Stereotyping interferes with meeting new people

I am from Lawng Eyeland. I open and close draws, drink wooter and like my cawfee dark. Now, as the reader, many things may have rushed into your mind before meeting me. Some common assumptions are:
(1) My taste in men ranges from juiceheads to stronger, tanner juiceheads.
(2) I wear Juicy Couture track suits with the pants tucked into my Uggs.
(3) My daddy bought me a Mercedes on my 16th birthday.
(4) I claim I am from New York. Note: to those in the dark, “New York” implies Manhattan, excluding any other part of the state.
None of the previous statements apply to me, however, maybe these assumptions immediately halted any chance of a real friendship between us. I only use Long Island as a preliminary example, but there are stereotypes regarding every region of the U.S., most of which are exaggerated, some just absolutely false and the obvious situations in which there are plain exceptions.
As students who attend a private university, we have the amazing opportunity to meet people from all over the country, not just one state or region. But as I start my third year at the University of Miami, it is clear to me that students often stick with members of the same geographic area as themselves throughout all four years of undergrad. But why?
For one, it is all about comfort. The fear of judgment is often a deterrent of seeking out new friends, especially those who are unfamiliar to you. This is understandable – the main reason I sigh before responding to the conversation starter, “Where are you from?” is not because I am ashamed, but because of common judgmental thoughts.
Secondly, not only are others judging us without knowing us, but we judge others. I can still remember when I met some of my best friends during freshman year. The judgment I placed on them was ridiculous. I thought my Wisconsin friend’s trusting attitude was naïve and borderline comical, my Tennessee friend’s “field parties” were absurd, my Floridian friend’s driving habits were life-threatening (I stand by this), my North Carolina friend’s open and friendly attitude was a little creepy, my Michigan friend’s accent was incomprehensible and weird, and I even placed judgment on fellow Long Islanders!
Since then, I have learned many valuable things from each of them. A little Midwest trust is not a bad thing, a keg outdoors in a field is fantastic, using my horn can get me somewhere faster, it’s okay to start a conversation with a total stranger, accents can be really attractive and I’m not the only exception to the Long Island stereotype.
Make life interesting – meet new people (even if they exclusively wear Ed Hardy or Vineyard Vines), drink, be merry, and argue over whether it is “Kings,” “Ring of Fire,” or “Circle of Death.” Cheers to ‘merica, no matter where you are from.

Nicole Spiteri is a junior majoring in health science.