Hey y’all! I’m Austin (he/him/his), and I was a member of the 2019-20 Johnson Service Corps cohort. I currently work with the Center for Responsible Lending, which you may have correctly guessed was also my placement for the service year. Prior to JSC, I lived in Palma de Mallorca, where I worked as an assistant English teacher. Before that, I worked for my alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, I studied economics and American history with a minor in Spanish and a strong curiosity and interest in taking a variety of intriguing electives— creative nonfiction, food studies, German, and women’s studies, just to name a few!
I grew up in northern New Jersey, though I have lived in North Carolina for the better part of seven of the past eight years. Now going on four years out of college, three of which have been in NC, I have been thinking about what it means to start setting down roots. How they can grow wide and deep, oftentimes both ways at the same time, and how, sometimes before you realize it, the place you are in has become home.
My time in NC has nourished me and stabilized me since I first sent out a tiny tendril into the state’s red clay soil in April 2013, when I toured UNC as a high school senior. I did not expect to find home here. I was excited for college, to meet new people, to live in a place much more exciting than the small farming and residential town I came from, but I did not anticipate staying. Growing up so close to New York City, I always found myself drawn to the idea of living in a large city right after graduation, be it New York, D.C., or Boston. But this place had a way of seeping into me, teaching me to say y’all with ease, admire the redbuds in spring, and eat pulled pork with coleslaw and tangy, peppery barbecue sauce.
I was so steeped in NC that when I visited NYC in the summer of 2017 after many years away, I felt simultaneously thrilled by the rapid pace of the city I had grown up visiting and overwhelmed by the sheer lack of green space. The rolling hills and forests of the Triangle yielded to flat concrete and skyscrapers. I was struck by how much I had changed, not realizing how essential certain things had become to me: access to nature, quieter streets, and an easy interpersonal kindness, for example.
Thus, after I left my job at UNC and moved to Mallorca to fulfill a different desire (living for a considerable amount of time internationally!), I knew that I wanted to come back. I also knew that I needed more time figuring myself out, meeting new people, gaining work experience, and thinking holistically about my life. JSC was thus an obvious choice, and it was the only Episcopal Service Corps program I applied for.
JSC checked all the boxes. Not since my time in college had my roots grown as deeply and widely as quickly as they did. Sure, our cohort came from all over and headed in many different directions after the program ended, but we bonded here. Together, we learned about the histories of Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh. Together, we cooked delicious meals, swam in the Eno, and visited different faith communities. Though the pandemic put much on pause, we still carved out ways to be together, whether through virtual trivia nights or eating takeout under the pavilion of the Carrboro Farmers Market.
While some of us stayed and others left, we connected to mentors, work colleagues, and JSC leadership. Those were and are the folks that help NC feel all the more like home, providing a stable base and familiarity to the transient nature of those of us in our twenties. I myself will soon be leaving. This fall, I will start law school at the University of Virginia. Though Charlottesville is just a bit over three hours away from Durham, it will be tough for me to uproot from NC. I am excited for this next step in my journey, and though the prospect of leaving for at least the next three years is saddening, I find comfort in knowing that because of JSC, I will always have a home to return to.