Author: Olivia Besel | MTR Class of 2017 | MTR Intern (2015-16)
I knew the second I stepped out of that packed mini van, inhaled air that was 90% water, and made an awkward “hello” gesture to my future roommate, that operation ‘Make Memphis Home’ had begun.
My story is a little different. I got the unique opportunity to move to Memphis and live in the Georgian Woods Apartments for a whole year before starting the residency with the Class of 2017. This somewhat unintentional “gap” year has given me a chance to learn about Memphis, love all (well most) of its quirks, and begin the homemaking process. By definition, Memphis is home the second you agree to be a part of MTR and wade your way through the thick summer air. Why is this? Well, because you are now an established resident of the legendary Georgian Woods, and because you have entered into a family. And that is what this place is, that is what MTR is: one big family. It is nothing short of a beautiful collision of eager, justice driven people from all over the states coming together to make a difference through the passionate profession of teaching and education. However, easing into that truth takes time. I am going to list out some necessary housekeeping tips that I have learned in the last year in hopes that you either relate, or find some comfort in this process that is “making Memphis home.”
1. Let’s get this out of the way. Cockroaches. No one warned me so I am here to warn you. Roaches will try to rule the world, carry a bug bomb and raid on you at all times. Now, maybe that is dramatic, maybe it isn’t. For me, the only bug I had ever seen that looked anything like a cockroach was in the movie “The Mummy,” and nothing ended well any time those creatures were present. In order to feel at home here, you either need to conquer the fear of these bugs, or conquer them all together. Whether you decide to be like me and fumigate your house monthly, or you decide to just name each one and consider them as another roommate, may you at the very least not be caught off guard by the presence of a roach.
2. Stop and listen. Coming from a west coast state, Memphis meant entering into a whole new conversation. Memphis is rich in history and there is much to learn. Being here has meant a season of listening; listening to the history of this city, to the stories of others, and to the greater conversations that are very present and real even now. Come humble, come knowing that here is much to learn, and come vulnerable.
3. Establish a home base. This meant finding a church. Moving to a new city brought a hunger and need to belong. A home church is the perfect place to be known in this city apart from MTR. Now, we pride ourselves on being a family and completely community based, but it is nice to have a group of people outside of the sphere of education. There is a great work going on in our world, a beautiful story of redemption, but education is just one slice of the pie. So get out there, know, and be known. Great things are happening in this city and you can find many of the people involved in this work of restoration in places like community gatherings and churches.
4. We are inherently needy creatures, and that is okay. If you don’t believe that yet, we can work on that together because it is still a tension even I am wading through. For this to be your home, you need to let people love you and love you well. I can tell you with full confidence that you will step on Memphis soil and not have it “all figured out,” you don’t have to pretend. Approach this season as a learner of all things. When you run out of quarters and someone offers to let you do laundry at their house FOR FREE, do it. When someone offers to buy you coffee because your stipend is low and you look like you need it, TAKE IT. When there is free food at MTR, don’t be shy. This is the time for you to grow, learn, be humble, hungry and excited… don’t rob yourself of the joy of being loved and don’t rob others of the joy of serving you.
5. I hope you like your food BBQ’d and deep fried. I remember when I first moved here, I would walk around asking random people what they liked to do or places they liked to go. I am not kidding you, each suggestion revolved around food. I also remember ordering vegetables at a restaurant once and they appeared in front of me battered and fried. Here in memphis, we like blues and food. Don’t fight it, just go with it.
6. Find your spot. I believe The Lord loves to give us rest and longs to speak to us in that rest. The hustle and bustle of a new city, new friends and a new family is not always restful. That being said, be intentional to find the places and the times in your weeks that bring you rest. Maybe that is rock climbing at Bridges. Maybe it is walking around Shelby Farms. Maybe it is visiting one of Memphis’ many fabulous coffee shops. Whatever it is, frequent that space that brings you peace. In rest we are reminded why we are loved, so do those things that make you feel most adored.
I have been here almost exactly one year now. I can’t give you the best tour guide tips, or the top 20 most romantic roof tops in Memphis. Quite honestly, I still get lost and have never been on top of a roof here. I may name drop some restaurants and I will certainly recommend many coffee shops. I have lists of suggestions, journals full of learning moments and paradigm shifts, and even a quote board in my living room to serve as a hilarious reminder of what this year has meant. Those things have made this place home, but it all comes back to you and how you will make Memphis your home. The good news is, it’s pretty easy to fall in love with this city. So kill those roaches with confidence, do the things that make you feel loved, serve this city well, be fully present in the culture as a learner, and allow yourself to be welcomed into a space where you already belong.
Welcome to Memphis, welcome to MTR, and welcome home.