New Jersey, the state where I was born and still call home, is completely underrated. A lot of what makes the Garden State so unique and beautiful is fogged by some harsh stereotypes that come from shows like "The Jersey Shore" or "The Real Housewives of New Jersey." Yes, these shows are entertaining and funny. I remember dedicating my Thursday nights in high school to MTV, watching every G.T.L. moment and reciting Pauly D's quotes in the hallway at school the next day with my friends.
And let's not forget about this infamous moment:
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But despite what the shows catch on camera, or how many tables Teresa Guidice might flip in public, none of that really does much to represent the real Jersey, nor the amazing people that live here. The real Jersey I grew up with is actually one of the few states where the beach, cities and country mountains are all within driving distance, and here's a mall and good local food off of every exit.
It wasn't until I spent my first year away at a school in Pennsylvania that I would really appreciate and understand how this small state could have such a huge impact on my life. It made me realize how much I loved New Jersey. To be honest, I would be completely content if I never left. I remember one of my floor mates at school said to me, "I am so glad you don't act like a Jersey girl, even though you're from there." That comment stuck with me. I wasn't offended by what she said (I was used to the normal stereotypes about New Jersey), but I kept thinking to myself later that night that she was wrong.
She was wrong, because I am a Jersey Girl.
Everything about me was and still is a Jersey Girl, and I am 100 percent proud of that. Being a Jersey Girl is not defined by cheetah print dresses, terrible drivers and guidettes, but by the experiences we've all shared here. I am not ashamed to list the ways that being a Jersey girl has defined me, despite the stereotypes.
1. It's made me tough (and sassy when needed)[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2Ffiles%2F2016%2F04%2F30%2F635976571901490243854308112_giphy.gif&ho=https%3A%2F%2Faz616578.vo.msecnd.net&s=197&h=7c3d267ef0be5d29c4b21ee9bb61e820cbde807f6c8a6250117f78dc304fd5f4&size=980x&c=2725687452 crop_info="%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252Ffiles%252F2016%252F04%252F30%252F635976571901490243854308112_giphy.gif%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Faz616578.vo.msecnd.net%26s%3D197%26h%3D7c3d267ef0be5d29c4b21ee9bb61e820cbde807f6c8a6250117f78dc304fd5f4%26size%3D980x%26c%3D2725687452%22%7D" expand=1]
We won't deny it -- we Jerseyans can be a little on the tough side, but it all comes from a good heart. We find that a little sarcastic attitude can go a long way, and most of my closest friends and family are the ones who I give the most attitude to, so it's our way of showing love!
Being a Jersey girl has also gotten me into the habit of naturally speaking my mind in an extremely loud and fast tone. But it comes in handy when getting cat-called on the boardwalk, or being told by a non-native that we need to learn how pump our own gas. Why do we have to learn how to pump our own gas when it's totally unnecessary?
2. It has given me an indescribable love for the beach
In New Jersey, it doesn't matter that I am a technically a "summer baby." I am at the beach no matter what the whether conditions are. It's only a 35 minute drive from my college, but going down the shore is a short drive from pretty much anywhere in New Jersey. I could not imagine living in a state not surrounded by or near the ocean. It doesn't seem like the right way to live to me.
There are multiple beaches that together stretch up to almost 300 miles, and with each beach town being more beautiful than the last, why would I want to give any of that up?
My love for the beach grew after Hurricane Sandy, when my family's beach house was damaged. Even though my family was lucky, and we were able to rebuild, there are many who were not, and it hurts to still see unfixed houses, sidewalks and streets that remain untouched today.
The beach has become my second home, a safe haven and a magical place to forget the problems going on in my life. It is something that I always want in my life. I want to be able to share it with my own children some day. On top of all of that, having a love for the beach in New Jersey is unique in itself, because "going to the beach" is not a term in my vocabulary; it's "down the shore." It will forever be down the shore.
3. New Jersey influenced my music taste
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I know this topic is overused when describing the positive aspects of New Jersey, but there is no better feeling than knowing that some of the greatest stars to ever walk the face of the Earth started out in our little old state. What makes it even better is that these stars, like Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, Bon Jovi, Frank Sinatra and Danny Devito have, on multiple occasions, spoken highly of our state, and that's definitely something to be proud of. The first concert I ever attended was no other than Bruce Springsteen. He's also the most recent concert I've been to, and he's still got it at 65!
4. New Jersey has made me value the importance of family
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A huge reason why I came back to NJ to go to college is because being away from my family was extremely hard. With that said, I don't regret my first year of college out-of-state, because it helped me realize how much my family meant to me. If you mess with a family member of a Jersey Girl, then watch out; it won't end well, I promise.
It all comes from being loyal. Loyalty to me means rooting for everything that means the most to you until the day you die, and living in New Jersey made me loyal in that way. This included sport teams, television shows and calling it Taylor Ham and not pork roll. Nothing tops the love and respect I have for my family and friends. Caroline Manzo herself defines her Jersey family to be "thick as thieves," and that's the perfect way to describe it.
5. Giving me a strong love for food
Do I even need to explain this one? Taylor ham egg and cheese, bagels, pizzas, 24-hour diners. Yeah, you get it.
6. Becoming an expert driver
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Asking me to pump gas is the equivalent of asking me to teach my grandfather how to text, but asking me to drive along the Garden State Parkway during rush hour? No problem. Conquering highways in the Garden State is not easy, and for most non-natives, it is an overwhelming experience when the drivers around you are twice as crazy and impatient as you are, and spend more time flipping each other off than paying attention to the road.
I have become an expert in the doing the NJ Slide, where you crossover three lanes in a single shot before getting off your exit. This is a good way to scare the s*** out of your out-of-state friends.
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Don't worry, though, I really am a safe driver. But I must give credit points to New Jersey for influencing my more aggressive, "I can get there really fast" style of driving.
7. Jersey instilled in me a love for adventure
Last but not least, I think the best thing that Jersey could have given me is an endless amount of things to do and an adventurous spirit. New Jersey offers beaches, mountains and cities all in one state. It's filled with years of historical landmarks, and there are places to visit all year round. It's super easy to "get away" from your town and explore what else the Garden State has to offer. It's so easy to take a quick trip to Philly or New York City, because New Jersey is so close to everything! It's impossible not to go out and explore and appreciate it all.
All of this is even more special around the holiday season, when it's more enjoyable to adventure with the people you love. People give New Jersey a lot of crap. It has a reputation for being crowded, dirty and smelly, but it most certainty is not.
Being a Jersey girl is more than just having an attitude and being an aggressive driver; it's appreciating and loving New Jersey itself, for the good and the bad. The views, the food and the people are all reasons to stay, but it's the experiences and life lessons that make me forever proud and forever willing to defend my Jersey Girl status, no matter where life takes me.