Monday, October 27, 2008

Arkansas' severe image problem

Back when I was in law school at the University of Arkansas, I lived next door to three Palestinians.

They were all engineering students and one of them, Sam, was raised in a Catholic, English-speaking part of his country. One of the most popular shows there was The Beverly Hillbillies.

Sam and his family watched the Beverly Hillbillies for years. When he told his parents he had chosen to attend the University of Arkansas, his mother started crying and was afraid her son was heading off to Hicksville, U.S.A.

Yes, she assumed that the people poor Sam would deal with would be like the unrefined rubes on the Beverly Hillbillies and she was afraid for her son. Even among some people in the United States, Arkansas is regarded as an area crawling with gun-wielding hicks who are racist, violent, lacking even in the most rudimentary social skills and dumb as posts.

Now, Sam's mother and father came to Fayetteville to visit their son and see how he was holding up in college. They were pleasantly surprised, as are most people who bother to spend any time here.

I'll put it this way. The very reason I lived next door to three Palestinians is that all of them were engineering students at the University of Arkansas. I met a ton of international students while in Fayetteville and most of them were earning their degrees in engineering.

Why? Because we've got one of the best engineering programs anywhere and it represents a phenomenal value -- reputation and price bring a lot of international students to the UA. That engineering school, see, is something that people not familiar with Arkansas simply wouldn't expect to find here.

They probably wouldn't expect to discover that the University of Arkansas has the top creative writing program in the nation and the only masters in agricultural law in the nation. I earned my bachelor's degree at Hendrix College in Conway, a school that manages to fly under the radar in spite of the fact that it has a great academic reputation (the fact that it's located in the middle of Arkansas causes a lot of people not to give it a second look, sadly).

That's pretty typical, really. There are a lot of great things about Arkansas that can be regarded as well kept secrets. People who have spent some time here know what the state is all about, and the rest of them can keep looking down their noses at us for all I care. I enjoy our low cost of living, an economy that tends to expand even when other parts of the nation are in financial chaos, a relatively sparse population, the citizens' almost universal distrust of the government and the charming habit of people to keep their noses out of others' business.

10 comments:

Theresa said...

When I announced that I was moving here to Arkansas, I had many people tell me that the people here were dumb, stupid as rocks, illiterate, etc. I didn't bother to listen to them, and certainly didn't change my mind about moving here.

And not once have I run into anyone that matches their description of the people here.

I had never known what hospitality was until I moved here. The people here are open to talk to, and wait and watch quite awhile before they judge whether an outsider is genuine or false. If false, they are polite; if genuine then you will never meet a warmer, accepting, giving people.

Arkansas is home. Besides, aren't the Beverly Hillbillies from Alabama? ;-)

Theresa said...

When I announced that I was moving here to Arkansas, I had many people tell me that the people here were dumb, stupid as rocks, illiterate, etc. I didn't bother to listen to them, and certainly didn't change my mind about moving here.

And not once have I run into anyone that matches their description of the people here.

I had never known what hospitality was until I moved here. The people here are open to talk to, and wait and watch quite awhile before they judge whether an outsider is genuine or false. If false, they are polite; if genuine then you will never meet a warmer, accepting, giving people.

Arkansas is home. Besides, aren't the Beverly Hillbillies from Alabama? ;-)

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lala said...

heh, I thought the Beverly Hillbillies were from Tenn...

When I was in high school, Hendrix was a "choice" school to attend. And you know, Scotty Pippen played for UCA.

Honestly, while it could be called "hick" in places, it's really just more "country-folk"

Like most southern states, there are large pockets of civilization and culture there.

Bonnie said...

I think the south in general has a bad reputation. I live in South Louisiana, and I swear people really think we live in the swamps and have alligators as pets. I have relatives that come to visit us and are shocked that we actually live like the rest of the country. Amazing that we also have running water, inside plumbing, and electricity. Very few of us have true cajun accents. We also have great schools like LSU, Tulane, and so many more. I went to a small university but it was still a great school.

shaxx said...

I know what you mean. back in the 90s I went to a university in Beaumont Texas to do my engineering degree.

Before I went there, the only knowledge that I have about Texas was from the movie Dallas... LOL!

We have to be there to know how it is to be there...

Grandy said...

There are stereotypes with every state. I was once in North Dakota and told I could NOT have been from California.

Why?

Because I'm not BLONDE and TAN.

Dwacon® said...

You forgot to mention the great food in Arkansas!

PaulsHealthBlog.com said...

I am originally from eastern North Carolina, but have lived in Arkansas for nine years.

Several years ago, I was watching late night TV, which I rarely do. While flipping around the channels, I came upon the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Leno was doing his opening monologue, and while I do not remember the joke, I will never forget the punchline.

"They have computers in Arkansas?"

Jay W. said...

Let me first say that there can only be on Jay. :-)

Anyway, I guess it used to be that International Students came here to get a good education and a good *job.* I guess one out of two aint bad these days.