with movies and slowly graduated to restaurants and concerts.  It gets less intimidating.
  • Connections are everywhere, if I look for them.  University alumni associations.  Sorority alumni chapters.  Friends of friends.  A person I met at a conference one time.  There are likely people I share something with if I seek them out.  And, if I’m lucky, I’ll keep some of them for a season or a lifetime.
  • Exploring a new neighborhood, city, state, or region is enlightening.  I don’t have to get on a plane or take a formal class to do a lot of learning.
  • Context matters.  I can be unwavering in my philosophy, values, and belief systems, yet they can be viewed quite differently based on my environment.  My same beliefs have been perceived as moderately conservative in one context and intensely liberal in another.  Regardless, I am still me.
  • Technology is tremendously helpful in keeping up with people.  While it does not replace the in-person quality time, I have enjoyed watching my godchildren grow up via Facetime chats and random videos sent to my phone.
  • I need to enjoy where I am.  Some locations have aligned well with my needs and wants.  Others not so much.  But I have adored something about each place I’ve lived and there is always something I miss when I leave a place.  Cases in point: Texas’ breakfast tacos & Wilmington’s porch time.

Each of my 7 transitions has brought unique challenges and unexpected joys into my life and I like to believe I am a better person and professional because of those experiences.  And, even if you do not move locations as part of your transition, starting a new job, adding a partner into your life, adopting a pet, or any other number of life changes can create a period of transition.  I tend to equate these choices to skydiving – exhilarating, seemingly irrational at points, a bit stomach turning, and worth the experience (even when the ride is rough).

Deep breaths.  You got this.

P.S. If anyone is wondering … the toughest transition I ever experienced was moving back home – into my parents’ house – in that small town of Vidrine, LA as I turned 30.  It was also one of the most impactful.  Feel free to ask me about it sometime.

Sonja Ardoin (@SonjaArdoin) is a learner, educator, and facilitator.  Currently serving as Program Director and Clinical Assistant Professor of Higher Education at Boston University, Sonja is a proud Cajun, first gen to PhD, and scholar-practitioner.  She authored The Strategic Guide to Shaping Your Student Affairs Career (2014) and serves with organizations such as NASPA and LeaderShape.  Sonja enjoys traveling, dancing, reading, writing, sports, laughing, and spending time with people she loves.