900 words about Dancing in New Places

By Julian McKenzie

It’s the middle of the day and I’m in a minivan with my parents listening to an oldies radio station. My mom gets excited and starts dancing in the front seat. My dad tries to get her to settle down, but when my mom hears music that she likes, it’s kind of hard to get her to stop. She doesn’t even care that people next to us might stare.

“Kansas City, here I come,” our van’s radio bellows. But we’re in upstate New York and we’re on our way to my new apartment. I’m going to be living in a four-bedroom spot in Syracuse all alone in New York for the next year as I embark on graduate studies in Television-Radio-Film with sports communications emphasis at Syracuse University. The three other roommates won’t be there until the Fall. At this point, I’ve got no clue who they are.

A little over two weeks ago, I was in an examination room writing my last exam for Concordia University in my hometown of Montreal, finishing my undergraduate degree in multiplatform journalism. Because I needed an summer semester to finish my classes, I couldn’t partake in the convocation ceremony in May and I have to wait until November to get my diploma. It’s annoying, I’m not going to lie.

My family pulls up to the apartment and we start unpacking the car. We bring in bins of food, clothes, and toiletries that should keep me in check for the next six weeks. When we’re all settled in my mom makes dinner for myself and my Dad. I hold hands with my Dad and mom as we say grace before we dig in. These dinners where we can eat together won’t be happening as frequently for the next little while. We’re at a long white table eating pilau, brown rice mixed with bits of beef. There’s a bowl of salad on the table with tomatoes and lettuce. Mom even made a large jug of fruit punch filled with juice and ginger ale.

My parents stay with me for a weekend before leaving me all to myself. I see them drive out the parkway and out down the street, making their way home. I go to my room, and I lie down on my bed. I start thinking.

I’ve never lived all alone before and the thought of it is scary but also liberating. I decide whether I want to eat an entire bag of Doritos for dinner and not get judged for it. I can blast whatever music I want from my laptop all around the house at all hours of the night. But I don’t have my sisters who joke around with me and often poke fun at me. I’m going to miss them the most. My family, my previous life at home, my friends, my student newspaper and radio station colleagues from school, are all four hours away. Social media will keep us close but it isn’t the same. Not at all.


I’m almost two months into my time here at Syracuse and I realize that Americans aren’t that different from Canadians, save for a few differences.

There’s no milk in bags here. Pennies still exist. You can find steaks in dollar stores here. If you say it’s 30 degrees and it’s blazing hot outside, you’ll get some weird looks from people before they realize you’re just like everyone else in the world and use Celsius. Wegmans exists and it may change your life after your first or second visit. College football, even if you aren’t rooting for your own university, rules.

There’s at least one person who thinks “Canadian” is a language. People are kind of surprised that I don’t sound French at all. Someone’s asked me if Canada has a military, if we have Jewish people, and a ton of girls keep gushing over our Prime Minister—sometimes “president,” Justin Trudeau.

I’ve made friends here already. Most, if not all of them, are ambitious and have dreams just like me. I’ve gone to a state fair and eaten gator kabobs and chocolate-covered bacon. I made a short film with a group of people I can now call friends. Maybe they’ll think of inviting me to their movie premieres when they’re rich and famous (maybe I could be the MC for one?). I’ve been in the legendary Carrier Dome as a fan and as a journalist for football games (it feels like an oven, and the fact that it’s only getting air conditioning next year sucks). My roommates are really cool and we all get along (but maybe we need to do a better job of keeping our apartment clean). There’s a bunch of other stories I’ll delve into in time, but I’m having fun.

I’m at my laptop studying late into the night and a song plays on my laptop. I start bopping my head before I get up to dance in the middle of my kitchen. The song might have been from Kanye West or Ty Dolla $ign, I don’t remember. I think of my mom, who would probably do the same, even if my Dad or my sisters would tell her to stop, kind of like that time in the car before I moved in.

I’m in a new location, but I feel at home. I miss my real home, but I think I’m going to like it here.

Editor’s note: This story is part of our September 2016 series ‘Hundreds of Words about Location: Where are you, and how does it affect how you see the world?’
Julian McKenzie is a Canadian freelance journalist, writer, podcast host, and graduate student in Television-Radio-Film with a Sports Communications Emphasis at Syracuse University. You can follow him on Twitter at @JulianTheIntern.

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