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Discovering Diversity in the Blue Ridge

In July of 2015, I packed up all of my belongings and moved to Roanoke VA, a city that I had only visited twice before, to work as an AmeriCorps VISTA at an organization I had only visited once. I’m not a native Virginian, and although I had studied at UVA, I knew almost nothing about Roanoke. I didn’t quite know what to expect--I knew it was a smaller city in southwestern Virginia, and I was worried that after living in sizable cities and quintessential college towns that Roanoke would be too small and homogenous. Thankfully, my fears were completely quelled within a week of moving. Roanoke is a wonderful gem of a city--thriving and diverse, sans the big-city stress.

I’ll admit that I’m more spoiled than most, working at Blue Ridge Literacy, where every day I get to meet people from all over the world. However, one only has to drive downtown for a few miles to sample the restaurants and grocery stores boasting foods from Guatemala to Vietnam; to see bilingual storefronts; and to hear the chatter of dozens of languages to experience the wide array of cultures that mix in Roanoke.

Roanoke has a huge heart for a city of its size, welcoming everyone who comes, from recent UVA grads getting their start in the working world to refugees fleeing turbulent home countries. Roanoke extends its arms to the immigrant who just want a better life for her family to a newcomer looking for a fresh start in a vibrant, outdoorsy southern city.

I’ve been living in Roanoke for almost half a year, and as I look back on how anxious I was as I left the comfort of college and got my first real job, I consider myself incredibly lucky that I ended up where I did--a city that so easily becomes a home to so many people from all different backgrounds. As its name suggests, Roanoke truly is a star city.

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