When I agreed I would follow my fiancé (then boyfriend) Matt after college, I never thought it would mean moving to Florida. But the day he came back from his visit to UCF, I knew there would be no convincing him otherwise. I grew up in Illinois and went to college in Indiana. The Midwest was the only thing I’d ever known, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to leave just yet.
My first week in Orlando, I wore sunscreen every time I went outside. I made sure I always had a water bottle with me for the first two weeks. After that, well, I’m still not sure if I adjusted or just convinced myself I was being ridiculous. The move taught me a lot about myself. For example: I can drive 1,000 miles without using my cruise control or having a working car stereo. I can actually survive the summer without living within a five minute walking distance of a Dairy Queen. And the most important factor for me to settle into a new town is finding reasonably priced, quality Chinese takeout.
After about a month here, I started warming up to the Sunshine State. But there were still three weeks left before classes started, and I was more nervous about them than Matt. Shortly before we left Indiana, Matt and I went out for drinks with our favorite creative writing professor who had also gone to graduate school in Florida, albeit not UCF. It was by her advice that I coated myself in sunscreen for my first week here. She also suggested I crank the heat in my car in the middle of June to help myself prepare for the heat, but I decided to skip that one. She warned me that some students in MFA programs can be a little hostile towards people who aren’t in the MFA.
Despite her assuring me that I would “probably be fine,” I tried to prepare for the worst. I pictured Matt and I meeting his classmates somewhere. I imagined their derision as they mocked me for not finishing The Scarlet Letter in American Literature. They would lean into one another at the other end of the table, sharing some inside joke they would never let me in on. I scripted my plea that, as a writing and literature major in college, I was one of their kind too.
My first time meeting with the program was nothing like my imagined nightmare. Instead, it was a few rounds of drinks while Matt, another student, and I sat outside and decorated the air with our words and cigarette smoke. Near the end of the night, I caught a moment when she leaned over to my fiancé and told him, “I like her. She’ll fit right in.”
I feel as close to being part of the MFA program as one can be without actually applying to it. I go to barbeques and Halloween parties and Christmas book exchanges. I’ve gone to every Parcels reading so far, and I intend to keep my streak going. I’ve found welcoming arms here, my own personal guides through this new and expansive city that is hundreds of times larger than my home in the Midwest.
I’ve made some great friends, too. I’ve stayed up in the early morning with them as we drunkenly ramble to each other. I’ve helped one move out of her old apartment. I’ve even let some of them take care of my cat while I was on vacation—which is, as any cat person knows, actually a great honor.
The MFA program at UCF has been so good to me. I always know of readings and other literary events that are happening around Orlando. I can get an endless list of book recommendations any time I want. I’m always around brilliant writers, which fuels my desire to keep improving my own writing. My favorite part of this, of course, is that I get all of this without any of the homework or time spent in class. I like to tell myself I get the better end of the deal. And while it hasn’t been quite enough to convince me to apply to grad school, I now understand those that push through it all. I admire their passion, their commitment, and their talent. I really think that being this close to this group of writers has not just bettered me as a writer, but as a person overall. After all—how else would a stubborn Midwesterner like me be able to remain so positive about a snowless, sweaty place like Florida?
Allie Minton is from the tiny town of Fairbury, Illinois. She graduated from the University of Evansville in May of 2015. If she did decide to get her MFA, she would focus on nonfiction. Her dream is to live in a shotgun house in New Orleans with her fiancé and to own three cats and a dog.