“You’re living far away from home; and you’ve traded everything for a stone.”
– “Everything for a Stone,” The Belle Brigade
Before I get into the actual topic of this post, I’ll begin by saying I wasn’t planning on going to college near my hometown. I’ve talked in previous posts about how my college plans changed rapidly (see post Growing in Struggle.) I ended up at a small university in a decent-sized metropolitan area near where I grew up. I was born and raised in a very small town with a lot of cows and cornfields. Drive twenty minutes one direction and you’re in the city. Drive twenty minutes the other direction and you’re in the middle of nowhere. The area is a very odd, somewhat jarring hybrid of country, suburban, and metropolitan settings. It’s equal parts quaint and cultural, rural juxtaposed with urban.
My hometown is about a half hour from downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan – if you’ve never been there, GR is like a very small Chicago. A very, very (very very) small Chicago. My friend described it as a “Holiday Inn Express” for hipsters – it’s neither East Coast nor West Coast, but there are definitely strong hipster vibes in the city (everywhere you turn there’s a farmer’s market – one of the benefits of a metro area surrounded by fields.) My college is located on the “north end” of town, and I was raised on the “south end.” If you’ve lived in a metropolitan area, you’ll understand when I say that “north-enders” and “south-enders” are very different. Same overarching culture, but different subculture.
Like I said before, I didn’t plan on going to school in my hometown. I only applied to two colleges because I basically had my mind made up – but then, in true teenage fashion, my mind was changed, and very quickly. As a result, I ended up at this small, private, liberal arts university on the north end of Grand Rapids.
It was fairly convenient – I know not everyone grows up in a college town or even a town that has any college at all, which means they have to move away if they want to pursue higher ed. The other college I was considering was two hours away and a true college town (the college was literally the town. Other than that, there were Amish people and a Burger King.)
“So Audrey,” you might (or might not) ask, “What has your experience been like, going to school in your hometown?”
Well, Nameless Imaginary Inquisitor, it has been wonderful. I have loved going to a university that is so close to a large metropolitan area where there’s lots to see and do. And it’s been great being close to home (I mean, free laundry and food, am I right?!)
“But Audrey,” you continue, “don’t you feel like you’ve missed out by staying close to home? Aren’t you sheltered now? Isn’t it just the same as it was when you were growing up? Are you ever going to have the courage to move away?”
Whoa, now, don’t get ahead of yourself, Imaginary Inquisitor. I’m not saying that going to school locally is the best idea for everyone, or that it’s perfect, but I am saying that it’s certainly not a bad thing. And here’s why:
You’re staying close to your roots. College is going to hit all of your ideals, beliefs, and opinions right between the eyes, no matter where you go. Whether it’s your professor or your roommate, someone is going to disagree with you and possibly shake up some of your predispositions. Sometimes, these things are hard to grapple with. When you’re far from home and where you grew up, you may feel lost, maybe somewhat marooned, like you’re on a ship without a captain. When my beliefs were somewhat shaken in college, my roots helped me shape my own opinion of what was being taught to me in college – I wasn’t allowing myself to be directly spoon-fed information without first approaching it with opinions of other people whom I trusted. Having roots close to you can help with that.
You know the area. It’s easy to feel isolated in college because you don’t know anything about the city it’s in. In the case of that college-town school I was talking about, there literally wasn’t anything in the area except farmland. And at a remote college like that, most students are also from out of town so they know as much as you do. Going to a local school I had the benefit of knowing some things about not only Grand Rapids but the surrounding communities. I also found myself learning more about the area than I’d ever known before (like the dearth of coffee shops GR has to offer.) I got more connected with my church, explored new areas, and made connections in the city that I had been totally unaware of up to that point. It’s kind of nice to go into college with some background knowledge of not only the school, but its city.
You’ll have a new perspective. Although you’re in the same place, you’ll see it through different eyes. With college comes freedom to be independent and think for yourself in more ways than you ever have. I learned more about my city in college than I ever did growing up near it. I explored more towns in the outlying area than I ever had before as well. In the fall, I explored uptown with my roommates, which was a place I wasn’t too familiar with. I auditioned for shows at the community theatre. I volunteered at an inner city school. Sometimes the best opportunities are right under your nose for eighteen years and you never realize it because you’re too busy grinding through the American school system (not bitter.)
All of this to say – if you’re searching for colleges right now, don’t rule out the ones that are twenty minutes down the road. It doesn’t mean you have to live with your parents (unless you want to – I mean, free food. And your pets.) People might hardcore judge you, but that’s okay. They just don’t understand, because they were taught their whole lives that they have to go far away for college. Or they didn’t have the amazing privilege of growing up in an awesome spot like you did.
So don’t take your hometown for granted. You might just realize that it’s where you really belong.