Jennifer Hanson is a Masters candidate in Business Administration and Marketing, and NUPSA’s Coursework Representative.
It was a frigid January day in my seemingly small, sleepy town of Iowa City. Most outsiders wouldn’t give my little American college town much of a passing glance, but perhaps that’s what keeps this place so special. There’s even a term around these parts called “Iowa Nice”, similar to southern hospitality, explaining our friendly and cordial demeanor. We say hello to people we meet on the street, we pull over for someone with a flat tire, we buy a beer for strangers who are sitting alone at the bar, and we certainly don’t make new friends walk home in the freezing cold.
There’s even a Wikipedia page for this “Iowa Nice” phenomenon if you have trouble believing me.
University of Iowa Campus.
(Photo courtesy of press-citizen.com)
Iowa City’s typically bustling downtown was in hibernation mode as most students had gone home for the holidays until classes resumed in February. Temperatures rarely reach above freezing during these dreary gray days, but I filled the time picking up extra shifts at Micky’s Irish Pub. Conveniently located across the street from my apartment, I had worked as a waitress and bartender there for much of my time at University.
Micky’s is a quaint little pub offering midwestern delicacies like fried pickles, chili cheese fries, and breaded pork tenderloins. Plus culture-bending cuisine items like the Irish Egg Rolls: a rueben sandwich wrapped inside an egg roll and deep fried. To illustrate, nearly every menu item comes with ranch dressing on the side.
I had already worked the 7am breakfast shift earlier that day, but I agreed to take my friend’s evening shift since tips were slim and I’d already binged enough Netflix over Christmas. Little did I know that this small, insignificant decision – taking a shift not meant for me – would lead to a chance encounter that would change my life so drastically I began to believe fiercely in fate.
I’ll never forget walking into work that day. No sooner had I clocked in when my coworkers swarmed me in loud whispers: “There’s an Australian at the other end of the bar – you’ve gotta find out if he’s single!”
Micky’s Irish Pub is about the size of a classroom so I’d be surprised if this international mystery man didn’t hear them… Not to mention there were no more than six other souls in the joint that afternoon, including my coworkers. As I turned the corner and finally laid eyes on the guy, I was relieved to see he was wearing a beanie (to combat the arctic temperatures) that would’ve hopefully muffled their excited squeals.
(Photo courtesy of Google Maps.)
With no customers in sight and a polar vortex looming out the window, I struck up a conversation with the Australian and discovered we had a lot more in common than I imagined. His name was Jake – not Jacob, just Jake. He was a 21-year-old Australian on exchange from the University of Newcastle. It was his first day in America and he had walked nearly an hour in sub-zero temperatures just to find a pub to watch basketball and drink beer. Lucky for me, Micky’s grilled sandwiches and $2.50 tall boys of Miller Lite had enticed him enough to stay the afternoon.
We watched NBA and discussed our favorite American hip-hop artists while I served maybe two tables of customers. After barely two hours on the clock, my manager let me end my shift due to the obvious lack of customers and potential tips. After possibly the shortest shift of my life, I moved to the other side of the bar next to my exotic new international friend. Say what you want about the flawed American tipping system, but this time it worked in my favor, getting me off work so quickly.
For the rest of the evening we played cards, ate unlimited baskets of salty pub popcorn and debated which American beer company was best: Budweiser or Miller-Coors. Later we met up with my friends to play pool, but before we knew it the night had escaped us. I had no idea if I would ever see my Australian friend again so, staying true to my “Iowa Nice” roots, I invited him to stay at my place instead of finding his way back across town at 2am. (In my defense, hypothermia is a real threat during Iowa winters, taxis are hard to come by in the wee hours, and Uber was only just starting out with very few drivers and high surge prices.)
In the coming days, Jake and I spent more and more time together. We soon became nearly inseparable, especially after discovering his assigned roommate was an antisocial video gamer with poor hygiene on the verge of dropping out. Looking back, I owe his roommate a thank you – his inability to bathe brought Jake and I even closer together.
Soon we went everywhere together and Jake became immersed in my circle of friends. He absorbed our American college culture in stride, making friends everywhere we went. People would flock to Jake every time he opened his mouth – did I mention Americans love Australians?
As the semester came to a close, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree so we planned a grand trip around the states with what little time Jake had left on his visa. Though the trip didn’t always go smoothly, our relationship grew stronger. The three-week trip included Disney World in Florida; the capitol in Washington D.C.; Chicago, Illinois; Denver, Colorado; Seattle, Washington; and Las Vegas, Nevada, where we would say our goodbyes and part ways.
After six months apart, one Australian working holiday, another six months apart, one six-week American road trip and another six months apart, we’re finally living together again while I pursue my Masters Degrees at UON. This year on New Year’s Eve, Jake asked me to marry him – and since I didn’t come halfway across the world for nothing, I said yes. We have absolutely nothing planned for the wedding yet, but the fact that we’ve made it this far gives me faith in this month’s theme ~ Love.