Grace Recht, a research specialist at the Medical University of South Carolina, had never set foot in Charleston before moving here.
Born in New Haven, Conn., she moved to Phoenix, Ariz., at an early age. Having a natural affinity for the water, she started swimming competitively at the age of five and sailing at eight years old. The younger of two sisters, Recht’s formative years were split between the Southwest and Portland, Ore., where her family moved the summer before her eighth-grade year.
After four years at a small liberal arts college in Ohio, Recht’s main goal was getting a job in a lab. Entering the job market with tenacity, she applied to 120 positions all over the country, eventually interviewing over Skype for a spot at her current lab at MUSC. Recht’s mom had previously warned her against attending school in the South, but a brief trip to the South Carolina coast was enough to endear Recht to the area.
“I actually fell in love with South Carolina just this past spring break. I went down to Hilton Head with one of my friends. It was just so amazing,” says Recht. “It was like summer in April, and it was really beautiful. My thoughts of the South are definitely different than before I came here. It’s not as Southern as I thought it would be — the stereotypical Southern things, like Southern belles and gentlemen — and I like that.”
Spending her final weeks of college packing up, shipping her winter clothes back to Oregon, Recht spent some time in Africa before returning home to Portland for a week. Recht then found herself in Charleston, moving across the country just a week before she was set to start her new job at MUSC. Recht says homesickness was a concern during her early days. She didn’t know anyone in the area. She missed her dog. Fortunately, Recht’s coworkers in the lab wasted no time welcoming her in and offering support. She spent those early days riding her bike around the city and taking walks along the shore. Growing up, Recht had spent summers by the water. Now, spending time on a brand new coast, she was exposed to the best and the worst parts of living in the South.
“People are nicer here than Ohio. You’d think that people from the Midwest are nicer, but no. People here find out that I just moved here, and they ask a ton of questions. I love that,” says Recht. “The one thing I’d say that is definitely a culture shock is I do a big run every Saturday and Sunday. I like to run along the water. And every other weekend, there is a group of about 20 people just holding Confederate flags downtown around the Battery, which I am not used to. So that is definitely a cultural thing that I wasn’t used to … My mom tells me not to confront them. I guess I just don’t understand how with everything that’s going on in the world today, how they think that is an OK thing to do.”
During her years in Ohio, Recht would notice the occasional Confederate flag bumper sticker pasted on the back of a car, but stumbling upon a group of people proudly waving the flag was a new experience — especially juxtaposed against the natural beauty of the harbor.
“When I was deciding to move here, my mom was like, ‘The South?’ I told her it would be fine. I loved South Carolina when I visited for the week,” says Recht. “I had heard really great things about Charleston. My mom said, ‘You know that’s the Bible Belt, right?’ I’m not from a very religious family. I’m half Catholic and half Jewish, so sort of a weird combination.”
Looking back on something else that caught her by surprise once she began to find her way around town, Recht says she’s noticed the large number of people from Ohio who have relocated to Charleston. Recht remembers a lot of her former classmates had houses in Hilton Head, and says the Buckeye state has plenty of love for the South. Not counting herself among the Midwesterners who made their way to Charleston, Recht still considers the connection to be a strange one. But that’s not the only thing that struck Recht as a bit bizarre after arriving in Charleston.
“This is going to sound weird, but people dress up all the time here. Being downtown, even during the day when I’m on my run, I’ll see everyone dressed to the nines, perfect makeup, perfect hair, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I look like a mess,'” she jokes. “I’ll go out with friends, and the girls are in dresses. I went to a small school. By my senior year, I was wearing sweatpants and Uggs out to the bar. I’ve been getting used to it, but the first couple of weekends I was here, I would text my friends before going out, ‘So what do I wear?’ The humidity was a huge things for me. My hair doesn’t deal well with humidity. I’ve always been very intrigued as to how people always look so nice here. It wasn’t shocking, but I just don’t understand why everyone is always so dressed up.”
So now that Recht has had some time to adjust to the Lowcountry, she has a new understanding of the apprehension that her friends back home had voiced over her move to the South. For every stereotype that one may come across, there’s always another, equally accurate, set of commonalities and preconceived notions we have about those from off.
“I think it’s weird that people have those stereotypes for all parts of the country,” says Recht, “because I’ll tell people I’m from the Pacific Northwest. They’ll say, ‘But you’re not a hipster.’ And I’ll be like, ‘Well, You’re not a Southern belle, so.'”