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From Michigan to Alabama and Back

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By Michael Gifford

Gillian Gifford is currently finishing her senior year of undergraduate studies at Oakland University. She will be graduating in May with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology. Although Gillian was born here in Michigan, she spent a significant amount of her developmental years living deep in the heart of the south, graduating high school in Daphne, Alabama and beginning her collegiate studies at the University of South Alabama.

Describe the place or places in which you grew up. What was your life like there?

Young woman smiles at camera.
Oakland University student Gillian Gifford smiles at her home in Waterford, Michigan, on October 30, 2019. Photo credit: Michael Gifford.

Although I was born in Michigan and raised there until I was 9 years old, I have spent the majority of my life living in southern Alabama. The two different areas of the country have very different views on what they consider to be socially and morally right and wrong.

Did you feel in the minority in Alabama in terms of your belief system?

Yes. I am someone who does not follow a religion-based belief system which severely places me as the minority in the south. Yes, I believe that spending developmental years of my childhood in Michigan definitely plays a role in my belief system. Religious practices seem to be much less prevalent in the north.

In addition to that, I feel that growing up surrounded by friends and family who don’t follow a belief system also heavily influenced the way I hold my social values today.

Were you ever judged and/or secluded due to your beliefs?

Yes. During my high school years, I was extremely judged and looked down upon when I began dating an African American.

Have you found it difficult to adjust to different social norms in different parts of the country?

Adapting to the social norms in the south was a tough process. Although I made lifelong friends and had great experiences while living in Alabama, I always struggled with feeling out of place. Moving back to Michigan this past year was a much easier adjustment being that I feel much more at home here.

Do you believe this exposure to different cultures and belief systems has been beneficial in your life?

Absolutely. Being exposed to different cultures and belief systems throughout my life has helped me to realize that all people and places are different, but that’s okay. Not everyone has to hold the same morals and beliefs.

Did relocation to Alabama during your childhood help to determine the person you are today?

Absolutely. To be honest, for the most part it actually helped me determine the kind of person that I did not want to become. In my experience, the social norms held in the south seem to be rooted from hatred and narcissism. As I continued to grow up traveling between the north and the south, I quickly realized the extreme differences in social morals and belief systems which lead me to always be thinking about the kind of person I wish to become.

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