Backwoods Hick in the Big City
I grew up on a farm outside a poor, rural village in Appalachia, Ohio. Our high school didn’t have much, but that didn’t stop me from becoming involved in everything I could. I ran track, cross country, did quiz bowl, acted in plays, took pigs & rabbits in 4-H, and joined National Honor Society. I thought I had things figured out; after all, I had never gotten less than a B+ in any of my classes. Nothing was stopping me and I graduated Salutatorian of my class. I graduated with the idea that I was some brilliant student and that I was going to be one of the top students in college, as well.
I remember my very first quarter. I took an English class, my best and favorite subject, and got a C on the first paper. This same scenario applied to the rest of my classes. I was “studying”, but it was clear that my method of studying wasn’t enough. I was getting failing grades in subjects that were easy to me before. My peers were way ahead of me in terms of the things that their high schools had prepared them for and I could not catch up. I completed the first year with a D in multiple classes and at the end of the year I was at the point where I no longer cared, and thus no longer bothered attending classes.
I’d like to say that the first thing I remember upon my arrival at OSU as a freshman was the diversity of people or the unique architecture. No, the first thing that stuck out to me was the number of North Face jackets. New, expensive jackets worn by what felt like every person I saw. Meanwhile, I survived on my too thin, stained, 3 year old jacket my mother had bought me on sale at JcPenneys “as a splurge” for that year’s upcoming winter. While it seemed like such a trivial thing, I believe those jackets represented the “otherness” I felt from fellow students throughout my college experience. They represented the way in which I felt unworthy compared to everyone around me who had the money or the “brains.” This idea that I didn’t belong is what held me back from asking for help and from pushing myself to work a little harder. I felt like a “hick” in a big city with my southern accent and affinity for the outdoors, and it was hard to find fellow students who had similar experiences. Fortunately, my best friends from high school attended OSU with me, and I truly believe that if it wasn’t for them, I would not have graduated. They continued to remind me of the importance of my value at OSU and the importance of getting a degree.
The biggest thing my high school failed to prepare me for was how to ask for help. In rural Ohio, to ask for help of any kind is to be deemed as weak. It wasn’t until I had gotten an email from my history professor asking if I was okay after the 4th missed class in a row that I realized I should swallow my pride. My intense fear of asking for help was unfounded; in fact, that teacher was so kind that he allowed me to turn in late things just so I could pass the class. That was the final “D” in my college career. From that point on, things improved and I succeeded in bringing my GPA up to a 3.0. I even had the opportunity to work as a research assistant and joined several clubs! I graduated on time and had learned enough from my time spent in undergrad at OSU that I was able to finish a Master’s of Social Work degree with a 3.9 GPA.
The advice that I give you, current and future students, is to not give things power that should not hold it; just as I erroneously gave those North Face jackets the power to make me feel as though I was unworthy of going to college. You have the ability to put power where it belongs – in your studies, with your loved ones, and ultimately within yourself. Knowing you are worthy, that YOU have the power within yourself to succeed, will take you anywhere you want to go.
And please, please ask for help.
Hannah grew up on a farm in Bainbridge, OH where she attended Paint Valley High School. Hannah spent her undergrad experience studying different populations through a sociological scope, and graduated from The Ohio State University with a BA in Sociology & Criminology. This passion for helping other people led her to a position working at a domestic violence shelter, where staff encouraged her to pursue a Master of Social Work degree at OSU. Hannah’s passions include social justice, especially in regards to LGBTQ+ & other intersectional folks, and she is currently working with older adults to allow them to remain independent in their homes. She currently holds a license in social work and is planning on going back to school for a PhD.
Hannah Educational History:
2010 - HS Graduate, Paint Valley Local Schools
2014 - BA in sociology & criminology, The Ohio State University
2018 - Master of Social Work, The Ohio State University
Connect with Hannah:
Hannah Reall (LinkedIn)